The number of vegans in Britain has risen by more than 360 per cent in the past decade. But they’re not the only ones hungry for meat-free dishes. Recent YouGov research found that more than half of us think meat is not a necessary component of every meal, and many in the restaurant trade are responding by offering a more veg-centric approach.
High street chains such as Asian fusion favourite Wagamama and pub behemoth JD Wetherspoon’s are now offering vegan and vegetarian menus. Even McDonald’s is after a slice of the vegan pie: this month, the franchise announced it is testing out a McVegan burger (available in Finland only, for now).
Vegetables are no longer just humble sides, but are now often considered the main event
orld Vegan Month,which takes place in November, has encouraged even more restaurants to take up the challenge. Italian restaurant Carluccio’s has just launched its first exclusively vegetarian pop-up: Cucina Verde will take place on #MeatFreeMondays throughout November. It’s set to showcase over 20 Italian veggie and vegan dishes from Antonio Carluccio, created in collaboration with cook and food writer Anna Barnett.
Meanwhile, the autumn menu features newly launched vegetarian and vegan staples (all to be washed down, of course, with vegan wines). Antonio Carluccio’s personal favourite is the orecchiette al cavoflore (cauliflowee purée with kale and chilli).
— London Vegans (@LDNVegans) October 13, 2017
For Carluccio, the simplicity of vegetarian and vegan food reminds him of the “peasant cooking” of Italy, and ties in with his essential motto, “mof mof” (minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour). “You only need two or three ingredients to make a wonderful dish,” he tells me.
This philosophy is exemplified in his latest cookbook, titled quite simply Vegetables (scroll down for an exclusive recipe for sweet and sour pumpkin from the book).
A pepper or an aubergine can be treated in such a way that it becomes as tasty as meat
He suggests a considered way of using spices and herbs when it comes to vegan and vegetarian dishes, and laments the fact that Brits often consider a dish to be Mediterranean simply because it contains plenty of garlic and a mish-mash of herbs.
“Oregano disturbs almost every dish. You feel the taste everywhere. There are many other herbs like chevril and tarragon and so on that you can play with, and if you don’t put them all together, that’s ok. It’s a question of balance,” he advises. “A pepper or an aubergine can be treated in such a way that it becomes as tasty as meat.”
He particularly recommends that fans of plant-based dishes experiment with the cardoon, which is similar to an artichoke, dipped in anchovy butter and garlic. “It’s delightful,” he sighs.
For Carluccio, the rise in the popularity of plant-based eating is a trend that’s here to stay: “I don’t like something because it’s in fashion. That means it’s going to go away. Vegetarian or vegan food is a question of nourishing the body with something pure and nice. It’s not a question of the fashion, but of taste, variety and requirement.”
Similarly, Anna Barnett sees it as a cultural shift away from the ingrained meat-and-two veg model, rather than merely a trend. “I think everyone is more educated, and more conscious of the environmental impact, as well as the impact on their own health,” she says. “There are so many incredible recipes being shared now using seasonal produce, so you don’t need to feel like you’re missing out with a veg-centred dish.”
So, what other vegetarian or vegan dishes are now readily available on your high street?
The new Wagamama vegan and vegetarian menu has been “designed around the idea that meat-free shouldn’t mean taste-free.” There are hearty bowls of veggie goodness such as the kare burosu (shichimi coated silken tofu and grilled mixed mushrooms on a bed of udon noodles within a curried vegetable broth), a spicy yasai samla lemongrass and coconut curry and a pink guava sorbet for a sweet finish.
Despite a focus on chicken, Nando’s also offers plant-based options, including a decent bean burger and a quinoa salad. The autumn menu takes it a step further with two new veggie options: a sweet potato and butternut burger and a “Supergreen” burger made up of broccoli, edamame beans and kale.
— Nando’s (@NandosUK) October 19, 2017
The new autumn menu at Carluccio’s clearly marks all vegan and vegetarian dishes and features the likes of a porcini broth with mushrooms and a dash of cream (£5.50, served without cream for vegans), and a vegan spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico followed by a vegan Amalfi Lemon sorbet.
