The relatively new Bermondsey branch of deep-fried risotto ball pioneers Arancini Brothers is a bright orange all-vegan joint on the starting line of Maltby Street Market. Only it’s open all day. Seven days a week. Serving vegan cake, croissants and sausage rolls. And burgers. And loaded risotto ball pots. And paprika fries. And eggplant tomato sauce. I could go on.
All-vegan fast food employees must get tired of answering the same dumb questions about the menu. “Yes, the smoky chorizo is vegan.” “No, there’s no egg in the special mayo.” “Yes, the cheese is all plant-based.” But it’s just like it is in the memes. You stand there dumbstruck for a second. Spellbound. “You mean, I can order anything? ”
I’ve been a few times since that first visit, so I play it a lot cooler these days. And everything I’ve tried is delicious. I always throw in a side of citrus and mushroom zucchini risotto balls and load up on special mayo and eggplant sauce. But the tastiest thing I’ve tried so far is the CHorizo burger. Smoky cHorizo, deep-fried risotto burger patty, cheese, crispy onions, chilli sauce, mayo. And yes, it’s all vegan.
The burger itself is a straight-up knockout. Pure vegan fried decadence. Crispy and gooey in all the right places. The special mayo. The spicy kick of sriracha. The crunch. Oh man, the crunch. And the blissful, sticky juiciness of it all. I was literally licking my fingers and scooping up every last crumb. Wishing I had more risotto balls to dunk in my last drop of special mayo.
When it comes to vegan flat whites the only real option is oat milk. It’s thicker, creamier and tastier than anything else. Dairy included.
It’s serious business too. Oat flat whites. They’re fuckoff expensive. Now up to £3.50 a pop, with your own KeepCup in some cases – even though Oatly Barista costs £1.80 a carton when you’re not buying it in bulk.
Luckily, though, I’ve tried as many coffee shops as I could, from Bermondsey to Croydon, so you know exactly where to spend way too much on a tiny cup of delicious brown liquid and leave feeling satisfied. Like it was the best decision you made all day.
With that in mind, here’s my list of the top five vegan flat whites in south east London.
163 – 167 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UW
If you’re looking for an edgier, 2019 update of Friends’ Central Perk hangout, Fuckoffee’s just the place. It’s like Empire Records for millennials. So don’t be surprised if you hear System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey!” fade into a completely uncensored version of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” before 10:00am.
Part of the Jonestown Coffee family, I think, F**koffee uses ridiculously fresh organic espresso beans straight outta Papua New Guinea. The beans are dark and sapid, and the oat flat whites are consistently textured and delicious.
4. MUGHEAD COFFEE
359 New Cross Rd, London SE14 6AT
Jammed between New Cross Gate and New Cross, Mughead Coffee serves Red Brick Seasonal Espresso, by east London roaster Square Mile. And the oat flat whites are always made with pride. They’re slightly creamier than usual, but still bold, decadent and rich.
Mughead brags about their cinnamon buns, a lot, but there are some tasty looking vegan baked options too. It’s a hip spot. A mixture of Goldsmiths art students, woke existentialists, MacBook remote workers and New Cross locals with time to kill. A solid regular.
3. THE WATCH HOUSE
199 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UW
The Watch House in Bermondsey Street’s the kind of ostentatious, fairytale coffee shop black Americano enthusiasts lose sleep over. In fact, it’s the anti-Fuckoffee. Everywhere you stand you’ve got someone trying to squeeze by, or a corner of solid, reclaimed boat-looking furniture poking you in the calf.
The Watch House’s EMPIRE espresso blend is provided by east London “roasting partner” Ozone Coffee. And sticking to character, The shop serves flat whites in tiny, thimble-sized cups. But man, they are delicious. Condensed. Concentrated. And bursting with flavour. They’re richer, darker and a little less creamy than usual, but still thick, velvety and rewarding.
2. THE WAITING ROOM
134 Deptford High St, London SE8 3PQ
The Waiting Room’s part of a quirky Deptford and New Cross vegan-vegetarian mafia that also includes the amazing Full Nelson burger bar and vegan “meat” suppliers and Sunday roast innovators City of Seitan. So of course the shop offers an amazing selection of vegan treats. From croissants and other pastries, to loaded gourmet hot dogs and barmy bánh mis.
On the coffee front, The Waiting Room uses Union’s hand-roasted signature espresso blend Revelation. And the flat whites are simply supreme. There’s no other word for it. They’re just so consistent. Full-flavoured. And unforgettable. A lot of credit has to go to the baristas, though, who just seem to nail the texture better than anyone else. There’s depth. Even though it’s short-lived and fleeting.
1. OLD SPIKE ROASTERY
54 Peckham Rye, London SE15 4JR
Old Spike’s tasty, small-batch “speciality” beans are roasted in-house and there’s a real hands-on feel to the coffee-shop-cum-homeless-focussed-social-enterprise. Old Spike also helps local passersby out with the best oat flat whites in (south east London) town. If you get the right barista – and bear with him – they’re the absolute perfect blend of dark and light. Bitter and creamy.
There’s not much to the shop itself, really. It’s more walk-in, grab-a-coffee-and-go than sit back and drift off to a cool Spotify playlist. Luckily, it’s practically in Peckham Rye Park, so there are loads of Instagram-friendly spots for a quick coffee-flavoured timeout. To a cool Spotify playlist.