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.
Next up on the vegan junk food highly recommended agenda: VBurger, Camden. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I left The Monarch in Chalk Farm one Sunday evening and it was the only vegan place still open in Camden Market.
The all-vegan menu features the Up-Beet beetroot burger, the Green Falafel, the Seitan Schnitzel and an uninspired-sounding “Moving Mountains” option. I’ve had Moving Mountains patties twice. Not a fan. Second time, from a local pub, I couldn’t even finish the burger.
On paper, nothing about VBurger’s menu sounded particularly magical. No fancy burger names or dad joke vegan meat puns in sight. I ordered the Seitan Schnitzel. Deep-fried bread-coated seitan, “cheeky” chipotle mayo and salad. Relatively straightforward. And hard to get wrong. I did add vegan bacon strips for a Pound. So that piqued my interest.
The first thing I noticed was the bright yellow turmeric bun. And the smell. Everything seemed so fresh – which is impressive near closing time on a Sunday. The seitan was crisp and juicy. Up there with the best. The burger was saucy. The chipotle mayo was definitely cheeky. The bacon hit the spot. And the bun was bewitching.
VBurger takes something simple and packages it with style. Again, the magical formula is reimagining tried and tested fast food formulas with enough flavour and panache to create a memorable burger. And the Seitan Schnitzel is definitely a memorable burger.
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
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.