These days everyone’s getting in on the act. Shit, even the Colonel and Ronald McDonald have dipped their blood-stained toes in the new vegan money stream. As a result, mushroom and falafel burgers are out and vegan fast food standards are higher than Woody Harrelson at Christmas. Refreshingly, “proper hamburger” joint Byron didn’t pull any flavour punches with their new Truffler special.
The coolest thing is there’s a poster for the burger in the front window of Byron, Shoreditch. The Truffler is front and center, not some obscure sub-note buried on the menu. It’s Byron’s star of the month. And it definitely sounds like a headliner; Beyond Meat patty, truffle ‘cheese’ fondue, mushrooms, truffle mayonnaise, pickled red onions, mustard and crispy onions.
I’m a sucker for anything truffle-related. And truffle fondue is an amazing idea for a cheese alternative vegan burger topping. Throw in mushrooms and truffle mayonnaise and forget about it. Every bite’s too much. Rich, decadent and wickedly moreish. Before you even touch the Beyond Meat patty – which carries the gooey puddle of flavour like a plant-based burger champ. The mustard and pickled onions add the zing and I’m in vegan burger heaven.
My only criticism is it wasn’t cheesey and saucy enough. I could have done with more fondue. More truffle mayonnaise. But I’ll chalk it up to a stiff-wristed sauce squirter and definitely order it again next time.
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.
Mercato Metropolitano’s a laid back, good-food and tasty-beer oasis in the heart of Elephant and Castle. Yet, despite the Italian-themed food hall’s seemingly endless array of colourful culinary possibilities – from all around the world – most diners seem to make the same choice; a mountain of chips and grilled meat. So needless to say, not so friendly for the vegans.
Recently, however, a new vegan startup planted its plastic-free roots in the midst of the carnage. Enter Love Shack London, a Hackney-based good vibe peddlar, now offering “plant-based power to the people” of south east London.
Setup alongside a stock waffle joint and beef and chip shop, the new Vegan Shack menu sparkles like a rainbow over a sea of beige. A tropical palette of fresh ideas bursting with even fresher ingredients. I felt Spring in my step just reading it.
When it comes to vegan fast food, I don’t usually go for more “rustic” burger patties. But this time the burger in question sounded surreal, like an eccentric work of vegan art. A flavour fiesta I was (not) dying to celebrate.
They call it The Mexican, but it might as well be called The Vegan Sunset. And it features a walnut, mushroom and black bean patty, guacamole, tomato salsa, a mysterious slice of “smoked vegan cheese” and grilled pineapple. All on a fluffy beetroot brioche bun.
The patty itself was perfect. Juicy and firm, yet fresh, wholesome and beany at the same time. And everything was complementary. The creamy, homemade guacamole. The tangiest, tastiest, most tantalising tomato salsa I’ve ever tasted. And the sweet tartness of the grilled pineapple.
Unsurprisingly, The Mexican kind of fell apart in my hands. But it didn’t matter. I licked my fingers in silence. Spellbound by every single bite. It was exquisite. And paired perfectly with the overpriced bottle of Brewdog x Verdant Sheena IPA I got from The Italian Job.
The rapidly evolving world of vegan pizza is a gamut of good, bad and fugly. Some pizza makers think all you have to do to is remove the cheese and throw in a bunch of random roasted vegetables. Or falafel.
But luckily, times are a-changin’. Fast. And Camden and Brighton-based Purezza is one of the most-exciting new-age pioneers leading the plant-based pizza revolution.
Purezza’s mission is simple; to make their plant-based food superior to similar non-vegan alternatives. To do this, head chef Filippo Rosato spent more than two years in his “lab,” working with Italian brown rice to create cheese “tastier than traditional mozzarella.”
Ridiculous, right? Bet it didn’t seem so ridiculous in 2018, when Rosato’s Parmigiana Party creation (red tomato base, smoked mozzarella, aubergine parmigiana, crumbled soya sausage and a dusting of nutritional yeast) won National Pizza of the Year at the National Pizza Awards.
On top of its signature mozzarella, the multi-award winning, all-vegan Italian restaurant also offers raw cashew, ricotta style and creamy coconut cheese. And apparently, they all take ages to make.
We got to the Camden branch of Purezza late after a gig. Ten minutes before closing. So my bandmate Daryn and I quickly ordered a sourdough Parmigiana Party to share and sat down. Needless to say. This panicked decision is one of the biggest regrets of my life.
Because, believe me when I tell you that the fabled Parmigiana Party literally melts in your mouth. Even now, I’m salivating just thinking about it. The textures. The flavours. How they complement each other perfectly, blending into one gooey, heavenly, Neapolitan-style bite after another. Until it’s all gone. Way too fast. And the shop’s closed. And you have to go home. And you live miles away in south east London. And you wish you could go back in time, order one each, some Courgetti Spaghetti and a Cheesesteak Calzone.
Disappointment at my own lack of foresight aside, Purezza more than lived up to the hype. In fact, the Parmigiana Party blew my mind. The crumbly, ‘nduja-like texture of the sausage. The fluffy, freshly singed crust. The rich, cheese-soaked centre. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best pizza I’ve ever tasted and I can’t wait to go back and try them all. According to Daryn, who’s pescaterian – for transparency’s sake – it was as good as the pizzas he had at Strarita and Sorbillo in Naples.
Excitingly, for vegan pizza’s improved credibility’s sake, Purezza is competing in the 2019 World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy from April 9-11. They’ll take on more than 6,500 pizzerias from all over the world. Aiming to showcase that “not only can [vegan pizza] be done, but that it can be done really, really well.” Damn, I hope they win…
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.