Since it launched, THIS’ range of plant-based chicken and bacon alternatives has wormed its way on to fast food menus across the U.K. From hot new recruit Chick ‘n’ Sours to Patty & Bun and Chilango. The times they are a-changed. And the best part is you can buy THIS Isn’t Bacon (and THIS Isn’t Chicken) and cook it at home.
These days new vegan options hit shelves faster than Lewis Hamilton. It wasn’t that long ago when THIS’ plant-based rashers first launched in Holland & Barrett stores countrywide, becoming the proverbial plant-based white whale. White kale? Now they’re everywhere.
Unlike other vegan bacon I’ve tried, there’s more to THIS Isn’t Bacon. It’s thicker. Juicier. More substantial. More “meat” like. In fact, in its raw state, it looks more like chunks of smoked salmon than bacon. But as soon as it hits the pan the nose remembers.
As always, I cook my plant-based meat a bit longer than the recommended dosage – in this case, three minutes. Seriously? What can you do in three minutes? I’m a crispy bacon, well-done kind of guy. And cooked properly, it tastes great. On pancakes. On toast. On its own. I’ve even gone all out and made my own THIS Isn’t Bacon Beyond Meat cheeseburgers.
Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon is not health food – unless you’re a pig. In fact, it’s 24% soy protein, 8% soy protein isolate and described as “ridiculously high in protein.” You know how crazy people go for protein…
Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon does possess magical hangover-curing powers. And nobody dies. So maybe this is bacon. How it’s supposed to be.
When it comes to veganism, Whole Foods ain’t playing around. And the Piccadilly Circus superstore is a proper plant-based day out. I walk the aisles in a daze. Picking up gourmet supermarket gold like Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten, Follow Your Heart Garlic Aioli Vegenaise, Cocofina Coconut Aminos and Crosstown Doughnuts to go.
Predictably, the store’s on-the-go vegan food is just as lavish, decadent, and most importantly, imaginative. Instead of chickpea flatbreads and onion bhajis I found a dreamy-sounding smoky bacon maple tempeh, tomato, guacamole and cheeze option on a ciabatta roll. And I think I might have just discovered my new favourite sandwich.
If you haven’t tried tempeh yet, do it. It’s like tofu, only meatier. And when it’s smoked, glazed in maple syrup and served up like bacon – with melted vegan cheese and guacamole – oh man. It’s like a little soy based, Indonesian vegan dream. And the fact that the sandwich is hot is a massive novelty as well. What a treat.
I remember when Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers were far-off Instagram fantasy posts by U.S. vegan celebs. They seemed unreal. Like “liquid smoke” and Field Roast sausages. Nice, in theory. But too fantastical to ever imagine cooking at home. Then I remembered it’s 2019. And plant-based dreams do come true. Every week.
Recently, Tesco beefed up its vegan meat options BIG time. Adding new plant-based sections in superstores across the country. And two of the stars of the show are chilled (not frozen) Beyond Burger patties and the, until very recently, fabled Beyond Sausage.
A couple weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton’s new restaurant, Neat Burger, became the first vegan burger joint in the U.K. to add Beyond Sausage to the menu. Halo Burger soon followed. And now here we are. Beyond Sausage. In Tescos. In my kitchen. Ready to go.
Until now, finding convincing plant-based sausage alternatives has been hit or miss. And mostly miss. Sainsbury’s has a good mushroom-based chorizo option. Heck’s Bollywood Bangers are tasty, but very plant-based. Fry’s Smoked Hot Dogs are decent, when dressed properly. And that’s about it, really. Tofurky? No worky.
The Beyond Sausage, on the other hand, is a proper game changer. It tastes just like the real thing. Not a strip of spiced cauliflower and pulses, or a chorizo-flavoured shroomdog. When I tried Neat Burger’s Neat Sausage I literally could not believe it. The Beyond Sausage tastes like an actual grilled beef sausage. Like South African boerewors.
