Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food


Heavenly, Glasgow

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 13:16

Menu at Heavenly, GlasgowHeavenly is a new stealth vegan café in the centre of Glasgow. You’d never know from their website, which is useless but very pretty. I note it’s improved a little over the last couple of days in the time between my checking it before my visit, to my checking it now to put the link in. It now mentions that the café is vegan, but there’s still no online menu.

This place is so new it smells of woodworking. It’s clean, modern and very, very green. The menu is basic and short, and clearly designed to appeal to non-vegans, which is good because the omni partner is with me.

Heavenly Tofu Burger
I ordered the Heavenly Tofu Burger. My partner opted for Bangers and Mash. They also stock the Samuel Smith Organic Wheat Beer, so I had an enjoyable swift half.

The burger was a ciabatta bun stuffed with grilled tofu and roast veg. It came with proper chips, a tasty green salad and onion rings. The latter were, unfortunately, fried at too low a temperature and were therefore oily. I’ll be giving the tempura a miss in future.

The (tofu) bangers and mash came with onion gravy. The omnivore proclaimed it to be okay, but would not be drawn further, other than it was not as filling as you might expect.

Dessert was something rarely found in vegan form: rice pudding. And it was nothing like I expected. The brown rice pudding had been formed into a cake and dressed with poached pears, blueberries and chocolate. Fabulous!

Rice pudding at Heavenly

Heavenly, 185 Hope Street (nr Junction with West Regent Street), Glasgow G2 2UL. Tel: 0141-353 0884. Open 11am – midnight, 7 days a week. Last food order 8pm.


Caffè Nero Red Pepper Penne

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 18:29

I’m at London City Airport awaiting a flight home. It’s usually a desert for vegans (except those excessively fond of fruit), but I noticed Caffè Nero had a pasta dish labelled as being vegan.

Caffè Nero Penne

I was hungry enough to give it a go. It scores poorly on presentation, being served in the plastic container in which it is displayed. But, it’s not bad at all. One of the best ready meal pastas I’ve ever had, and better than some Italian restaurants. The pasta was al dente, and the sauce just spicy enough to be worth bothering. The peppers were a bit mushy, though, and the portion size reflects the price – about £3.50 at an airport. Still hungry.

One point – they will offer to put cheese on it for you. If they don’t, ask them not to.


Review: Stereo, Glasgow

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 15:26

Farinata at StereoThe conditions of a cheap day return meant that eating in Glasgow was the most sensible option last Wednesday, and I used it as an excuse to visit somewhere I wanted to try out.

Stereo is entirely vegan, and the sister restaurant to Mono and The 78. The menu is a lighter one, with plenty of tapas, plus a selection of mains. There is a strong Mediterranean feel, but they’ve clearly trawled the world looking for interesting ideas for vegan dishes. Weirdly, they don’t mention anywhere that all the food is vegan. They don’t even mention that it’s vegetarian, though that would be obvious as soon as you scan the menu.

I went for the farinata, an Italian gram flour baked pancake (see photo). Usually served simply with salt and pepper, here it had been turned into a meal with the addition of borlotti beans and fried porcini mushrooms, and served it with a green sauce which I think was basically basil. It worked well, having the satisfaction level of a pizza (vegan pizza and calzone are also on the menu), but with the hope that it might be vaguely healthy. My partner chose a selection of small dishes. The Patatas Bravas met with his approval, the flatbread contained more garlic than bread, and the olives were devoured by both of us.

There was even dessert, though only a couple of choices, and there was no way chocolate orange cake was passing me by! Drinks-wise it was unimpressive. The only beer worth drinking was the superb Samuel Smith Wheat Beer, and the home-made sodas you get at Mono were absent. I also think they exaggerate the pedigree of their building. Charles Rennie Mackintosh did, indeed work on it, but mostly on the tiling at the back.

Stereo, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH. Tel: 0141-222 2254. Full menu served noon-9pm daily; tapas served until midnight daily.


