Vegan in Paris: Wholywood

Usually when I’m going on holiday the first thing I research is where to get my sweet fix. If there’s a vegan doughnut in my destination city, I’ll find it! As such, vegan cafe Cloud Cakes was a top priority for my trip to Paris, and we made a beeline for it as soon as we landed. However, we found it completely packed so we had to look around for a backup breakfast option instead. Fortunately, we’d just wandered past this vegan establishment on the same road and decided to give it a whirl.

There was only one other person there when we arrived shortly after opening, and the whole place was freezing, neither of which was a particularly promising sign. It got much busier (presumably some other over spill from Cloud Cakes as well), but not any warmer, so bear that in mind if you’re visiting during winter.

Wholywood is billed as a whole foods, vegan street food kind of place. I’m not too sure about the “street food” part – the menu was largely burgers and hot dogs, which prompted some discussion amongst ourselves about whether they are generally classified as street food (what’s your verdict?). They were all Beyond Meat based, so we decided to skip them as we don’t want to pay €10 for a burger we could buy ourselves. They also had a few bowls (again, is that street food?), and a savoury waffle, which is what we both went for.

It was a really good waffle! I always prefer sweet to savoury, but this was really well done. The waffle itself was light and fluffy, and the toppings brought plenty of flavour: avocado, sour cream, tahini, chickpeas, maple-roasted sweet potato slices…it was all good. It was a hearty and delicious breakfast.

There were also a few baked goods to be had, up by the counter. There were croissants, which are generally hard to pass up, but the cookie selection was truly a game changer! There were several different varieties, but we both ordered the standard chocolate ones to take away for first breakfast the next day. They kept well overnight, though they were a bit softer than expected. However, I love a soft cookie and they were truly delicious! They were very thick (which might explain the softness), and had a pleasant variety of chocolate chunks and smooth chocolate spread, which really added to the excitement.

I wish I could have brought a bag full of these home with me – at least I’d have been able to enjoy them in the warm!

What’s your take – which of these dishes count as street food?

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Vegan in Seville: Veganitessen

If you read my 2019 Hits and Misses post, you’ll already know how I feel about this place…

Last October, Dr HH and I left the autumn gloom of Prague for a bit of southern sunshine in Granada. We stayed there in order to see the Alhambra, and we used it as our base for a bit of travelling around Andalusia, with Seville lined up as our main target. It was a three hour bus ride, which makes for a very long day trip, but we thought it would be worth it to see the Alcazar.

We arrived around lunch time, and when booking our Alcazar tickets we’d planned just enough time to grab a quick lunch before entry. Veganitessen came up on Happy Cow as an option located perfectly between the bus station and the main attraction, so off we went. When our map guided us to a market building instead of a nice little cafe, I was a bit anxious. I needn’t have worried. Yes, the eatery is in a market, but it’s all quite stress free, with plenty of seating and minimal danger of being boshed by passing pedestrians. There were menus to peruse, we weren’t just left looking at a board, and the staff were very friendly and accommodating.

As keen fans of tapas, we decided to go for it and order four dishes to share. I think probably all British people love empanadas because they’re quite similar to pasties, so we were wholly on board with this.

The meatballs were also good, with a really flavoursome sauce. Truthfully I found the rice to be unnecessary filler though.

The tortilla had a Mexican twist, with a mountain of guacamole on top which I would never complain about! I had three slices of tortilla during our five day trip, and this was the best of the bunch. (No coincidence that it was probably also the biggest!) It was really well seasoned, and the guac was the metaphorical cherry on top.

But the best of the tapas was truly the seitan. The slices themselves had a lot of flavour and the perfect texture, and the sauce on top really elevated the whole dish even more. Unfortunately I didn’t make any notes detailing what the sauce was (I was exhausted at this time), but I can confirm that it was delicious.

We didn’t really need a dessert, but it’s not about “need” when you’re on holiday, is it? And I’m glad about that! Dr HH got a pear cake which he assured me was delicious and had a great texture – I hate pears, so I didn’t even have a nibble. I got the chocolate orange cake, which was truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever had. Chocolate orange is one of my favourite flavour combinations, so this worked like a charm, and the chocolate oozing down the side just made everything better. It was light and delicious, and I wish I’d had room for another slice!

