I'm not using a lazy pun here- it really has felt like a daze since Field Day to writing about Bestival with some major FOMO vibes at work on Friday. The leaves that are green turn to brown, I've started looking for palm-oil free dumpling recipes, while help from my favourite cookbooks to use the onslaught of kale, root vegetables and beetroot is once again enlisted. I'm not in a rush to get to autumn- drinks in a beer garden after work and a shower is pretty much my idea of paradise, but I thought it would be a good time to document a few of the places and food in London this summer that I've tried out, before the photos look incongruous and the barbeques only smug.
So here's how I spent a third vegan summer in London. I'm pleased to say it gets easier every year, but I'm still surprised by how behind this city feels, even in its vegetarian offerings. I make it a rule not to write bad reviews- I think there's so much that can go wrong for any given day in a cafe or restaurant (I've dropped enough £80 quiches to vouch for this) that it's not fair to distill that online for ever- but there are a few places where the service and attitude might need a warning sign before you reach the great food. It is possible to eat well in this city as a vegan, however reluctant it seems to make it so.
Field Day, Victoria Park, E3
For maybe the first time at a UK festival since becoming vegan, I didn't have to resort to ketchup on chips as one of my five-a-day, and after some minor scouting around, Field Day had some awesome vegan options. This Buddha Bowl (above) from Wholefood Heaven came with brown rice, Massaman curry with new potato, pineapple and tofu, kale and kimchi pickle. I would definitely try and track these fellas down again next year. I also managed to find some vegan paella, which was perfect for some late Sunday afternoon stodge before the Pixies, and there was talk of a vegan burger option... but for once I refused.
Look Mum No Hands! Old Street, EC1
I didn't end up eating anything here as I was feeling like more of a coffee marathon, but this berry smoothie at Look Mum No Hands! was ideal for a Sunday afternoon before heading onto beer. We watched the tail end of a cycling race (I forget which one, this summer's been full of them) and drank soy flat whites into smoothies and then IPAs, which is a well-rounded way to finish off any week in my opinion.
Pavilion Cafe, Victoria Park, E3
I have to admit, I did have fair warning about this one. When more than one online review complains about attitude, you have to hope it's the same bad server or moody chef, and whether that's the case or not, I definitely got talking to a guy in a bad mood the day I decided to visit the Pavilion Cafe.
Considering there's a fair few different fried breakfast options and, after all, this is Hackney (no point dancing round the issue) you'd think it would be quite easy to have one of the simple vegetarian breakfasts veganised, but when I asked if I could swap a fried egg for a portion of spinach, I was told it would be impossible. I don't believe it is impossible, I just think this guy couldn't be bothered to ask in the kitchen that's situated two metres away from the till. So I eventually managed to have my fried egg moved to my boyfriend's plate, which was apparently possible. Almond milk in my coffee (it was stood on the counter so I figured it would be the easiest milk-alternative to ask for) also caused mass-smirkage, and then there was the £23 bill to pay for the experience...
However. The setting by the lake in Victoria Park, literally a stone's throw from the water, was gorgeous, as was the food and coffee when it arrived. So my recommendation is this: offer to pay for you and a plus one to eat here, as long as they go in to order. Step inside at your peril.
The Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green, E2
This place has been on my 'to try' list for a good year, so when I found out I was getting a promotion at one of my jobs, I figured it would be the perfect reason to head down for daytime burgers. The vegan burger was soooo tasty, and it was so nice to have a plate of homemade fries instead of the oven jobs you often come across. The Gallery has excellent attention to detail with the kind of food vegans actually want to eat for breakfast, and a menu that's entirely meat, egg and dairy free apart from the offer of cows' milk in drinks. As it's tucked away down a side street opposite the Museum of Childhood it also comes with a perfect laid-back atmosphere for writing, reading or studying in that's pretty hard to track down in this part of town. I spent the rest of the day forcing myself around on my bike in Hackney, barely able to peddle. Great job!
Selfridges Food Hall, Oxford Street, W1
Now, I'm not saying this is for everyday use, but Selfridges is one of my favourite places to head for a payday/ birthday splurge, simply because the concessions are so well edited, and I would say this even applies to their Food Hall. I was in the neighbourhood (yeah, that old chestnut) doing some food research so thought I'd see what I could put together for my vegan lunch that day. It didn't come in cheap, but not much in W1 does, and it was super tasty, so if you're in a hurry or not in the mood for a restaurant, I'd say it's the perfect place to head to put a Hyde Park picnic together with some more unusual products you won't find in Whole Foods or John Lewis' food hall. I chose a tomato and bean salad from Daylesford Organics, along with a Rebel Kitchen Choco Mylk and Soffle's Rosemary and Thyme Pitta Chips and it was alll sooo gooood. The Rebel Kitchen mylks have since become a bit of a fridge staple in my flat and are great after a run or, as in my boyfriend's case, a grueling night shift. And although I was eating Soffle's Pitta Chips sober, they'd also be great shared around for friends and beer. Just saying.
Planet Organic, Bloomsbury, WC1
Another favourite vegan stock-up point is Planet Organic. Although I live much nearer a Whole Foods, I find Planet Organic is far easier to navigate without getting lost in a whirlwind of lifestyle guilt/ aspirational Xanthun gum. After a bike ride into central London one Saturday afternoon I stopped by the Bloomsbury branch to pick up a present for my Aunt's family lunch the next day and a few treats for a Saturday night in (pretty cray).