The first time I cooked them at home I kept things simple. Rolls. Mustard. Ketchup. Fried onions. But the second time I went all out. I made a caramelised onion and balsamic vinegar gravy. A creamy potato root mash. And grilled the sausages like bangers. It was incredible. A new permanent addition to my weekly cooking rota.
When I heard Lewis Hamilton was partnering and brand-ambassadoring a new London vegan burger joint called Neat Burger, I didn’t take much notice at first. I assumed he was just some billionaire celebrity jumping on the Beyond Meat, plant-based burger bandwagon. Then I checked out his Instagram profile.
I’m sure there are contradictions. I can’t imagine being the highest-paid Formula 1 driver in the world. Posting tributes to PETA-fighting, fur-loving fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. And jetting and driving all over the world. Non-stop. In all kinds of gas-guzzling luxury vehicles is in line with Neat Burger’s “one step at a time,” “clean green” mission to save the world. Can you?
I was shocked, however, to discover that Hamilton does eat vegan. That he “loves animals.” And that in-between selfies, model shots and luxury cars, his Instagram feed’s peppered with graphic, “sensitive content” animal cruelty.
So at least that’s a positively provocative message to send to his 13.1 million followers. Also, in partnership with California-based charity Eden Reforestation Projects, Neat Burger aims to plant a tree for every burger sold. And if they keep selling out of burgers, that’s a lot of trees.
Vegan politics aside, the burgers are ridiculously tasty. Neat Burger doesn’t seem to make anything themselves, however. Just curate, decorate and inundate. The “beef” burgers are Beyond Meat. The “chicken” burgers are THIS. And the hot dogs are Beyond Sausage.
I ordered the Chick’n Burger, which features a THIS Isn’t Chicken Southern style patty, lettuce and vegan mayo. And you bet I made it cheesy for a Pound extra. Also, I had to try the Neat Sausage; Beyond Sausage, grilled onions, fried shallots, mustard, ketchup, pickles and mayo.
The vegan chicken burger’s amazing. Almost too convincing. The Southern fried patty is just so good. So perfect. That it makes the real thing unnecessarily cruel and obsolete. And the cheese is just so gooey and lavish. I have had THIS’ tikka pieces and nuggets before, but this THIS is next level THIS. Try one. It’ll blow your mind.
The Beyond Sausage hot dog is just stupefying. Breathtaking, even. The sausage itself tastes so beefy. So meaty. It reminds me of South African boerewors. Or the gourmet beef sausages my dad used to serve with mustard and ketchup. It’s definitely the best vegan sausage I’ve ever tasted. And hence the best vegan hot dog.
The great thing about Neat Burger, besides the food, is Lewis Hamilton’s reach. He’s one cool dude. And he speaks directly to millions of people, worldwide, who otherwise might not be as open to going plant-based. Even just once. Because if you try Neat Burger you’re hooked. It’s that good. And it’s bound to open your eyes to even more of the innovative meat-free options out there.
So far there’s only one store. So maybe it’s a bit premature to call Neat Burger a chain. But something tells me it’s just a matter of time. Also, theoretically, there’s going to be a lot more trees in the world as well. And that’s awesome.
“Make veganism radical again.” That’s what a friend of mine posted on Instagram. Followed by a photo of him sitting, smugly, in a hip vegan restaurant, eating a gourmet, plant-based hotdog with some hip vegan buddies. All good. What is making veganism radical again, however, is Ben & Jerry’s new range of non-dairy ice creams.
Netflix and chill – with a frozen tub of Ben & Jerry’s, of course – had become a thing of the past. An old indulgence I’d all but forgotten. A dream I’d just about relinquished. That was, until I spotted a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Non-Dairy Ice Cream in my local ASDA. Radical.
I know I say this a lot but I really could not believe my luck. To me, the non-dairy version of the classic Ben & Jerry’s flavour tastes even better than the real thing. There’s just something about it. The flavours are richer. The chocolate’s more decadent. And the ice cream’s even more luxurious. Somehow, it tastes more small batch. More-carefully put together. Like Ben and Jerry actually have something to prove again. It’s irresistible.