The day trip would have been worth it just for the seitan and the cake, but the Alcazar really blew our socks off too!

Everything was so exquisitely detailed and beautiful. We’ve seen quite a lot of big European cities, but this was something completely different. The Moorish history and architecture were completely new to us, and combined with the warmer climate and plant life it wasn’t really like being in Europe at all. When I was raving about it to a Turkish friend she told me that if I liked Seville I’ll love Istanbul…so that’s our next stop!

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Vegan in Paris: La Bauhinia, Shangri-La Hotel

It’s been so long since the Brexit vote that I’d been managing to trick myself into thinking our official departure might never happen. Last Spring I had to start facing reality and getting my paperwork in order to try and make it easier for me to stay living in the Czech Republic post-Brexit, but even then it didn’t quite seem real (not helped by the fact that nobody actually knows what it’s going to mean in the long term for UK citizens in the EU). But alas, it’s happened. Dr HH and I made the most of our last weekend as EU citizens by hopping over to Paris for a final hurrah.

Regular readers will know that there are few things I love more than afternoon tea. Living in mainland Europe, they are few are far between. We had a delicious one in Amsterdam a few years ago, but that was it until this trip to Paris.

We were celebrating a birthday and an anniversary, and I’d been looking for an excuse to return to Paris especially for this vegan afternoon tea. The Shangri-La Hotel has been serving a vegan variation on afternoon tea in its La Bauhinia restaurant for a couple of years, and when I was booking it they informed me that it’s actually coming to the end of its run in February – so our trip was just in the nick of time!

I’m extra glad we managed to sneak it in, because it was quite the feast. The restaurant itself was simple and classy, and not particularly busy on a Saturday afternoon, making it a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. There was even a pianist for background noise – very classy indeed!

The savoury plate was not particularly ambitious, more’s the pity, but if there has to be one boring plate I’d rather it was the savouries than the sweets. The dark bread was a cream cheese and spinach sandwich, while the white was roasted vegetables. These was also a fresh summer roll with tofu hiding in the middle of the plate. They were all tasty (the cream cheese was especially good), but it would have been nice to see some pastry or something a bit fancier in there.

The scones were more impressive – just look at them! We had a plain and a fruit one, which was more than we really needed, served with cream and pear jam. The scones were had a really good bake on them and a lovely crusty top. The cream was nice but a touch greasy I thought, and I hate pear so I wish they’d served a more traditional jam, but Dr HH was a fan.

And then we had not one but two sweet plates! This one wasn’t even on the stand, it was served to us separately. You have to love an afternoon tea that can’t be restricted to three tiers. These are the fancy looking desserts of my dreams, and they didn’t disappoint. The chocolate one was sublime, with a very intense chocolatey flavour and a delicious crumb on top which contrasted nicely with the sponge inside. The passion fruit mousse was a welcome refresher after that, sitting on a beautifully crunchy base. And in the background was a small biscuity tart filled with cream and topped with pear (pear again!), which was the perfect combination of textures – and taste, once that cursed pear had been scraped off mine. These morsels were the perfect size for afternoon tea…

…unlike these ones, which were just a bit too much on top of everything else! The chocolate cookie was, again, really chocolatey, with a nice hit of salted caramel. I loved the texture of the cookie, but Dr HH found it a bit too soft. We were told the pastry was filled with caramel, but Dr HH declared it to be more like some kind of nut butter (I was too full and couldn’t tackle this one) – he also found it breadier than he’d hoped, which was a shame. And in the middle you can just about see a kind of chocolate disc topped with granola – simple, but somehow probably my favourite element of the whole spread!

All in all, it was fancy, fun, and largely ambitious enough to be a really exciting treat. It was also generous, and we certainly left feeling full and satisfied. It’s a real shame the vegan option is being discontinued, but at least it had a really good run, and we managed to try it just in time. The option of having a British classic like afternoon tea in the French capital was always going to be a welcome treat. Long live UK/EU relations, whatever stupid decisions 52% of my compatriots made!

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Vegan in Manchester: Alabama’s All American Eatery

Look at this feast! I like to imagine that I can eat dishes like this quite comfortably. Failing to do so feels like I’m letting down Leslie Knope and any other breakfast devotees I admire. But I can tell you right away: I absolutely failed to demolish this dish. I managed about half of it and then didn’t eat again for the rest of the day.

