Back in May, I headed further up the Northern Hemisphere to take part in an Immersion Course in Healing Diets in the United Kingdom (which I would love to fill you in on in another blogpost). That was the main purpose of my trip. The purpose that came in at an extremely close second was to explore the vegan landscape of London. My last visit there happened the year just before I went vegan, and the options back then were a far cry to what they are now. Everyone knows what it is, and attitudes surrounding the movement is predominantly positive – at least from what I felt! The sense of social awareness and responsibility in London is very strongly felt simply by observing the consumer options available. Coming from a country that still has leaps and bounds to go, it was empowering to be in an environment that I hope for Malaysia to one day achieve.
Despite me going to heaps of places (and getting broke in the process), this list is far from comprehensive. I covered as many of the major establishments as possible during my one week in London. (Looking at this list now, I’m actually quite impressed with how much I covered in a week!) But there were so many other gems that I missed, and I can only imagine how long – and exorbitant – such a culinary expedition would take!
TIP: Download the Citymapper app to help you get around. It is a GODSEND.
An unexpected bonus was a day trip to Brighton. Having only been there once before and in the evening, the gay capital of England, in all of its bright summery colours. quickly won a long-awaited place in my heart. Every second or third cafe I passed had a ‘vegan’ AND ‘gluten-free’ sign. Should I find myself back in the UK again sometime, an extended stay in Brighton would definitively be on the cards.
Here are my finds and my honest opinions in no particular order.
1. THE VURGER CO., Canary Wharf
What I ate: The Classic
Fancy marketing and impressive media reviews is what mostly lead me to try this place out. This fully vegan burger joint perfected just FOUR types of burgers and it looks like that’s all they’ll ever need. The Classic features a patty made of black bean, bell, pepper, chickpea and corn, with the regular must-haves of tomato, onion, pickles, vegan cheese and a house-made burger sauce.
The patty has just the right amount of bite – not too soggy, not too dry – however, it’s the sum of everything that makes it work. The copious amount of sauce, pickles and surprisingly stretchy cheese helps to recreate that classic burger experience. Having now tried this, I would be comfortable moving right on to the next burger on the menu. Not because The Classic is bad, but because it’s exactly what it says it is: a successful execution of familiar flavours.
I went to the branch at Canary Wharf; there is another branch in Shoreditch.
All the info you need is on The Vurger Co. website.
2. SUTTON AND SONS, Hackney
What I ate: Fish and Chips, Mushy Peas, Tartar Sauce, Battered Calamari Strips
Price: £8.50, £1.95, £0.25, £5.95
Of COURSE I could not go back to Kuala Lumpur without getting my paws on a British classic! I grew up in Australia and every so often my dad would come home with the crunchiest, fluffiest fish and chips wrapped in brown paper. My attachment to the dish is quite solid.
My heart fluttered when I turned to Google for suggestions and read about a traditional family-run establishment offering a meatless option AND not in a mock meat form. Surprisingly, Sutton and Sons offered an alternative with a battered slab of banana blossom – Jantung Pisang to us Malaysians.
I was taken aback by how much banana flower imitates fish meat, right down to the way it flakes and even biting on the occasional plant fibre which flexes like fishbone.
However, the doppelganger act ends there. Despite the restaurant soaking their blossoms in seaweed and samphire to achieve a taste of the ocean, this does not magically transform something from a tree to a creature from the sea. The actual taste of banana blossom is neutral at best. But I got what I came for – a natural whole foods substitute. The mouthfeel alone of banana blossom is enough to astound.
The ‘mockiness’ was reserved for the Calamari Strips. I was told they were made out of Japanese mushrooms. They successfully conveyed a squid-like chewiness and a slightly umami taste.
A favourable reputation of a plate of Fish and Chips is carried by its batter. At Sutton and Sons, the vegan batter was not too thick nor too heavy, and crunchy without being too oily. The hand-cut chips stayed juicy and were a delight to eat even when cold. The tartare sauce here is worth applauding, with its creaminess and chunks of gherkin. My absolute necessity with every F&C meal, Mushy Peas, was light and velvety.
