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…
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.
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…
The independent, partly crowd-funded company’s range of frozen vegan pizzas has been on my hit list since I saw them at Vegan Life Live 2019, Alexandra Palace. I didn’t get to try a slice then, because the queue was too long. But it looked and smelled amazing. So imagine the excited little vegan dance I did in my head when I found the whole damn range in an obscure, independent, express supermarket in New Cross Road.
I decided to keep it simple and go for the Three Cheezly Margherita. That’s the one I remember from the expo. And straight away, it had one up on my regular Kirsty’s Classic Margherita – and every other frozen pizza I’ve ever tasted. Because it’s the only one I’ve had that comes with basil leaves already on it. Ready to go. Just pop it in the oven.
Like a lot of vegan margheritas the cheese topping is sticky and gooey. But the three cheese combo makes it thicker and tastier than usual. The texture’s better as well. And the tomato sauce is richer and more flavourful. It’s a quality frozen pizza. So it’s no surprise that One Planet Pizza won Best Vegan Ready Meal at Vegfest 2018.
Interestingly, when I saw One Planet Pizza at Vegan Life Live, the Norwich-based company used Bute Island Sheese on their pizzas. Nowadays, however, they’ve swapped to VBites’ Cheezly alternative. Not sure why. Also, if you don’t live near a magical Embas Express, One Planet Pizza is available from Ocado and hundreds of independent stores across the U.K.
Deptford, New Cross and surrounding-area vegans flock to The Full Nelson like bugs drawn to light. And once zapped, you always come back. I’ve actually held off reviewing the place, scared I’d come across more raving fanboy than vegan food blogger. Because if I had to choose a last meal, right now, it would probably be a Colonel burger with buffalo Seitanic Wings and Penthouse Fries.
It’s the sauces. The magical combination of flavours. And the painstaking attention to detail that separates The Full Nelson from similar seitan-peddling vegan junk food joints. It’s a standout. I’ve ordered takeaway before and sat on the bus a drooling mess, high on the heady wafts of truffle oil, buffalo sauce, parmesan and blue cheese.
I’ve tried most things on the the menu but my favourite’s the Colonel burger. The vegan version of KFC’s Zinger. Only fresher. Tastier. And with more zing. The battered seitan fillet’s always perfect. Juicy, moist and crispy on the outside. A delicious, disbelief-suspending recreation of fried chicken. And the combination of garlic buffalo sauce and lemon and black pepper mayo is pure witchcraft.
Likewise, the Penthouse Fries are just as decadent. The most glamorously dressed, indulgent chips conjured into vegan junk food creation. Think rosemary and smoked paprika-seasoned fries topped with buffalo blue cheese dressing, truffle oil and vegan parmesan. To be honest, I battle to think, talk or do anything else other than eat them, until there’s nothing left.
If that’s not enough, the Seitanic Wings have seriously addressed many of my meat-eating friends’ seitan-is-just-gluten phobias. Unlike some joints, The Full Nelson always gets the texture right. Never dry. Like crispy, succulent chicken tenders, with none of the guilt. Well, some of the guilt. You can order them buffalo, BBQ or teriyaki, but I always go buffalo, with celery and vegan blue cheese sauce on the side. Just like the old days…
It’s a hip hole in the wall, really, that opens late, serves good beer and does brunch on Sundays – seriously, ask for the off-menu Colonel Benedict. And because of the relative smallness of the operation, and the longer-than-usual wait times, you really feel like every efforts being put into making your food look exactly like it does on Instagram.
The seitan is created by South London vegan “meat” and Sunday roast innovators City of Seitan. One thing to keep in mind, though, is everything on the menu’s available either vegetarian or vegan. So it’s up to you to specify when ordering.
Oh, and beware. It’s always packed. You can’t phone ahead. And they’re not on Deliveroo. There is a small (tiny) off-peak window, if you really plan ahead. Otherwise, it’s fun to share and always worth the wait.
Address: 47 Deptford Broadway, Deptford, London SE8 4PH
* The menu is also available Tuesday-Sunday at The Four Quarters, Peckham.
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.