Alabama’s is a newish place in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and it made a lovely spot for a weekday brunch – not busy at all, perfect for a leisurely battle with this stack. They serve meaty as well as vegan options, and had some savoury brunch dishes, but I only had eyes for the pancake section. All the pancakes can be either vegan or not, and there were a few tempting options, including some with apple and cinnamon, some with berries, and this chocolate peanut butter beast. As I told Dr HH afterwards, it’s not often that I wish I’d ordered something with fruit, but this was one of those occasions – a bit of fruit might have lightened the dish somewhat (though I can’t pretend I would have been able to finish it under any circumstances).

The pancakes themselves were huge, fluffy, and delicious. As well as peanut butter and chocolate sauce, they were topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, elevating it to true decadence. Even just looking at the pictures now makes my stomach hurt, in the best way.

Decadent breakfasts are one of my favourite things, so I think this is a truly great additional to the Manchester vegan scene. Maybe if I give it a year I’ll be ready to tackle it again…

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Vegan in Tromsø: Peppe’s Pizza

If you read my 2019 Hits and Misses post, you’ll already know that I wasn’t blown away by the pizza here. Dr HH and I spent Christmas week in Tromsø, right up in the north of Norway, in a bid to have the most wintry white Christmas possible. As you have seen, that bid was quite successful…

We weren’t really there for the food, for a change, which is just as well! Vegan options were few and far between, and this was made worse by festive opening hours. We came to rely on Peppe’s Pizza to keep us fed – and so did many of the other tourists in town, by the look of it. I don’t think there were any locals in there at all.

The menu was quite kind to vegans – there was a vegan burger, a vegan dessert, and several vegan pizzas. As well as a vegetable pizza, there were a few with Oumph! chunks on top. It seemed like a decent showing. But alas, all the vegan pizzas replaced cheese with vegan aioli, which is not a fair substitution in my book.

We ordered a large Chicago Oumph! Vegan Pizza, which was the perfect size for sharing. It was my first time trying Oumph! and I was very impressed, in terms of both texture and taste. I was less impressed by all the raw tomato slices on top, and by the aioli spiral, which was really unappetising. On our subsequent visits, we ordered it without they aioli and found it much better, although we did then notice that the sauce had a really strong fennel/aniseed flavour which was quite surprising and not wholly welcome. (Is that what we should have expected from a “Chicago” pizza though?!)

Also, the pizza was sliced in a fascinating fashion, not in the standard six or 8 slices, but in small chunks. I’d never seen pizza slashed up like this before and I’m not in favour of it. Some pieces had no crust, some were teeny tiny, it was all very strange.

On our final visit we treated ourselves to the vegan dessert as well: a chocolate brownie with mango sorbet and raspberry sauce. I didn’t have much of an appetite for sorbet given the icy surroundings, but it was actually a really good creamy sorbet and not to be sniffed at. The brownie wasn’t a classic bake, and was disappointingly flat, but it was a bit gooey and very chocolatey, so it definitely ticked some of the boxes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen cashews in a brownie before, so that was also something new! All in all, not a mind blowing dessert, but a pretty good one, and I was grateful for the option.

“Grateful for the option” just about sums up my overall attitude to Peppe’s. It served us well in our time of need, and they were clearly trying. But if you wouldn’t replace cheese with mayo for meat eaters, don’t do it for vegans either. We deserve better! Still, it wasn’t as bad as that time my “tofu cheese” was just a block of unseasoned tofu crumbled onto my pizza…

What’s the worst cheese alternative you’ve been served on a pizza?

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Vegan in Tromsø: Frø

There was not a wealth of vegan options in Tromsø during our Christmas stay – in fact, Frø was the only all-vegan place that popped up on Happy Cow. It’s a cosy little cafe on the high street serving a variety of hot and cold beverages, a few light savoury options, and, most importantly, some baked goods.

My main goals on our trip to Tromsø were: to see the Northern Lights, to catch a glimpse of whales, and to eat a really good cinnamon bun.

