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…

SGAIA’S STREAKY MHEAT RASHERS – ALL OF THE SIZZLE. NONE OF THE GRISTLE.

Hi, Pathetically

I used to think it was weird that vegans and vegetarians were so into “fake” meat. Now I get it. It’s how we were raised. It’s comforting. It’s convenient. The unshakeable evolution of the human fast food diet. And besides, nobody gives up bacon because they don’t like the taste. We do it because it’s cruel, it’s unhealthy and it’s killing the planet.

I have tried a few meat, dairy and egg-free bacon alternatives since I went vegan. And unsurprisingly, some of them taste like dry, “hickory flavoured” cardboard. But there is hope for plant-based foodies craving that perfect, juicy, smokey bacon taste on burgers, pancakes and scrambled tofu.

Of course, The Full Nelson’s homemade crispy tofu bacon is a vegan junk food dream. But so far, my favourite DIY supermarket option is This Isn’t Bacon. Followed by Upton’s Naturals, which is thinner and drier than I’d like and does need seasoning.

Then I stumbled across a bag of SGAIA’s Vegan Meats Streaky Mheat Rashers in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus. And straight away, I was intrigued.

They really do look the part. The uncooked rashers are “juicier” and more bacon-like than Upton’s, and even This Isn’t Bacon. And when you pop them in a hot pan with a splash of oil, the sizzles, crackles and smells are perfect. Close enough to trigger the feels, yet different enough to not smell like actual dead flesh cooking – which now grosses me out, a lot.

I tried the rashers in toasted cheese and bacon sandwiches and on burgers, and I’m definitely hooked. They’re crispy, chewy and bacon-thick. The taste’s fantastic as well. Salty. Smokey. With a hint of sweet maple – thanks to the combination of beech wood liquid smoke, molasses and maple syrup. Next time I think I’ll cook up a vegan carbonara. Mmm…

BOOTS VEGAN ALL DAY BREAKFAST – THE BIGGEST KEPT SECRET IN ON-THE-GO VEGANING

Hi, Pathetically

You have no idea how many times I’ve bought a dry falafel, chickpea or avocado-based sandwich. Ate it, begrudgingly. And then spotted a Boots as I’m finishing off my last bite. Forget Pret. Forget M&S. Boots is where it’s at. In fact, they should have big signs outside their front doors, saying “Home of the Vegan All Day Breakfast.”

The sandwich is amazing. A work of art. A perfect cruelty free replication of the all-day breakfast sandwiches I used to enjoy. All the flavours are there. Cumberland-style meat-free sausage, scrambled turmeric tofu, tomato and ketchup. And they all taste just like the real thing.

The sandwich was launched in January and unsurprisingly it was so popular it’s now “here to stay.” So make a mental night. Next time you’re looking through M&S’ underwhelming, overpromising range of vegan sandwiches. Or about to consider a Pret Falafel, Avo and Chipotle flatbread. Boots’ Vegan All Day Breakfast is where it’s at. My current go-to favourite.