For a traditional shop to be able to attract a new wave of plant-based customers, I give a thumbs up for a commendable effort.
Sutton and Sons offers their vegan menu at all their branches, including Stoke Newington and Islington. More info at their website.
3. PRET A MANGER, Everywhere
What I ate: Falafel, Avo & Chipotle Flat Bread, Coconut & Mango Bowl
Price: £3.99, £2.99 (Takeaway prices)
A franchise that needs no introduction to any Londoner, Pret A Manger is pretty much an institution for the ‘grab and go’ concept. Ten years ago, the only meatless sandwich option there was was Egg and Cress. Now, herbivores get to browse through their meal options, from wraps to soups to smoothie bowls!
The flatbread and dessert bowl travelled with me on train and bus for over three hours before I got to eat them. The flatbread got soggy and sweet potato falafels and avocado slices got quite mooshed but these were a given, and as ‘terrible’ as things got. Thankfully, the English weather helps in preserving meals quite well throughout the day. The charred corn salsa offered some much-needed crunch, and boy, was that chipotle hot! For the coconut mango pot, the yoghurt-like base was tangy but extremely ‘fatty’, reminiscent of coconut oil hardened from low temperatures, and left a greasy coating on my lips. The crispiness of the pomegranate seeds helped to balance this out. All in all, for the price, it was a decently tasty and filling meal.
Pret A Manger branches are plentiful all around London, and their website has a ‘vegan’ filter for easier menu browsing. Game-changing charity organization Veganuary has compiled a list of all the vegan-friendly items available at Pret A Manger.
4. VEGAN 222, Hammersmith
What I ate: Lunch Buffet
Price:£11.50 (Dine-in price)
A continental-inspired lunch buffet awaits the hungry herbivore at this cafe, standing confidently and quietly along the long stretch of North End Road.
The spread featured equal numbers of hot and cold dishes. There was an innovative use of fresh local produce, herbs and spices, with influences from all corners of the globe. From the refreshing to the warm and comforting, every dish had a stand-alone taste and texture, but when eaten together somehow they managed to stay complementary. Standouts for me were the Beetroot Salad (dressed in sesame oil for an oriental nuance), the quinoa (a Chef’s Special, well seasoned with vegetable stock and a hint of fresh basil), and a baked melange of potato, sweet potato and… banana!
Customers are charged for having excess leftovers, so I recommend that you take small portions at a time, graze at a gentle pace and wrap up your last serving when you your tummy sends early signals of an upcoming time-out.
By nightfall, Vegan 222 becomes a romantic candlelit venue with an enticing evening menu. I didn’t get to experience it, but my mate Benny, who checked it out based on my recommendation, loved the dinner selection.
Find out more at their website.
5. EAT OF EDEN, Brixton
What I ate: Bean Burger Meal Set
Based on rave reviews all over the internet, I made a point to check this place out. The Rastafarian-European-inspired menu was expansive, and it was hard to decide on something to eat. I made the safe choice of a Bean Burger, layered with salad, hummus and a sweet chilli sauce. I asked the cashier if the patty was made in-house, and she said yes.
To be honest, the patty, coated with breadcrumbs, looked and tasted exactly like a patty that my friend made for me straight out of a packet in her freezer the day before. Not to say that my friend’s patty was bad, it was actually quite nice… as a teatime snack. Perhaps the cashier misinterpreted my question, perhaps their bean patties are indeed made in-house and are incidentally similar to what I had. But I was just expecting something a little bigger, a little juicer, a little saucier, a little more sha-bam. The baked hand-cut sweet potato fries were so-so and made up the bulk of the meal.
My friend Erica (you can see her beautiful purple braids in the photo) chose the Mushroom Burger and THAT looked good. The juice was dripping down her fingers! She enjoyed her lunch, and I at least enjoyed watching her enjoy it. My aforementioned mate Benny checked this place out too, ordered a Platter and LOVED it. It seems that I made a poor choice and that the rave reviews are coming from everything else! If given the chance, I would re-visit and try other items.
Learn more about Eat of Eden here.
