I was in a fancy coffee shop in Blackheath. There were no vegan sandwich options. Nothing. Not even falafel. When I turned, poised to passively aggressively storm out in mild disgust, the barista asked what I was after. “A vegan sandwich,” I said. “Tell me what you want,” he replied. “I’ll make it fresh.” Nice thought, only he had no vegan mayo, no vegan pesto, no vegan cheese, no vegan anything. Just roast vegetables and bread. Luckily, I held out.
The next place I tried was not fancy. Just a low-key Greenwich cafe full of old people, that sells terrible, terrible coffee dirt cheap. But when I looked through the sandwich shelf I couldn’t believe my luck. Vegan coronation chickpea, seitan and spinach on granary bread? Yes please. And it wasn’t the only option, either.
The sandwich was delicious. I’ve had coronation chickpea before. But the addition of seitan is a game changer. In fact, I almost wish there weren’t any chickpeas. Just coronation seitan and spinach. And maybe some sultanas or raisins. I used to love a coronation chicken sandwich, and this was pretty damn close to the real thing.
Interestingly, the sandwiches in the cafe are provided by south London supplier Simply Lunch. The company plays up its “family run,” “handmade” angle, and the sandwiches are made fresh every day. Like I always say, vegan sandwiches need to be interesting and creative. Perhaps even more so. And encouragingly, Simply Lunch seems to be experimenting with a wide range of plant-based options. For the record, this one’s a keeper!
In the old days (read late last year), Upton’s Naturals Bacon was all we had. Quorn bacon, of course, still includes milk and egg – and it’s basically liquid mould. Then, steadily, I started stumbling across vegan supermarket gold like Sgaia’s Vegan Meats and all-star high roller THIS Isn’t Bacon. Now, supermarkets like Waitrose are doing it themselves. And they’re doing it damn well.
Until recently – other than the Full Nelson’s crispy in-house tofu bacon – THIS Isn’t Bacon was my favourite meat-free alternative. But I think Waitrose has just edged it. Because everything about their own-brand “smoky streaky slices” is perfect. The taste. The texture. The smell. Even the thickness is on point.
Waitrose’s streaky slices, you see, are thinner than THIS Isn’t Bacon. So they’re more bacon-like and easier to crisp up. In fact, the texture’s the perfect middle ground between thinner, more cardboard-like Upton’s Naturals Bacon slices and thicker, more salmon-like THIS Isn’t Bacon rashers. They’re juicy, but they ain’t chunky. They’re also wheat and pea-protein based, and soy free.
The smoky flavour’s exactly what you’re looking for as well – thanks to maple syrup and smoked paprika. And when you cook them up the kitchen smells like a late, hungover Sunday morning. So far, this is the best, most legit, vegan supermarket bacon alternative I’ve had. And you know what, maybe the future’s looking good for pigs after all.
Since it launched, THIS’ range of plant-based chicken and bacon alternatives has wormed its way on to fast food menus across the U.K. From hot new recruit Chick ‘n’ Sours to Patty & Bun and Chilango. The times they are a-changed. And the best part is you can buy THIS Isn’t Bacon (and THIS Isn’t Chicken) and cook it at home.
These days new vegan options hit shelves faster than Lewis Hamilton. It wasn’t that long ago when THIS’ plant-based rashers first launched in Holland & Barrett stores countrywide, becoming the proverbial plant-based white whale. White kale? Now they’re everywhere.
Unlike other vegan bacon I’ve tried, there’s more to THIS Isn’t Bacon. It’s thicker. Juicier. More substantial. More “meat” like. In fact, in its raw state, it looks more like chunks of smoked salmon than bacon. But as soon as it hits the pan the nose remembers.
As always, I cook my plant-based meat a bit longer than the recommended dosage – in this case, three minutes. Seriously? What can you do in three minutes? I’m a crispy bacon, well-done kind of guy. And cooked properly, it tastes great. On pancakes. On toast. On its own. I’ve even gone all out and made my own THIS Isn’t Bacon Beyond Meat cheeseburgers.
Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon is not health food – unless you’re a pig. In fact, it’s 24% soy protein, 8% soy protein isolate and described as “ridiculously high in protein.” You know how crazy people go for protein…
Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon does possess magical hangover-curing powers. And nobody dies. So maybe this is bacon. How it’s supposed to be.
No one I ask has ever heard of Oumph! It’s like some kind of hush-hush full-time vegan secret that just seemed to appear one day. First there was BBQ Pulled Oumph! Then came Oumph! Kebab Spiced. And now there’s a new Oumph! Burger, which I haven’t tried yet. So people are obviously buying the stuff.
The “meat” itself is pretty damn convincing – especially for frozen, pulled supermarket soya pieces. The taste and texture reminds me of What the Pitta’s amazing vegan kebab “meat.” Or at least a frozen, DIY version. But still… believe me, that’s high praise indeed.
I’ve tried both versions of the Swedish company’s pulled soya meat. In wraps with homemade hummus. On loaded rosemary fries with Garlic Aioli Vegenaise and sriracha. With roast potatoes. Rice. And roasted vegetables. And Oumph! never disappoints. It’s simple. It’s delicious. And it’s easy to dress up and enjoy.
Now this one is straight out of vegan dreamland. A sign that veganism might have reached some kind of monumental tipping point. Where anything is seemingly possible.
Recently, I was talking to a friend, who asked me if there was anything I missed since I’d gone vegan. And because I grew up in South Africa the only two things I could think of were biltong and mutton curry bunny chows. Turning bunny chows vegan was never going to be a problem, but biltong seemed like a plant-based pipe dream not worth holding on to.
Then, a few days later, I saw a bag of Kings Black Bean Veggie Jerky dangling from a shelf at eye-level in the coffee aisle of my local ASDA. A light shone down through the cobwebs on the rafters. Like a sign from the vegan gods. If you dream it, it will come.
To be honest, initial excitement aside, I wasn’t expecting much from my tiny bag of “marinated air-dried strips of vegan protein.” It was more of a novelty buy. But they really surprised me. They’re just so tasty and moreish. A perfect light “pub snack.” In fact, I could do with a bag right now.
The soya strips have got great texture as well, but they’re not as chewy as biltong. I guess that’s why it’s called veggie jerky. Right. But for a former biltong fan it’s as close as I’ve come for a very long time. There’s only about five pieces in each bag. So it’s all over in minutes. But it’s a great few minutes. There’s an Eastern BBQ version out there as well, which I’ll be trying real soon.
If you’re in the mood for something quick and easy, and don’t mind soya, wheat and scary sounding additives like maltodextrin, Squeaky Bean Veg’s nut-free vegan satay kievs are a tasty – and very convincing – chicken alternative.
The texture’s perfect. Just like the schnitzels I remember growing up. Especially if you cook them a bit longer than recommended, hit grill towards the end and crisp them up in a splash of olive oil – or melt a cheeky slice of Violife cheddar on top. And when you hit the middle it’s like a savoury, vegan-chicken doughnut, filled with sweet, nut-free satay sauce.
I’ve eaten them on pasta. With vegan mac ‘n cheese. In burgers, with cheese and other fancy toppings. With bubble and squeak and a side of “meaty” Marmite gravy… Their role in lunch or dinner’s totally up to you. But one thing they consistently don’t do, is disappoint.