I’ve tried the vegan Peanut Butter & Cookies vanilla ice cream option as well. And it’s just as good as its non-dairy counterparts. But if you’re anything like me, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is way more enjoyable with a tub of chocolate, fudge and brownie-based ice cream and a big spoon. Now I’m on the lookout for the latest addition to the vegan range, the gorgeous-sounding caramel number, Cookies On Cookie Dough. Remember vegan kids; don’t give up on your plant-based dreams.
I miss East Asian food. Chinese. Japanese. Korean. It’s all good. I’m sure vegan options are out there. In fact, I know they are. I just haven’t dug deep enough. I used to enjoy Wagamama’s Japanese dishes. Especially the Kare Burosu ramen. But the elaborate plastic packaging their deliveries come in is completely out of hand. Then I remember Zing Zing has a “Green” wing in Elephant and Castle. And I reach for my phone.
Firecracker Cauliflower. Miso and Szechuan Aubergines. Mongolian Mushrooms. Black Bean Tofu… My mouth’s watering scrolling through the menu. The only downside is none of the mains come with noodles or rice. So I go for the Sweet Sesame Tofu for fancy. And the Vegan Chow Mein for filler.
When the food arrives, straight away I wish I’d ordered more fancy. The tofu looks and smells incredible. Wok-cooked with chilis, then glazed in a rich, sweet soy sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Visually arresting. Fragrant. Definitely the real deal.
I tip out half the chow mein and half the tofu. Using the sauce of the tofu to lubricate the dish. The sweet sesame sauce tastes amazing. Sweet. Rich. Bursting with flavour. And the tofu provides the perfect chew. Like the sweet chilli squid I used to order. Because in the end, all you’re really looking for is the right texture and that magical taste explosion. Nobody really craves dead animals.
The food disappears quick and I go in for round two. The chow mein is the perfect filler to stretch out the meal. Wok-tossed, stir-fried vermicelli rice noodles loaded with fresh vegetables and battered cauliflower. Straightforward. Simple. Delicious. Like fancy rice. A perfect accompaniment to the rich, sweet chili soy sauce and more decadent sesame tofu. I definitely zinged.
Man, I used to LOVE döner kebabs and lamb shawarmas on a big night out. Not the ones that look like a compressed elephant’s leg. Proper ones. Like Woody Grill, Camden or Beirut Canteen, New Cross. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t crave them. AT all! But imagine if you could recreate the experience, without killing any baby sheep or torturing cows. Cue magical, plant-based döner kebab (and tzatziki and baklava) pioneers What the Pitta!. Who show us, yet again, that anything’s possible.
The first time I tried one I couldn’t believe it. Before I ordered, I kept asking the cashier, “Is the tzatziki vegan?” “Yes.” “Garlic sauce?” “Yes.” “Chilli sauce?” “Yes.” “Baklava?” “Mate, it’s all vegan. What do you want?”
The spiced soya “meat” is incredible. The texture’s mind-bendingly convincing. Somehow, it even has that same tasty, chargrilled lamb edge you’d expect from a great döner kebab. The salad options are perfect too. Diverse, colourful and delicious. The wraps are all fresh and made in-store. The hummus and chilli sauce get the flavour party started. And the soya-yoghurt tzatziki completes the dream. I’m in doner kebab heaven – without any dead animals.
What the Pitta started out at The Pump in Shoreditch in 2016. Now they’re in Shoreditch, Croydon, Camden and Brighton. The Boxpark, Shoreditch store’s like a shining vegan oasis, or meat-free sanctuary, surrounded by some of the fleshiest restaurants in London – its neighbour, Salt Shed, smells more like a butchery than a fast food restaurant. Encouragingly, though, What the Pitta!’s always packed. But that’s not surprising. I can’t recommend the place enough. If you still think vegans eat salad, hummus and chickpeas, wrap your lips around a What the Pitta! vegan döner. You won’t believe until you try.