6. FARM GIRL, Notting Hill
What I Ate: Rose Matcha, Mango Berry Cake
Price: £4.20, £???
You know those places that look like a hole in the wall but have the most scrumptious food in the cosmos? I’m THAT kind of foodie. So when a friend suggested that we meet here for a cuppa – a fancy pants cafe in a fancy pants part of town – I admit I was a little anxious.
Upon entering this branch in Notting Hill, Farm Girl throws you into a tea party wonderland… an open-air terrace, white brick walls, pink tables, vines and hanging plants, an interior tiled up in hues of turquoise. Farm Girl is clearly designed for one to be seen at. (I am only finding out now that Farm Girl attracts its fair share of celebs.)
I ordered my Super Latte with oat milk. Apparently a hit with Instagrammers, the Rose Matcha is not just a pretty face. The delicate hints of rose water elegantly paired itself with the mellow bitterness of matcha. And it was smooth like a dream.
To be honest, I can’t remember what cake we ordered, as it was a Special of the Day. I know for sure it had mango, and if I recall it had a berry… perhaps raspberry? Whatever berry it was, it was not detected at all. The mango-ness of the semolina cake was delicious, but I personally would have favoured something with a little more moisture.
Bless my friend who took the tab, but because of that I’m clueless on the price of the cake slice. The rest of the allergen-friendly menu does make eating healthy seem incredibly sexy, boasting smoothie bowls and lunch bowls plated to perfection. Farm Girl is not for the thrifty. But as an experience, it may be worth spoiling oneself for a special occasion.
You can read an interesting interview with the cafe owner here. And if you like pretty things, the Farm Girl website is worth a looksee.
7. GREGGS, Everywhere
What I Ate: Vegan Sausage Roll
A few months ago, I had a interview for a British vegan magazine student project over Skype, and I asked the interviewer what I should look out for for my upcoming visit to London. She replied that the foodscape in general was exciting everywhere… before recommending the newly-launched Vegan Sausage Roll by the UK’s largest grocery chain.
8. BRIXTON VEGAN MARKET, Brixton
What I Ate: Veggie Meal Deal from Maame T’s Kitchen Stall
A Sunday food market that’s catered for vegans? I found out about the Brixton Vegan Market just days before my last day in London… which happened to be Sunday. Score!
After getting off Brixton station, I After spending a good 15 minutes walking around trying to find the darn street and was on the verge of assuming that it was either not on, or I was as blind as a bat. What a relief, I’m just a bat. If you have trouble spotting it yourself, please do what I didn’t do: ask around!
The Vegan Market is also a Farmer’s Market, where local farmers share their fresh locally grown (largely organic) produce. Had I not been flying off that very night, I would have definitely taken home some lovely-looking veggies to make myself a salad.
It seemed to be a quiet day. I was told by one of the vendors that the street tends to be more populated with vegan food options, but it was most likely a busy weekend in summer, with most regular vendors catering to events elsewhere. Regardless, whatever few options offered to me were still impressive.
I passed on the mouthwatering burgers and folded pizzas, I went instead for African-inspired cuisine, since I rarely get the opportunity to sample it.
The selection at Maame T’s Kitchen had a very homestyle feel. Fried bits and bobs, stews and curries. I decided to go for a Veggie Meal, where I get to pick 3 sides. I asked for my meal to be packed in my collapsible takeaway container – which the ladies loved! – and I went for Spiced Pumpkin, Mixed Mushroom and Vegetable Stew, Curried Chickpeas with Spinach, and Coconut Infused Lemongrass Rice.
What feisty flavours! Spices pranced atop my tastebuds and the dishes were cooked just enough to hold a crunch that was easy to munch. The interesting thing is that out of everything I chose, the rice was the most memorable, with its confident marriage of coconut and lemongrass. All three dishes worked in perfect harmony. And it was FILLING AF. They seriously filled my container to the brim and it felt like I was carrying brick in my backpack. Not a bad thing!
Knowing that there are many other vendors waiting to be experienced, I’m coming back for sure.
To stay updated on the Brixton Vegan Market, check out their Facebook Page.