Auld Hoose Sunday Lunch

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 15:33

Auld Hoose vegan Sunday LunchUsually, when I go to the Auld Hoose on a Sunday afternoon, it’s for breakfast. This week, I thought I’d try the Sunday roast. I commented that the vegan meal was presumably the same as the vegetarian one, minus the Yorkshire puddings and Jonathan, behind the bar, informed me that they had vegan Yorkshires. That I had to try!

The meal consisted of a classic nut roast with the traditional trimmings. The nut roast itself made no attempt to disguise its main ingredient, and was excellent. The roast potatoes were crispy on the outside, and melty within, and the Yorkshire puddings made my day. The main disappointment was the offering of vegetables, mostly frozen I suspect. There again, it’s not the season for anything other than cabbage and spuds right now.

It did lie a little heavy on my stomach afterwards, but that’s the idea isn’t it?


Review: Trader Joe’s Vegetable Panang Curry with Jasmine Rice

Filed under: Products, Supermarkets and convenience stores — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 22:56

I’m on the road again, this time in Massachusetts, at a science fiction convention in the middle of nowhere near Boston. Despite the best efforts of the convention organisers, the hotel isn’t too good for vegans, but the room does have a microwave oven and a fridge freezer. I also realised food would be a problem here, and rented a car for the duration so I could escape to eat.

I’d brought along some crispbread and hummous and other cold bits but was getting fed up of that. There are two Whole Foods Markets and a Trader Joe’s in the area. I’m unhappy with the way the staff at US branches of Whole Foods Market are treated and I’d heard many good things about Trader Joe’s, so that’s what went into the borrowed satnav.

Trader Joe’s is very, very good about marking stuff up as vegan (and vegetarian, and gluten-free and a number of other things that people might take into account). They’re clueful enough to know that refined cane sugar in the US is not suitable for vegetarians. There wasn’t much of interest in the freezer section, but I decided to give the Vegetable Panang Curry a try. It’s also gluten-free as well as vegan.

It was thoroughly overpackaged, with one more layer than you’d get in a British supermarket ready-meal, and the tray itself was more substantial (a good thing, in my mind). It took about a minute longer to cook that claimed on the box.

But, oh! If you’re used to what you find in the freezer section of a British supermarket, you will be impressed. The meal could have come from my favourite little Malaysian eaterie in Amsterdam (near Nieuwmarkt) — it tasted authentic and full of flavour, with no skimping on the spices. And what’s best? According to the receipt, it cost me $2.49 (about £1.80).

Recommended. I think I’ll go back and get the Vegetable Pad Thai for tomorrow.


Sankō-in: a culinary pilgrimage

Filed under: Eating out, Reading matter — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 16:52

The sign at the gate to Sankou-in.Within my cookbook collection, there is one tome that stands out above them all: Zen Vegetarian Cooking by Soei Yoneda, the late abbess of Sankō-in, a Zen Buddhist temple near Tokyo, and Kōei Hoshino, who is the abbess now. It’s my favourite cookbook ever and my copy is well used. My World’s Best Inarizushi was derived from a recipe in this book (my main changes were to use brown rice and to use an expensive, naturally sweet mirin instead of sake and sugar) and whenever I post a picture of my lunch here, several of the items shown will have been made using recipes from the book.

The style is shōjin ryōri—Zen temple food. It’s completely vegan, and emphasises seasonality and balanced flavours. The presentation is exquisite, and it produces the best food in the world. I love cooking the recipes from the book, but there’s one hitch—I’d never had genuine shōjin ryōri (it’s expensive) so I didn’t know if my efforts were any good.

My plans for my recent trip to Japan trip included having at least one genuine shōjin ryōri meal, and hang the cost—it’s a special treat. Thanks to a very helpful member of staff at the hotel, I obtained a reservation for lunch at a Buddhist temple. The cost would be 5800円 (about £40), but I really didn’t care—the temple I was going to was Sankō-in.