We did manage to see the lights…

…and a feeding frenzy of humpback whales and orcas…

…and Frø helped me tick that last box! They had a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls every day (and yes, we were there every day). Also, the people who worked there were the sort who will deliberately fish out the biggest available buns without you having to ask – my kind of people! As such, the buns were massive.

They were very well baked: soft and pillowy inside, with a pleasant hint of crunch on the crust. They were sublimely cinnamony, and even better when they had iced ones on Christmas Eve. We got a few to take away to tide us over for Christmas morning and Boxing Day, and they kept well too – in fact, they were better when we warmed them up the next morning than when served cold in the cafe.

The hot drinks were a hit too – I was desperate for a good hot chocolate to match my wintry surroundings. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d taken some hot chocolate flakes with me and been making my own almost constantly, but it’s nice to get them served up instead.)

Apparently they serve a pancake brunch every Saturday, but we missed out on that, more’s the pity. At least we got plenty of great Norwegian buns though!

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A Vegan Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 was a non-traditional affair at HH HQ – Dr HH and I decided to skip our families, the Czech Republic, and the UK and spend the holidays by ourselves in Tromsø. I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions and cooking massive feasts, but I really enjoyed this pared down celebration. And of course, we still ate like royalty!

As always, we started the celebrations in Prague. Dr HH always provides a special homemade advent calendar for me combining vegan treats and a fun daily activity. This year it was spot the difference pictures, which certainly kept me busy!

And as always we enjoyed the Prague vegan Christmas market, mostly for the box of biscuits we treat ourselves to every year from vegan baker extraordinaire Nebeské dortíčky. I had a go at making my own Christmas cookies this year to take into the office, but they weren’t quite so ambitious and varied. I’m already planning to up my game next year!

We didn’t want to lug our presents to Norway with us, so we had a little mini-Christmas in Prague the night before our flight. Dr HH is still fairly new to celebrating Christmas, but he has come a long way in a short time. He put together a festive table, and rustled up some homemade seitan, maple-roasted carrots and parsnips, deliciously crispy roast potatoes, roasted sprouts, and a wonderful mushroom gravy. It was quite the treat!

In one of my favourite Christmas traditions, Dr HH always treats me to a nanoblock version of a place we’ve visited during the year – so far I have a nanoblock Brandenburg Gate, Eiffel Tower, Sagrada Familia (which I have completed – have that, Gaudi!), Neuschwanstein Castle, Vatican, and now Inari temple as well. The first non-European addition to the collection!

And with that, Prague Christmas was over and we were off to Norway! I have a few posts up my sleeve for the eateries we visited in Tromsø, so I’ll limit myself to the general festivities here. It was really wonderful spending the holidays somewhere so snowy and cold. When I was little I used to write a million Christmas stories and poems every year, and this is the kind of place I was always imagining. The only difficult thing was that there were only about two hours per day of anything even close to resembling daylight – the rest of the time it was all dark. It was strange, but actually I think it was really good for me: I slept till 9am every day, couldn’t even rouse myself to check my work emails, and spent most of my time hunkering down with hot drinks, wearing my pyjamas, and watching His Dark Materials. It was precisely the cosy, relaxing break I needed!

Despite being away from home, we managed to put together an excellent day of food for Christmas! Usually Dr HH and I work together on some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, but this time we left it to the professionals – we picked up these beasty buns the day before and heated them up in our Airbnb kitchen, and they made for a very tasty start to the day.

Dr HH put together almost exactly the same Christmas dinner as we’d had in Prague: potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, and seitan. This time the seitan was shop-bought (we brought it over from Prague with us, they sell it in our local supermarket), and the parsnips were cooked in a little sugar water as we didn’t want to pay for a whole bottle of maple syrup. We didn’t have a blender for the gravy, so it was more of a thick mushroom sauce, but it still had all that good, earthy flavour, so we were very satisfied indeed.

And we gave the meal a Norwegian twist by trying this Jule Brus, a festive soft drink that we saw advertised everywhere. It didn’t taste especially Christmassy, but it was a good, fruity, fizzy pop.

We struggled a bit with dessert, but picked up a couple of cartons of Oatly Custard and just had those without any cake – it’s not like we were going hungry anyway!