9. TEMPLE OF SEITAN, Camden
What I Ate: Chick’N Wings (Flavoured)
It was impossible to NOT include this place on the list! I’ve heard tons about Temple of Seitan on social media and it was exciting to get to try it out for myself. If you are not familiar with the word, Seitan is a plant-based meat substitute made of wheat protein. (Gluten intolerant friends, fret not: the menu offers a few gluten-free options, including the item I chose.)
The Camden branch is not the most conspicuous, so sharpen your lookout skills as you walk along the river route. Even if your eyes miss it, chances are your nose won’t… you might pass the kitchen ducts which blast out the smell of honest-to-goodness awesome fried (non)chicken!
Each branch is labelled after its location. So if you look up Temple of Seitan on your map app, chances are it’s not there. Temple of Hackney and Temple of Camden are what you’d find instead. They are not places of worship. Well. Hmm.
It was a bright, sunny day, and the cafe was full of happy diners, mostly students. I was attended to with a smile.
I ordered my Chick’N Wings with Buffalo Sauce and and Ranch Mayo.
I was expecting a modest side serving but it came as a full on meal! The wings had the texture of white meat, but a little more moist. The batter plays the role of award-winning supporting cast member; it is very thin and picks up just the right amount of sauce to complement the tender interior. The ranch sauce was mildly flavoured and indulgently rich, a great pairing with the tangy, spicy buffalo sauce.
Although the first few bites were heaven, it got a little monotonous and I slowly began to regret not ordering a burger. This dish was a MAJOR gluten overload and I only just managed to finish it without feeling mighty gross about myself. I feel that the Wings are best shared by 2 people. I wouldn’t see myself dining at the Temple every day – at the end of the day, fast food is fast food no matter what it’s made of. But for the occasional dopamine rush, I understand why Londoners come back for their fix time and time again.
Get your drool on at Temple of Seitan’s website.
10. COOKIES AND SCREAM, Holloway Road
What I ate: Ice Scream Cookie Sandwich
This place is a proper gem, serving up baked desserts that are not only vegan but also gluten-free.
Note that on either side of Cookies and Scream is a Greggs shop AND an Ethiopian restaurant with vegan options… so your appetizer, main course AND dessert is sorted at the same spot!
The cookie and milkshake bar pays homage to vintage pop culture and proudly proclaims itself a laptop-free zone with no wifi.
Everything on bake display – from brownies to pies to something called a Wookie – looked so ridiculously good, and their extensive low-fat shake menu looked incredible too. Having just come from lunch, I couldn’t be too ambitious, and thought that having an Ice Scream Sandwich (I picked Double Choc cookies and vanilla ice cream) would offer just enough satisfaction.
I was wrong. It was TOO MUCH SATISFACTION.
Within its deceiving size was the DENSEST OF THE DENSEST cookies and the DENSEST OF THE DENSEST ice cream. I marched on with soldier’s valour. Then I surrendered, licked off the ice cream, and saved half of the cookies for breakfast the next day.
But oh, was it heaven in a basket.
The soy-based ice cream was blissfully thick yet fluffy and the cookies, although on the very sweet side, did not have the cowardly crumble that many other homebaked gluten-free cookies have. They broke off solidly into my mouth, almost like chocolate itself. And melted like it too.
Should I find myself at Cookies and Scream again, I would know much better: come early, with friends, on an empty stomach, and sample as much of this menu as possible until we sugar crash and burn.
Visit their Instagram page and ogle away.
11. WHAT THE PITTA, Camden
What I Ate: Vegan döner
The lunchtime crowd at Turkish-inspired cafe What The Pitta was decent but not surprisingly so, considering its cult status that lured me to this quieter corner of Camden. A döner kebab is what we Malaysians simply identify as a a kebab: a flatbread hugging meat sliced off a vertical roast. The soy-based meat substitute offered in this fully plant-based establishment is marinated using a secret family recipe.