Koganei is an ordinary suburb to the west of Tokyo, not a destination a tourist would happen upon, nor have any interest in. A busy place with downmarket department stores, made more mundane by the overcast sky on the day I visitied. Sankō-in is a tricky place to find, especially as the map in Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide neglects to mention the small Shinto shrine on the corner where you are meant to turn right. It’s also behind a large modern supermarket, not the sort of place you expect to find such a sanctuary. But when you go round the back of the supermarket, there’s the gate, with a few of your fellow diners gathered, waiting for the right moment.

Gathered at the gate to Sankō-in

A jolly female statue by the dining hallThe dining hall is round the back of the old wooden temple building, past a small cemetery. I paused. Soei Yoneda is almost certainly buried here. I also stopped to admire the delightful feminine statues dotting the grounds, a permanent jolly note, regardless of the weather.

I entered the vestibule of the dining hall, removed my shoes and donned the provided slippers, before entering. On giving my name, I was taken to my table—a fairly low and sturdy affair, with five miniature tatami mats taking the place of a cloth. My name was written on paper and weighted with a stone at one corner. A single red lacquer tray was placed upon the table.

The food is prepared by local women who are interested in learning shōjin ryōri and experiencing some aspects of temple life. The courses were brought out one at a time, and the signal to start eating was after one of the women had said a few words about the food.

The first course was a sandwich biscuit containing sweet red bean paste. The biscuit was very light and barely there, almost as light as the polystyrene outer of the Flying Saucer sweets I remember from when I was young.

Next up was tea—a supremely frothy, virulently green and bitter matcha served in a deep blue bowl. This shock to the palate ensured no sweetness lingered, a nuclear option to provide clarity for the subtle delights coming up.

The third courseChopsticks were delivered in time for the third course. There was a wonderful familiarity as all the dishes were featured in the book: Mountain yam rolls (p.135), simmered pumpkin (p126), burdock with spicy sesame dressing (p.152), and simmered dried-frozen tofu (p. 178). I’ve tried to make three of those dishes myself and, while my efforts were reasonable—a credit to Yoneda and Hoshino’s writing— they lack the subtlety of the real thing.

The fourth course can be found on page 195. Sesame “tofu” in a thick sauce, served with a knob of grated ginger. Non-tofu tofus are a staple of zen temple cuisine, and are made by thickening sesame milk or juice with kūzu then letting them set. Sesame tofu has a much softer texture than even silken tofu, making this a challenge to my chopstick skills.

Very fresh bamboo shootsCourse five wasn’t in the book—konnyaku and bamboo shoots dressed with sweet white miso and yūzu. The bamboo shoots were the freshest I’ve ever had, with no hint of woodiness. Looking out of the window behind me, I saw newly disturbed earth in the bamboo grove. Could they be that fresh? I think they were.

The sixth course was another classic, a slight variation on the recipe for aubergine with miso sauce in the book. Instead of using halves of aubergine, a small aubergine had been grilled whole then slit almost all the way through. The white miso sauce was then applied and grilled some more, producing a melt-in-the-mouth delight, and another chopsticks challenge.

Next was a simple clear broth containing a single horizontal slice of the same fresh bamboo and sansho leaf, and the eighth course was something I did not recognise at first. It appeared to be a yellowy-green non-tofu tofu on a slice of daikon, topped with darker green stuff and surrounded by broth. Earwigging on the next table (a party of journalists from a Hong Kong travel magazine and their interpreter), I learned it’s something else on my Japan hit list—awa-fu! I’ve been experimenting with making this mixture of cooked millet and wheat gluten, and am pleased to report that my latest effort is spot on. The miso-based sansho topping is another recipe in the book and the broth was exquisitely simple with no dashi.