And we rounded off the day, as one always must, with a cheeseboard! This was some well-travelled cheese – I got it while I was back in the UK in early October, flew it back to Prague and froze it, then defrosted it and flew it over to Norway. It was absolutely worth it. I’d tried all of the cheeses before, so I knew they would be delicious. The za’atar one was my absolutely favourite, of course. I need to make sure there’s more za’atar in my life in 2020! We also brought a salami that we’d picked up at the Prague vegan Christmas market – it was really smoky and delicious – and some crackers from Marks and Spencer. It was quite the spread, and lasted us a good few nights on our travels.

And so that was it! Quite an unusual Christmas, but a really magical one as well. We were sufficiently well-prepared that we managed to have some very good food and a tolerably traditional meal even though we were on the road. I’m a big fan of having less focus on presents, more focus on food and adventures. Maybe Christmas on the road will become its own tradition now! I hope you also had a splendid festive season and are ready for 2020!

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2019 Hits and Misses

I’m back! The last few months have been busy and tiring, but I’m keen to shift my priorities and get back to regular blogging in 2020. I’ve missed it! I’m getting back into the swing of things with my regular hits and misses post. As always, it’s been hard to narrow it down to just five hits (and tricky to justify five misses, which is usually a good sign). As veganism goes increasingly mainstream, my expectations get higher and in general I’d say the quality and variety of options are improving every year. I’m excited to see what great food lies ahead in 2020!

Hit #1: Veganitessen, Seville

I’m always happy to tuck into tapas in Spain, and we had a very successful trip to Andalusia in October. There were a few contenders for the hits list, but ultimately this spot in Seville was the winner. All of the tapas dishes we tried were good, but the seitan was the most flavoursome we’ve ever had so it deserves a special mention. And I had one of the all time great slices of cake. Full review coming in 2020, I promise!

Miss #1: Cafe Electric, Prague

There aren’t that many vegan options in Prague city centre, so I was excited to see this one which serves meaty and vegan dishes. The first time I went I ordered the vegan matcha pancakes and was very satisfied. The second time I ordered the vegan chicken dish, but it turned out that it was just regular chicken, and it had been accidentally labelled vegan on the menu. But they brought the chicken to me twice before anyone actually realised that I was asking for a dish they didn’t have. Poor labelling and bewildering service!

Hit #2: T’s Tantan, Tokyo

We might have had better ramen at Engine Ramen in Kyoto, but T’s served us extremely well in Tokyo and we ate a good number of dishes from the menu during our trip. The first bowl of ramen we had really set us up for a great three weeks of adventuring and feasting. Bonus points for having a branch at the airport too!

Miss #2: All Nippon Airways

Nobody has great expectations of aeroplane food, and I do not travel well anyway, but the ANA vegan meals were extremely disappointing. I honestly thought I was going to be sick when I ate the meals on our outbound flight, and just took my own snacks for the return leg. It’s disappointing to me that Ryanair are now dishing up vegan lasagne on their flights, yet the big airlines still can’t rustle up anything more exciting than fruit salad for “dessert”.

Hit #3: Kansuiro Ryokan, Hakone

This wasn’t necessarily the best food we had in Japan, but it was a wonderful experience. Being waited on hand and foot was weird, but we loved trying so many little dishes and getting the traditional experience. Totally recommended for anyone looking for a vegan-friendly ryokan in Japan.

Miss #3: Cafe Atl, Osaka

We paid more for two small pieces of raw vegan cake here than for two massive bowls of noodles in a restaurant around the corner. The cake wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t mind blowing either, and it’s one of those things that makes veganism seem less accessible.

Hit #4: Shams El Balad, Amman

Dr HH and I reminisce about the za’atar bread we shared here at least once a week. Everything was delicious, but that bread was something truly special!

Miss #4:  Hip Hop Chip Shop, Manchester

A few years ago I had a battered sausage from this place that was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. Now in their permanent location they’ve switched from their mock meaty sausage to a more vegetable based one, and it was quite the disappointing switch. It wasn’t awful, but it was a let down compared to what it used to be. Here’s hoping they bring the mock meat back in 2020!

Hit #5: Pastva, Prague

Shout out to my local lunch spot! They have a different lunch menu every day, plus some truly incredible desserts, and the best chai latte in Prague. Points for consistent excellence!