Wow. This was mindblowing. The bread had that chewy freshness, the smoky soy meat was not rubbery at all and had just the right amount of juice and charred crispiness. Two whole greek-style pickled peppers laid in the middle offered mild-to-moderate heat, and the pickled cabbage, house sauce and chili sauce completed the perfect kebab experience.
Holding the meal itself was a workout – it easily felt like a little over half a kilo. Make sure you come hungry, or have a container on hand to take away leftovers.
Apart from Camden and Shoreditch, What The Pitta can also be found outside London: Croydon and Brighton. Learn more here.
12. SPREAD EAGLE, Homerton
What I Drank: Jarr Kombucha
Price: Somewhere between £3 to £4
Okay, so this has an embarrassing story.
The Spread Eagle is one of East London’s oldest pubs, now also known as London’s first all-vegan pub. It serves cruelty-free alcohol (I learned on this trip that, like wine, not all beers are vegan!) and delicious Mexican grub by street food vendor Club Mexicana. Pet-friendly too. I don’t drink, but I figured that a pub experience like this would be hard to pass up.
During my trip, I learned that the pub was going to feature a disco deejay whom I loved watching at a music festival in Thailand last year. I freaked out. Burning off tacos on the dancefloor? How could life get any better?
I took a train half an hour out, stepped through the doors of Spread Eagle, and figured… this place is awfully quiet for a place that’s set to play disco in half an hour.
The bar girl helped me realize that the place my deejay was playing at was in fact…
An LGBT-friendly bar.
A 40-minute train ride in ANOTHER direction.
And I missed the last call for dinner by 15 minutes.
I umm-ed and ahh-ed for a few minutes and figured, You Know What? I’m still gonna give it a shot. I honoured my visit to Spread Eagle with a bubbly bottle of kombucha, passionfruit flavour, which came with a paper straw (and my hurried state made me forget to make a note of how much the drink cost, but it was definitely within the range I’ve mentioned). I then went back out into the damp cold to continue my hunt for this elusive other Eagle… but not without the bar girl shouting “GOOD LUCK!” on my way out. Bless her cotton socks.
I would need to come back for a much longer stretch of time at Spread Eagle, have a bite and unwind over a drink or two. I don’t mind having something like that to look forward to for the next trip. If you’d like to tick that off your list too, check out their website.
By the way, I did end up finding Eagle London. That part of the story is something to be saved for another day.
So first up, the prices for my Brighton spots are not as thorough as London. It was a spontaneous daytrip and didn’t realize that I didn’t have most receipts on me upon my return to Kuala Lumpur. Wherever I can, I put a safe estimate on price.
1. GLAZED COFFEE, Ditchling Road
What I Ate: Blueberry and Cashew Donut
Price: Somewhere between £2 to £3
This tiny cafe seemed to have rated quite high on what they had to offer according to social media. After getting dropped off by Brighton Pier for a day out, I convinced my classmates that Glazed was worth the hunt. What I didn’t realize, is how far out the cafe seems to be from the main buzz of the city. It probably is an ideal pitstop for the locals more than for tourists. It was a 20 minute walk from the pier – not a problem for me, but for a bunch of six hungry people who hadn’t yet have their morning coffee fix, it was an unnecessarily long excursion.
When we finally arrived, the size and grungy feel of the cafe did not go down well with my mates, so I grabbed a donut to go and we found somewhere else that could better accommodate the group.
I’m grateful they put up with my ambition because this was delicious. The donuts are handmade on-site from scratch every morning, and I could taste the freshness in every bite. The blueberry jam and extremely indulgent cashew butter tasted like a luxe version of peanut butter and jelly, and the donut itself was soft, moist and wholesome.
I would love to come back and try more flavours… and stay for a coffee too.
I’ve never had a donut with coffee.
I’ve just realized that.
More donuts can be virtually savoured on Glazed Coffee’s Instagram account.
2. HISBE, York Place
WHAT I ATE: Vego White Chocolate
Price: £2.25 (I think!)
Given the spontaneous nature of the trip, I had just enough time to ask a Brighton local for recommendations. I was introduced to Claire through a friend last year, and I got to take her around Kuala Lumpur for a day. It was her turn to suggest what to get up to, in her neck of the woods. The one and only food recommendation? A small bar of chocolate. Well… when in Brighton!