The ninth course was three pieces of lotus root tempura. To make each piece, very thin slices of lotus root had been quartered, then three of these quarters layered on top of one another before battering and deep frying. The lotus root remained crispy.
Rice, tea and pickles

Course ten was rice, tea and pickles—a respectable lunch in its own right. The rice contained slithers of the fresh bamboo. The three pickles were ume, layers of dashi-simmered konbu with sansho (a variation on p. 108!) and something I did not catch at first but which was a finely minced daikon pickle. The tea was hojicha—roasted green tea.

The eleventh and final course was a mystery—a special tea to be drunk in a special way which involved not removing the lid! Not even for a peek. It was very bitter, very cleansing and a perfect finale to a very special meal.

Mystery tea


Review: Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide

Filed under: Reading matter — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 09:58

Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide cover

I’ve been in Tokyo for the last week, and am finally ready to catch up and write some restaurant reviews. First though, a book recommendation.

Last time I was here, in 2007, I picked up a small booklet called the Tokyo Kyoto Osaka Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide and it proved invaluable. When I heard of a new edition coming out not long before I came back, I asked a friend who lives in Tokyo to mail order a copy for me in time for my arrival. This new edition is colour and much expanded – it’s now the Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide.

Not every vegan or vegan-friendly restaurant is listed. The important thing about this guide is that the author, Herwin Walravens, has personally visited and eaten in every restaurant which has a full entry. He’s clearly an enthusiastic eater, as the vast majority of vegan restaurants are to be found within. There are plenty of photographs of the food, and the restaurants themselves, and the maps are useful. A section at the back includes shorter descriptions of interesting eateries the author has not yet managed to visit.

Further appendices contain information on veganism in Japan, and how to survive in convenience stores, including photographs of the few vegan products there are. I’ve found a couple more, which I will blog about later.

As the author is a Dutch man, writing in two languages, neither of which is Dutch, the English can be a little interesting in places, but the occasional head-scratching moment does not distract from the sheer quality of this guide and the information it contains. If you are vegan or vegetarian and are visiting Japan you absolutely need this book. Remember – you probably can’t afford the international roaming charges to access the Happy Cow’s Tokyo listings, nor Vege-Navi (a really good resource which allows you to find restaurants by nearby railway or metro stations) on the move.

Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide by Herwin Walravens, Children of the Carrot. ISBN: 978-90-813822-1-2. Price: ¥1680 plus postage. Updates are regularly posted to the book’s website.


Boston: The Otherside Café

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 15:23

I’ve been rather bad at keeping up-to-date lately – my most recent visits to The Otherside Café were during the second week of February! It’s one of my favourite haunts in Boston, being a loud, serious beer bar with lots of substantial vegan options on the menu.

Vegan BLT

The Vegan BLT at The Otherside Café

My first visit was a lunchtime trip, and I didn’t feel up to the B-4 (a black bean burrito the size of a small planet), so I decided to try a vegan version of something I’ve never had – a BLT. It filled the gap nicely.

The second visit, I tried the Nature Boy – a selection of vegan, raw food items served with dehydrated beetroot and carrots. I did this because I wanted something reasonably light. Oops. I never managed to finish it, because I was full. It was an interesting meal, thought the salads were nearer to dips. The “chips” weren’t quite dehydrated enough for my taste, and sliced a little too thickly. I’ve had similar dehydrated vegetables over at Grezzo which were much nicer than these. Admittedly they were probably more expensive, too.

Still, I’ll be back in the Boston area in July, and hope to get to The Otherside on a weekend to try their vegan breakfast burrito.

The Otherside Café, 407 Newbury Street Boston, MA 02115-1801. Tel: (617) 536-8437. [Map]

Vegan Breakfast at The Auld Hoose, Edinburgh

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 14:37

Vegan Breakfast at the Auld Hoose

Vegan Breakfast at the Auld Hoose with sausages, haggis, beans, mushrooms, hash browns, onions and fried bread.

One of the things that pains me about Edinburgh is that since Susie’s Wholefood Diner stopped doing Sunday brunch over a decade ago, there’s not really been a good option for a vegan breakfast. Roseleaf in Leith comes close with their “Leafer”, if you exchange the egg for something else, but they have no substitute for the butter. It does include spinach, though, which makes me happy.