Miss #5: Peppe’s Pizza, Tromsø

There weren’t too many vegan-friendly eateries open over the holidays in Tromsø, so we had to go to Peppe’s Pizza a few times. My general rule on non-vegan places is that the vegan option should always be something they’d be proud to serve to meat eaters too, and I just don’t think that was the case here. The vegan pizzas had Oumph!, which was delicious, but they swapped the cheese for vegan aioli – a poor substitute, and let’s face it, you’d never slop cold mayo onto a pizza and serve it to meat eaters, would you? Bring the cheese!

 

What were your highlights of 2019? Any big misses? Where should I eat in 2020?

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Vegan in Prague: Burrito Loco

For a long time, I have felt like the only vegan in the world who hadn’t tried either the Beyond Meat or the Impossible Burger. There has been so much buzz about them, but I’d never seen them in a supermarket or in a restaurant…until the last few months, when they finally started popping up on a few menus in Prague.

Burrito Loco is a Mexican fast food chain in Prague which is open 24/7 and is very good at labelling its vegan options. It seems like you’re never more than a 10 minute walk from a branch of Burrito Loco, making it a really solid option for emergencies. Besides picking up a vegan burrito en route home from a late flight occasionally, it’s not really a place I visit much. But Dr HH and I needed a quick bite one evening and decided to give the Beyond Meat burger a try at last, as they were advertising it fairly prominently outside (and inside) our local branch.

Rather worryingly, the menu listed it as “Guacamole free”, which had us wondering if the guacamole was included at no extra charge, or if there was no guacamole to be found (happily, it was the former). We also got a choice of salsa (mild, medium, spicy) and some standard salad thrown in there as well, plus some crisps and coleslaw on the side.

The burger was interesting – it was pretty much as I’d expected from the reviews: good meaty texture and taste. It was definitely one of the more convincing vegan burgers I’ve tried, but not necessarily one of the tastiest – I might even have preferred the M&S version. I feel like this one is ultimately designed with the meat eater as the target customer, not people who are already vegan. It seems to be doing its job in at least piquing the curiosity of enough meat eaters to get them to choose the vegan option more frequently, so bravo for that! I won’t be going out of my way to have it regularly, but I’m pleased it’s out there in the world!

What’s your take on these new, mega meaty vegan burgers? Which is your favourite?

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Vegan in the UK: High Street Sausage Roll Wars

Back in January, the UK’s dominant high street bakery, Greggs, created national headlines (and attracted the ire of Piers Morgan) when they launched a vegan sausage roll. I was displeased that they introduced it the day after I flew back to Prague after the holidays – it seemed a little personal – and I had to settle for watching from afar as my local vegan Facebook group in the UK blew up with notifications about which branches of Greggs were selling them, which had sold out, and how delicious they were. All the while, a few people were quietly pointing out that rival high street bakery Pound Bakery had been selling vegan sausage rolls for quite some time, to much less acclaim/irritation.

I immediately announced to Dr HH my dream scenario: a blind taste test of the two vegan sausage rolls so we could say with confidence which was best. We spent months discussing it, and finally this summer it happened! Dr HH trotted over to the local mall and picked up two of each, then plated them up in the kitchen, and presented them to me like so.

Anyone who is familiar with these two establishments could probably guess which was which, so I probably should have been actually blindfolded for it to be a true test. The Greggs sausage roll, which costs £1 a pop, is the one on the left with the neater pastry styling. The Pound Bakery version, sold at two for £1, is the looser, paler, less ornate roll on the right.

They were both really good sausage rolls with a lovely meaty filling, but the Greggs one was the clear winner. The pastry was flakier, and it was a bit more generously stuffed. The Pound Bakery one was nice, but a little greasier. Dr HH declared me a snob for preferring Greggs, but had to concede that he agreed with my assessment.

And let’s face it, there are no losers in this game. I’d happily eat either of them by the bucket load, and I’m really excited to see vegan options going truly mainstream. The real question is why sausage rolls have never made it big internationally. I’ve never seen one in another country. Are we keeping it secret as some kind of post-Brexit negotiating tool? Is the rest of the world rejecting it for some insane reason? Why has the world embraced the hot dog over this majestic and far superior creation?!

What’s your vegan sausage roll of choice? Non-Brits, have you ever had a sausage roll?

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