When it comes to veganism, Whole Foods ain’t playing around. And the Piccadilly Circus superstore is a proper plant-based day out. I walk the aisles in a daze. Picking up gourmet supermarket gold like Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten, Follow Your Heart Garlic Aioli Vegenaise, Cocofina Coconut Aminos and Crosstown Doughnuts to go.
Predictably, the store’s on-the-go vegan food is just as lavish, decadent, and most importantly, imaginative. Instead of chickpea flatbreads and onion bhajis I found a dreamy-sounding smoky bacon maple tempeh, tomato, guacamole and cheeze option on a ciabatta roll. And I think I might have just discovered my new favourite sandwich.
If you haven’t tried tempeh yet, do it. It’s like tofu, only meatier. And when it’s smoked, glazed in maple syrup and served up like bacon – with melted vegan cheese and guacamole – oh man. It’s like a little soy based, Indonesian vegan dream. And the fact that the sandwich is hot is a massive novelty as well. What a treat.
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.
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.