Peckham Pelican, Peckham, SE15
Saturday night, mid-July, and Amelie and I had the happy accident of finding ourselves in Peckham with a few hours to kill before a Multi-Story Orchestra performance. I haven't lived in Peckham since graduating, when the only place you could really head to for cheapish food in the day time was the Goldsmiths Cafe in New Cross. Since leaving in 2010, the London Particular has been changing the breakfast/lunchtime landscape every-so-slightly into a place where you don't have to go north of the river for flat whites and sour dough. But for anyone in Peckham not so keen on a 30 minute walk down the A2, I'd recommend the Pelican.
There's always been something that feels looser, perhaps more on a par with Berlin's Kreuzberg and Neukölln neighbourhoods, about South London that never quite comes to life in the East, which is why I'm really fond of the Pelican, with it's strangely specific morning menu devised around bagels, sporadic art gallery and oddly compelling mug wall. For Saturday night I went with an olive and rocket pizza and a Kernel IPA, another south London favourite, before winding our way over to Multi-Story for white wine in plastic cups and unfolding sky lines.
Summer wouldn't be summer without a few rooftop barbeques, so I was super excited when my bff Amelie organised a cook out on top of our work. Lots of dill potato salad, vegan sausages and dijon mustard washed down with endless beer and a rogue bottle of tequila I was left to polish off by myself (?!). The beetroot on the massive grill above was actually grown in my work's rooftop garden, where Amelie's planted herbs with cocktails in mind, like pineapple sage and nasturtiums for lunchtime salads. It's a pretty great party where you can pick your dinner straight from the soil!
Who can say no to a hotdog? Or tasty vegan street food in general really. Which is why I found myself cycling like a woman possessed to get to Granary Square, King's Cross' latest new-fangled area for coffee, extravagant lunchtimes and water fights in the fountains.
Club Mexicana, Granary Square, N1C
Club Mexicana has a stall there on Wednesdays, and after bumping into their account on Twitter, I realised I had to sample some of their vegan tacos made in the theme of 'George Michael's best years'. I only had an hour for lunch, and it takes me a good forty minutes to cycle from north London to Kings Cross, but armed with my CycleStreets app and a good amount of sun block, I somehow managed to arrive at the stall in twenty minutes flat. This is what the very mention of half of Wham! does to me. Everyone on the stand at Club Mexicana was super friendly, (none of this Hackneyier-than-thou that you pick up anywhere north of Shoreditch High Street) and the food is just faultless. Absolutely delicious BBQ-pulled jackfruit and beer-marinated seitan that would probably fit somewhere on my death row meal. For real. They'll be at the Granary for a few more dates in September, but I'd just follow them on Twitter at @clubmexicana in case there's anywhere else they are popping up as I can confirm they are well worth a lunchtime ball-busting mission to find.
Hackney Wicked, Hackney Wick, E9
Sticking with street food, here's the chickpea falafel with coconut chutney Amelie and I shared at Hackney Wicked. The falafel was deep fried in front of us and served up all in the space of 30 seconds, kind of magical. The coconut chutney was so great I decided to write notes about it as I was eating it- despite the day-long IPA drinking... Notes may be a bit far- the actual memo I found on my phone the next day simply says 'MUST MAKE' without even a link to coconut chutney, so it's always good to have a friend around to remember the finer details.
Broadway Market, Hackney, E8 and Wahaca food truck, Southbank, SE1
Two of my favourite 'ah, we don't need to go home really' meals for summertime: hummus, Kettle chips, Turkish pide bread and tomatoes, along with various IPAs in London Fields before rolling up to watch Boyhood at the Picturehouse with Amelie and Vidhi. And then the Wahaca burrito worth waiting in line 40 minutes for on the Southbank at their Mexican Street Kitchen. This one was cactus with frijoles, cabbage and green rice eaten at the side of the Thames with Naomi and Mark.
Tapped & Packed, Soho, W1F
There's quite a few mornings where the only motivation to get out of bed and on the bus/bike/tube is that where I'm going there's better coffee, which is why it's always a good idea to choose the very best place for coffee on a Saturday morning. I loved Tapped & Packed coffee but didn't know they had a shop in Soho too, but my fellow coffee obsessive Naomi chose this TAP to meet at for a weekend catch up and she obviously knew what she was doing. I arrived early, and after making some weird mumbling sounds to the waitress (I think I was asking for a flat white but who really knows), she told me I looked like I needed some breakfast too, so I went with this gorgeous fruit salad (pictured above) with muesli. It was just the right blend of watermelon, Granny Smith apples and nuts and oats, and by the time Naomi arrived I was able to form sentences and everything.
Keu Banh Mi, Old Street, EC1
And finally, a summer habit to take into autumn. Being in Shoreditch on Fridays on the regular has been the perfect excuse to try out all those places you think "when I next have a spare tenner" to yourself on the bus. Keu Banh Mi is one of my favourites- along with On The Bab (which needs its own post- to follow!), as both have menus that are easy to veganise (just remember to ask for no mayonnaise), and the staff are pretty helpful once you explain the no-meat, no-egg no dairy vibes. You may be looking at the photo above and thinking to yourself "but just how good can a warmed tofu and mushroom sandwich BE?", but trust me, it just CAN. I teamed mine with homemade lemonade and a twenty minute gap between freelance jobs and it was sweet as.
Just like that, it gets too cold to be coatless in the mornings, grassy beer gardens no longer look like playgrounds for adults and drunkenly munching on hummus and pide bread in London Fields feels like a lifetime ago. The haze lifts, normal service returns. So long summer daze.