Claire told me that the Vego Almond Bliss White Chocolate Bar was specifically found at Hisbe, a grocery store which I fell in love with the moment I stepped in. An pseudo-acronym for ‘How It Should Be’, Hisbe at its core aims to offer an ethical shopping experience to customers. It featured a zero waste grocery section, package-free seasonal local produce, and a glorious open-air bake display, half of it being vegan.
The bar I was on a mission for was easily found in the candy / chocolate aisle. I recall it was just a little over two pounds.
As I unraveled this delicate little bar from its wrapping, I wondered how good a chocolate bar could possibly be.
As I quickly discovered, as good as nectars of the gods could get.
As a vegan who, up until then, only had access to dark chocolate, I found this white version to be shockingly decadent. It washed over my tongue like wisps of dairy-free dreams, leaving behind small crunchy almond bits. I don’t know how they make something so miraculous out of six simple ingredients. But they certainly go the name right. Perhaps Claire knew that I was going to be out and about trying things here and there anyway, and if she didn’t single this out for me, it would have totally gone past my radar.
Passing the recommendation on to you good folk. If white chocolate doesn’t float your boat, Hisbe is still a great store to explore.
Learn about the values they stand for here.
3. THE GUARANA BAR, Sydney Street
What I Drank: Coconut milk latte (decaf) with Guarana Shot
Price: £2.40 + 50p (I think!)
4. THE PLANT ROOM, Brighton Square
What I Ate: House Fry Up
The innovative menu and minimalistic vibe of this cafe seemed to be a big draw for a crowd that came across as young professionals.
A part of me was worried that a place so focused on presentation would place a smaller priority on taste, but that concern was short-lived. Everything on my plate was spectacularly curated, including pillowy chickpea scramble, succulent gourmet brekkie sausages and portobello mushrooms sautéed with copious amounts of garlic. I took the longest to finish at my table… partially because of the generous serving, partially because I was eating slowly enough to play up the illusion that it was never going to end.
The Plant Room is also located in Hove. If you’d like to get the skinny, their website is just as minimalist as the venue itself.
5. SMORL’S, Brighton Open Market
What I ate: A partial lasagne and Houmous (Extra Garlic)
This unassuming family-run cafe popped up a lot on my online Brighton food search. Although I didn’t bother doing a cafe hunt at all in Brighton for lack of time, a classmate Shannon and I stumbled upon Smorl’s anyway, just from wandering.
The staff was just closing up for the evening. and catching sight of us snooping around the area, exclaimed,
“Would you like some bolognese?”
“How much is it?”
Shannon and I thought our ears needed a good clean, but the offer was legit. They gave us a box of leftover bolognese sauce each, topped with baked sweet potato.
We couldn’t believe our good fortune, and expressed immense gratitude. But it doesn’t even end there.
When I explained to them that I was a vegan food blogger, they figured that I should try out something else and handed over a POT OF HUMMUS.
I tried a little bit of Shannon’s box of bolognese. That was some delightfully buttery sweet potato, and I reckon that the bolognese sauce was made with beans, most likely lentils. Good lord, was it LUSH. Chunky, smooth and umami-loaded all at once. The same could be said for the Houmous. You could indeed taste bold, generous amounts of fresh garlic, and the fresh parsley added a bright touch of texture and taste. I would choose this homemade feel over something processed with E numbers in a supermarket any day.
I ended up giving my bolognese to the taxi driver who took us to Brighton and back to East Sussex, where we were based for our studies. It was a simple gift I had the honour of passing on, and to someone who worked extremely long hours and still offered good, safe service with a smile.
Thank you Smorl’s for your generosity. It won’t be the last you’ll see of me!
Click here to be inspired by the Houmous legacy of Smorl’s, and the love they pour into everything they do.
1 thought on “Cafe Scouting: London and Brighton”
Wow that’s some seriously good food tour! Really glad your stopped by at What The Pitta and thank you for taking such a nice picture and sharing your experience! All the best, Cem