My problem is that I have not been looking under my own nose at one of my regular drinking establishments – The Auld Hoose on St. Leonard’s Street. Perhaps it’s because I’m rarely in there before 5pm, when they stop serving breakfast?

The Auld Hoose is a very traditional pub with a loud rock, goth and punk jukebox and a clientèle to match. It does good solid food, about seven different ciders (including Addlestone’s and Weston’s Organic), a respectable range of whiskies from around the world and lots of beer.

The breakfast is available 7 days a week, and is a build-your-own job. There are more than enough vegan options to go for the seven item version. The vegetarian sausages, haggis and hash browns are all vegan. I chose all three of those plus beans, mushrooms, onions and fried bread. I can’t abide the half-cooked tomatoes that are a breakfast staple, and the chips just seemed Wrong. It’s all pretty standard stuff except the fried bread which is made with baguette, and very filling. My only criticism is that is would be nice to have toast as an option. Well, spinach would be nice too, but I suspect I’m the only person outside Australia who has a thing for breakfast spinach.

The rest of the menu is quite vegan friendly too. The burgers are also build-your-own and the usual veggie burger is vegan. Very rarely they are unable to get the vegan one, so it’s a good idea to check if the staff don’t know you. If they do know you, they’ll let you know. My usual combination, when I have enough of an appetite to eat that much, is relish, jalapenos and mushrooms. There’s a vegan nut roast on Sunday and of the main courses, the five bean chilli and the veggie haggis are both vegan. Snacks, which are big enough for most people as a meal, include pakora and pole-dancing onion rings (ask for the sour cream dip to be substituted for something else) plus the ubiquitous chips.

The Auld Hoose, 23-25 St Leonards Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9QN. Tel: 0131-668 2934. [Map]


London: Pembury Tavern

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 10:46

The Pembury Tavern is a very fine pub indeed. Noted for its huge range of real ales, it also has traditional cider and a small but impressive selection of bottles, mostly Belgian and German. There is no pissy lager here – even the draught lager is from a microbrewery. The second keg font is a guest tap. When we arrived it had Gouden Carollus Christmas (pun intended, apparently) on. Later it became Poperings Hommelbier. Fentimans soft drinks are available as well as decent coffee. They also do food, and some of that is vegan.

I went there last night to meet up with friends and to eat. I had hummus and pita bread to start. The garlicky hummus was almost certainly home-made. Having spent a chunk of the previous day moaning about stuffed peppers being the universal vegetarian option in Ireland (outside Dublin), I chose to order them. I could have had a curry, or possibly the nut roast.

When they arrived, it became obvious a starter was not necessary. There were two peppers, and an enormous pile of salad, and being stuffed with couscous and slivers of vegetables, they were filling – a perfect preparation for the abuse that followed, and continued into the night. The filling was perfect – just moist enough. It’s easy to make couscous too dry, or completely soggy.

There was even a vegan dessert (apple pie with sorbet), but I needed to leave some space for booze!

The pub itself is heaven – it’s a single room, but one with secluded corners, with very little decoration. The furniture is delightfully random, and there are no TVs, piped music, or games machines. Despite this, it’s not a quiet pub – there’s too much conversation going on for that. There is a bar billiards table in one corner, a pool table in another and lots of board and card games available to play.

Pembury Tavern, 90 Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1JH. Phone: 020 8986 8597. [Map]


London: Itadaki Zen

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 11:56

How long did you expect it would take me to try out a Japanese vegan restaurant? Well, I arrived in London on Thursday afternoon and went to a gig in Islington that evening, so I didn’t get out to Itadaki Zen until Friday lunchtime.

The space was light and pretty much what you’d expect. The menus were printed on handmade Japanese paper, and the napkins were folded in a different way on each table. Ours were in the form of a lotus flower around a small bowl, and it seemed a shame to undo them.
an elaborately folded napkin in the form of a lotus flower

To drink, we both went for one of their specialised “teas” – Itadaki Tea – a creamy, somewhat nutty soya milk concoction served in miso bowls. Just right for the cold, snowy weather.