4. Ask Italian
Ask Italian was an early adopter of the vegan menu. You can customise your vegan prima pizza (£9.95) by adding three toppings to a tomato and vegan mozzarella base (choose from marinated artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, grilled aubergines, caramelised onions, roasted peppers, and olives). The pizzas can also be made with a gluten-free base.
Zizzi was the first restaurant on the high street to offer a vegan cheese alternative, and also offers a vegan lentil ragu with fresh oregano and a vegan dessert calzone featuring warm sugared dough filled with banana, caramelised pecans and blueberries, served with coconut and chocolate ripple gelato.
The new vegan praline and chocolate torte has also proved a hit, and all of the wines are vegan-friendly too (except for the Pinot Nero Rosé Spumante and the Zinfandel). It also launched two brand new vegan dishes this month the vegan zucca pizza (tomato, mozzarella alternative, roasted butternut squash, caramelised balsamic onions & spinach) and the vegan pepperonata pizza (tomato, mozzarella alternative, fire-roasted peppers, sunblush tomatoes, hot roquito chillies & pea shoots).
6. YO! Sushi
The tofu katsu curry at YO! Sushi was voted ‘best vegan curry’ by PETA (that’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). It’s made up of crispy tofu with mild curry sauce, pickles and rice. Twenty-five per cent of the dishes at YO! Sushi are vegetarian, and some of these are vegan or can be easily adapted, including the miso soup, the yasai yakisoba and the kappa maki.
7. JD Wetherspoon
You may not consider JD Wetherspoon to be the most sophisticated of establishments – but who can say no to unlimited filter coffee, or a bottle of prosecco for under a tenner? Now, you can add the vegan menu to its list of attractions. Try the the sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry, or opt for the pasta pomodoro.
— Sarah Philpott 🥑 (@veggingit) May 10, 2017
8. Pizza Express
Vegans may already know that you can order any pizza from the menu at Pizza Express with a vegan and dairy free mozzarella alternative, while the pizza bases are completely free of animal and dairy products.
9. Veggie Pret
Grab-and-go lunch chain Pret is set to open its third dedicated Veggie Pret this year at Exmouth Market, complete with a newly refreshed vegetable-focussed menu. Hungry vegans and vegetarians have been hoovering up vegan mac and greens and cauliflower and turmeric super-veg salads, followed by vegan brownies and dairy-free chocolate chia pots.
Itsu’s veggie and vegan sales have doubled over the past two years, and now itsu has launched a brand new hot food menu, which includes 5 new vegan items including a quinoa falafel and veg rice bowl, veggie gyoza udon, vegan dumplings, miso classic and detox miso.
London neighbourhood chain Foxlow (famed for its notoriously meaty menu) will be taking part in World Vegan Month with a new vegan menu launching on 1st November.
Hawksmoor’s younger sibling will be offering vegan dishes include roast acorn squash pie with vegan gravy and an aubergine ‘steak’ with wild mushrooms, onions and vegan béarnaise. Most will be available beyond November.
Antonio Carluccio’s zucca in agrodolche (sweet and sour pumpkin)
Carluccio says this pickle is great as an accompaniment, but can also be served by itself, as a little antipasto, or as part of an antipasti board.
- 750g yellow-orange pumpkin, with skin
- Plain all-purpose flour, for dusting
- Olive oil for shallow frying
- 6 large fresh sage leaves
- 1 tsp rosemary needles
- 50ml balsamic vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Peel the pumpkin and cut it first into 10cm sections, then into thin slices.
- Dust the slices with flour.
- Add enough olive oil to a medium frying pan so it is 1cm deep.
- Place over a medium heat then fry the pumpkin slices until golden on both sides. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
- In a ceramic dish, make layers of the pumpkin slices, interspersed with the sage leaves and rosemary needles.
- Put the vinegar in a small pan along with the garlic and some salt and pepper. Briefly bring to the boil.
- Pour the hot vinegar over the layers of pumpkin in the dish. Leave for a few hours for the flavours to combine before serving.