ZING ZING GREEN SWEET SESAME TOFU & VEGAN CHOW MEIN – VEGAN CHINESE FOOD. DELIVERED

zing zing sweet sesame tofu
Hi, Pathetically

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.

zing zing green vegan chow mein
Hi, Pathetically

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.

WHAT THE PITTA! VEGAN DONER – DONER KEBAB, OH HOW I’VE MISSED YOU

what the pitta vegan doner kebab
Hi, Pathetically

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.

WAITROSE VEGAN PLOUGHMAN’S – CLASSIC CHEESY FARMERS’ LUNCH GOES DAIRY (AND BEER) FREE

Hi, Pathetically

As an on-the-go vegan I’m always on the lookout for interesting new sandwich options. Creativity is key. Some companies, however, clearly don’t have a single decision-making vegan employee. Sainsbury’s plant-based sandwiches, for example, are an absolute joke. M&S’ Plant Kitchen range is all flash, plastic and no substance. Even Pret thinks a dry Falafel, Avo and Chipotle Flatbread will pacify the vegans.

Interestingly, Boots has emerged as an unexpected lead innovator in the world of on-the-go veganing, offering imaginative, chickpea-free sandwich options like the Pea & Mint Fritter, the Vegan All Day Breakfast and the Louisiana Style Cajun Fritter.

Waitrose, of course, has also come to the vegan party. There just aren’t any on my regular beat. But whenever I’m in one, especially one of the larger stores, my eyes light up like a carnist at a barbecue. Or like me when I spot a Good-to-Go Vegan Ploughman’s in Waitrose, Westfield Stratford.

I always used to enjoy a ploughman’s. Weird name, I know. Apparently it dates back to 14th century cheese, bread and beer-based farmers’ lunches. But in 2019, a good ploughman’s also includes pickle and tomatoes. Anti-dryness, sandwich-flavour-boosters. Because let’s face it, we’re not all washing them down with cheeky lunch pints at the local watering hole. Or in a field with a bottle of homebrew.

The thing that annoys me most about dull, dreary vegan sandwiches is – in this case – all it took to create an interesting, delicious, plant-based alternative was to swap cheddar for a slice of dairy free cheese. The rest’s exactly the same. It’s that simple. It’s that inclusive, familiar and normal. Flavours I know and love. And instead of battling my way through a dull, dry, tomatoey falafel sandwich I bought just because it was all I could find, I actually enjoyed my lunch on the go.

NOMO VEGAN CHOCOLATE – DAIRY-FREE SUPERMARKET CHOCOLATE FINALLY GETS CREAMY (AND DREAMY)

Hi, Pathetically

The shelves of my local ASDA seem to be going through a lowkey vegan renaissance at the moment. And it’s pretty exciting. First there was Kings Veggie Jerky. Then Jealous Sweets. And now I’ve spotted NOMO vegan chocolate. Truth is, it’s getting easier and easier to be vegan every day.

Generally, vegan supermarket chocolate options include Cadbury’s Bournville and whatever’s in the Free From aisle. And if you’re looking for something creamy, forget about it. It’s dark. It’s soy-based. And it’s average. If you want something dreamy you need to go to Holland & Barrett and pick up a bar (or two) of Vego Whole Hazelnut. Well, vegan friends. No more.

NOMO, or No Missing Out, vegan chocolate is made by U.K. confectioner Kinnerton. And it’s the real thing. Creamy. High-quality. And soy-free. Except the dark chocolate option. But that’s not what we’re after, right? We want soft, velvety and luxurious. And that’s exactly what NOMO brings to the table. Or bus. Or park bench. Or pavement.

So far I’ve tried the Creamy Choc bar, which reminds me of a Beacon Inside Story Delectable Truffle – it’s that creamy. And I’ve had the Caramel and Sea Salt option, which is my favourite, and reminds me of a more artisanal-tasting, less-saccharine Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Caramel.

You hear (and see) the words “game changer” thrown around so often they’ve lost all meaning. But if you’re vegan, and you’ve got a sweet tooth, and you’re tired of the boring, bland, dark chocolate options in your local Free From aisle, look out for NOMO vegan chocolate. It’s a game changer.

VBURGER SEITAN SCHNITZEL – NOTHING VIRTUAL ABOUT THIS CHEEKY VEGAN “CHICKEN” NUMBER

vburger seitan schnitzel
Hi, Pathetically

Next up on the vegan junk food highly recommended agenda: VBurger, Camden. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I left The Monarch in Chalk Farm one Sunday evening and it was the only vegan place still open in Camden Market.

The all-vegan menu features the Up-Beet beetroot burger, the Green Falafel, the Seitan Schnitzel and an uninspired-sounding “Moving Mountains” option. I’ve had Moving Mountains patties twice. Not a fan. Second time, from a local pub, I couldn’t even finish the burger.

On paper, nothing about VBurger’s menu sounded particularly magical. No fancy burger names or dad joke vegan meat puns in sight. I ordered the Seitan Schnitzel. Deep-fried bread-coated seitan, “cheeky” chipotle mayo and salad. Relatively straightforward. And hard to get wrong. I did add vegan bacon strips for a Pound. So that piqued my interest.