I ordered the lunchtime sushi set, and my partner had Misonikomi Udon. My set arrived in a bento and included two spring rolls and a mashed potato salad, as well as two types of gunken (carrot and okra), two nigiri (nori tempura and inari) and a pair of matching rolls. The photo shows the set after I’d had a bite of one of the spring rolls. The shouyu came in a small clear plastic dalek with instructions clearly printed on top: ここをプッシュシてくださ, it said, “please push this”.

The Udon were served in a miso broth with julienne strips of aburaage fried tofu), carrot and cabbage – another dish which really hit the spot.

We were impressed with the food and decided to have dessert – this is supposed to be an indulgent break, after all. The desserts were mostly kanten – agar-based jelly – and my partner opted for a sesame one. Feeling adventurous (I can make kanten at home!), I tried warabimochi – small mochi made from potato starch instead of rice and dusted with toasted soya flour. The latter proved very difficult to eat with the implement provided, but was considerably better than it looked. It wasn’t too sweet, which suits my tastes.

At nearly £30 for lunch for two, it’s not a particularly cheap place, but also not expensive by London standards. I’d like to go back in the evening to try one of their set meals, but have no time on this trip.

Itadaki Zen, 139 King’s Cross Road, London, WC1X 9BJ‎. Phone: 020 7278 3573‎. [Map]


Chocolate beer waffles!

Filed under: Gadgets, Reading matter — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 21:41

This morning, I got a copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The American brunch foods aren’t common in the UK – we have our own tradition of enormous breakfast later in the day – but I developed a fondness for them through the Sunday afternoon brunch at the late, lamented Country Life in Boston.

The recipe that caught my eye almost immediately was one for chocolate beer waffles. Three of my favourite things in one recipe! I have a waffle machine, and nearly all of the ingredients in stock, so I’ve been making them. I also made the chocolate drizzle – a rich sauce – from the same book to go with them.

The very first thing that impressed me about the waffles section was the list of problems you might have and how to fix them. It included the one that had been bugging me about my own waffle iron – waffles splitting horizontally – and the fix worked.

Anyway, I made the waffle mix with Black Isle Brewery‘s organic porter and Green and Black’s cocoa. I had to buy in almond milk, which is a wee bit expensive, and in future I’m pretty sure I can make it in the soya milk machine anyway. The sauce recipe included a variation involving liqueurs, so I made it with Wynand Fockink Bitterkoekjes. My friends and I have already exhausted all the jokes surrounding the distillery name on our many visits to their proeflokaal just off Amsterdam’s Dam square.

The waffles were lovely, but it was all a bit rich. I learned it’s really important to remember to spray the waffle iron every time, and that it’s not a good idea to forget you have a waffle in there. For this recipe alone, I recommend this book. I’ll check some of the others in due course.

The Post-Punk Kitchen website, home of Isa Chandra Moskowitz.


Oslo: Mamma Afrika

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 09:58

I forgot about one of the better meals I had in Oslo!

Mamma Afrika (Schweigaards g 12, Oslo 0185) is located in a unit on the first floor of a bus station–not the most appealing of sites, but this restaurant is warm and welcoming. My local guide warned me that it is just round the corner from what passes for a crime-ridden and generally dodgy area in Norway.

The vegetarian choice on the tiny menu is limited to a platter of various vegan items, served on one injera and with another, but there’s more food then than you might think. I got two different lentil wats, spinach, cabbage and a potato dish, all individually seasoned and distinct from one another. There was also no compromise to local tastes, and the food was as spicy as you will find in Ethiopian restaurants all over the planet. Best meal I’ve had so far in Oslo.

There are a number of other Ethiopian and Eritrean eateries in Oslo, all of which appear to be vegan-friendly.

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