I’m a big fan of Leon. I love, love, love a Love Burger. And the menu’s full of other interesting plant-based options as well. From doughnuts to Jack Wings and billionaire shortbread.
I was heading home late one night and everything was closed. Everything except Leon London Bridge. The kitchen was closed, though, and the store was selling off whatever was left over.
No Love Burgers. But there were two options that caught my attention – especially at midnight; the lentil masala and Brazilian black bean little hot boxes, served on brown rice. Of course, I bought both.
The thing with Leon is, even though it’s fast food, you do get the impression it’s better than your average greasy diner. Maybe it’s all marketing and aesthetics. But it does taste like high-quality junk food. Sometimes it doesn’t taste like junk food at all. And these little hot boxes back that idea up. A lot.
Impressively, I managed to wait ’til I got home to get started. Needless to say, the smells on the bus ride home were torturous. And when I finally ripped open the bag, both boxes looked amazing too. Like lovingly made home-cooked meals, bursting with goodness and flavour. And no plastic in sight.
It’s hard to say which box I enjoyed the most. If anything, they taste great together. The lentil masala’s a rich, creamy coconut curry, loaded with ginger, cumin and mustard seeds. And the Brazilian black bean option’s cooked with carrots, onions, smoked paprika and oregano – and lovingly topped with mint and parsley. Both meals were like something I’d cook at home. I still can’t believe I bought them at midnight, for a tenner…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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