The first thing I noticed was the bright yellow turmeric bun. And the smell. Everything seemed so fresh – which is impressive near closing time on a Sunday. The seitan was crisp and juicy. Up there with the best. The burger was saucy. The chipotle mayo was definitely cheeky. The bacon hit the spot. And the bun was bewitching.

VBurger takes something simple and packages it with style. Again, the magical formula is reimagining tried and tested fast food formulas with enough flavour and panache to create a memorable burger. And the Seitan Schnitzel is definitely a memorable burger.

LEON RESTAURANTS LOVE BURGER – THREE MAGIC WORDS: CAROLINA. MUSTARD. MAYO

Hi, Pathetically

I should have written this post ages ago. Leon’s Love Burger is one of my earlier vegan junk food memories. A touchstone I’ve gone back to several times. And it never disappoints.

The Love Burger was launched in January, to celebrate Veganuary 2019. And it’s still on the menu. Because it’s cheap, unpretentious and consistent. It’s simple, but jazzy enough to make sure you’re paying attention. And there’s always a Leon.

The texture and taste of the beetroot and soya patty is spot on. A convincing, no-frills, meat-free burger base. The Follow Your Heart smoked vegan gouda is mellow, smooth and perfectly cheesy. The burger sauce piques your interest. And the Carolina Mustard Mayo seals the deal.

Leon ain’t stingy with the sauce bottle either. Love Burgers can get messy. But the robust sourdough bun resists the sogginess, making sure the tasty, saucy flavours stay where they need to be to keep each bite interesting.

leon restaurants vegan jack wings
Hi, Pathetically

Recently, Leon added Jack Wings to the menu. Now I’m not sure where I stand on jackfruit as fast food. I’ve had a lot of unconvincing, underwhelming experiences, where the end result was an uncomfortable intersection between healthiness and debauchery. But these cheesy jackfruit wings are legit.

They call them wings, but they’re more like croquettes, or cheese-filled, crumb-coated nuggets of gold. And again, Leon adds a sprinkling of pixie dust, this time a vegan garlic aioli dip, which compliments and elevates the gooey bites perfectly. Love Burger and Jack Wings. A match made in vegan junk food heaven.

YO! SUSHI VEGAN BOX – INSPIRED PLANT-BASED SUSHI THAT’S ALMOST TOO BEAUTIFUL TO EAT. ALMOST!

yo sushi vegan box
Hi, Pathetically

One avenue I haven’t really explored, until now, is vegan sushi. Sure. Wrap a piece of cucumber or avocado in some sushi rice and nori strips and hey presto. Vegan sushi. But that’s boring and lazy. And good vegan food is neither boring, nor lazy.

Then one rainy Southbank day I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Aka Giraffe and Strada. Luckily, that happened to be right outside YO! Sushi. And suddenly, I remembered an Instagram-inspired gastronomic mental note I’d been holding on to down in long-term storage. Yo! Sushi’s vegan sushi looks banging!

Straight away, I saw what I wanted. The Vegan Box. It looked amazing. A rainbow of new, imaginative vegan creativity. Elaborate. Delicious. Fresh. I went full Wayne’s World on the place. “It will be mine” and all that. And it was.

The box includes one inari taco, one glazed aubergine nigiri, an avocado nigiri, three yasai rolls, two avocado makis and two cucumber makis. All splashed in vegan mayo, soya and teriyaki sauce, ginger and wasabi.

I started with the cucumber and avocado maki, because, you know. Best to get them out of the way. Then I went in for the inari taco. I wasn’t even sure what it was at first. It just looked so intriguing, ornate and delectable. Like a small bag of vegan sushi treasures. Turns out the bag is a “golden tofu pocket.” And the treasures are rice, avocado, ponzu salsa and sriracha mayo.

The teriyaki-glazed aubergine nigiri is my second favourite component. After the inari taco. Followed by the yasai rolls, which contain inari, cos lettuce, carrot roll, teriyaki, vegan mayo, and avocado and cucumber (bit of a reoccuring theme, I know – but it’s how you decorate that counts). Then the avocado nigiri – which is basically just a fancier avocado maki, with added vegan mayo.

True story, on my way home I stopped off at Waterloo Station, popped into YO! Sushi on the upper level and grabbed another box. The second of many, I presume…

JAKE’S VEGAN STEAKS – DREAMY PLANT-BASED PHILLY CHEEZESTEAKS YOU HAVE TO SEE (AND TASTE) TO BELIEVE

Hi, Pathetically

I remember seeing a sign for Jake’s Vegan Steaks at House of Vegan, Brick Lane ages ago. I distinctly remember thinking, “yeah right, Jake.” I’m sure they taste just like the real thing. But the more into vegan junk food I got, the more open to the idea I became. And when I finally tasted Jake’s Philly Cheezesteak I simply could not believe my taste buds. It blew my mind.

It’s incredible. Like a gooey, inhalable ball of juicy vegan “steak meat” covered in sauces and flavours your brain can’t fully comprehend – because it’s all gone so quickly. It’s ridiculous. They cut the sub in two halves. And even though I’d planned to savour the second half. Sip my beer. Make it last. I kept forgetting. It finished itself.

The shredded seitan chunks are so tender. So moist. So tasty. And the smoky carmamelised onions and fire roasted peppers stick to the “cheeze whizz” sauce, sweet mustard and Sriracha Mayo perfectly. The sub roll is so soft and fluffy as well. But soaked in wetness. In cheeziness. It’s so delicious it’s scary.

I’ve become a sucker for truffle oil. And the truffle fries are great. Perfectly cooked crispy thyme fries covered in truffle oil, with a tub of creamy homemade béarnaise sauce on the side. Alternate options include loaded Steak Fries and Cheeze ‘N Gravy Fries.

Since I first tried Jake’s Vegan Steaks, Jake and co. have left House of Vegan behind and set up shop in Holloway Road, right next to The Horatia Pub – which they also serve. And nowadays, weekend options include Breakfast Sarnies and Naughty Fry Ups, featuring Jake’s mouthwatering shredded BBQ seitan “steak.” Trust me. Jake knows his vegan steak.

Address: 102 Holloway Rd, Highbury East, London N5 1XH

THE BEYOND MEAT BEYOND BURGER – BEYOND FAST FOOD. BEYOND TAKEAWAY. IN YOUR KITCHEN

Hi, Pathetically

I remember when Beyond Meat first launched the Beyond Burger in the U.K. Before mega-chains like Honest Burgers, Byron and BrewDog were serving them on tap the patties were meant to be available at Tesco stores across London. I looked for them. A lot. Months apart. At several jumbo stores. But I never found any*.

So Beyond Burgers became a novelty. A mysterious treat I enjoyed at dreamy joints like Halo Burger, Vurger and Co., and most recently, Neat Burger. Until I found a pack of two in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus’ frozen vegetarian section and kicked down that vegan fourth wall, with added Follow Your Heart Pepper Jack cheese slices and SGAIA’S Streaky Mheat Rashers. Burger night would never be the same again.

I couldn’t believe it. In my own kitchen. The packaging looked so unassuming. Like I’d bought any old Vivera, Linda McCartney, supermarket brand “soy protein” burgers. Not Beyond Burgers. Not the real, “bleeding-vegan” deal.

“Made from plants. Soy free. Gluten free.” So what is it? Pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil and refined coconut oil. Mostly. Plus “two percent” or less experimental vegan science like bamboo cellulose, vegetable glycerine and methylcellulose (and a bunch of extracts, acids and other things you’d probably rather not know too much about).

Still, in moderation, Beyond Burgers are meant to be healthier than processed beef. And of course, ethically and environmentally there’s no comparison. If meat is murder (and it is), Beyond Meat is a life saver. Interestingly, although they’re processed, some nutritionists don’t even classify the patties as junk food. Either way, one thing I’ve never had is the vegan meat sweats.

Just like any regular beef burger, you have to know what you’re doing when it comes to cooking Beyond Burgers. You can’t just throw them on the pan, poke them around a bit and hope for the best. Just ask Honest Burgers. There’s an art to a good Beyond Burger.

Hi, Pathetically

As someone who liked his burgers medium to well-done, I like to cook my vegan burgers more or less the same. And even then, there’s an art. Between overcooking and drying it out and cooking it just right, so it’s not bloody but it’s still juicy and full of flavour. And let me tell you, I nailed it.

Just before serving I fried up my vegan rashers, laid my cheese slices on my patties under the grill and dressed my bun with lettuce, vegan mayo, sriracha mayo, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Then I popped the melted cheese-topped patties on the lettuce side of the buns, crossed two bacon strips over them and neatly positioned the sauce side of the bun on top. I was in vegan burger heaven. Not quite Halo Burger good. But way better than Honest Burgers. So a winning start, really…

* looks like the burgers are available from Tesco online. But who buys groceries online, right?

FOLLOW YOUR HEART BLEU CHEESE DRESSING – WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE (AND VEGAN)

Hi, Pathetically

What a time to be alive. When I can buy vegan blue cheese dressing at my local Embas Express. If you’ve been following my vegan supermarket posts, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Follow Your Heart’s range of vegan mayo. But the company’s High Omega Vegan Bleu Cheese Dressing takes Vegenaise to a whole new dimension.

Somehow, those solar powered magicians at Follow Your Heart have recreated the strong, magical taste and creamy luxuriousness of regular blue cheese dressing. Only they’ve done it with Vegenaise, and ingredients like apple cider vinegar, cold-pressed hemp seed oil, cold-pressed flaxseed oil and soy protein.

It’s mesmerising. Pure wizardry. If you could travel back to 2005 and put this shit on a vegan’s salad or falafel, it would blow their tiny, hummus-clogged mind. They’d never have seen it coming. I didn’t see it coming. I mean, I’ve had convincing blue cheese dressing at vegan burger joints before. But not my own bottle. On tap. In the fridge. Ready to pour on anything…