London’s Top Vegan Food Trends
With over half a million people in the UK currently identifying themselves as vegan according to The Vegan Society, eating without meat, eggs and dairy has almost become mainstream. Veganism’s rapidly rising popularity has, in part, been fuelled by social media – unique or visually appealing dishes, concepts and ideas take on a life of their own and become viral in no time at all.
No longer confined to the fringes, vegan trends have been popping up everywhere, from fast food joints to top chefs’ non-vegan menus. So – beyond soya lattes – what actually are the top vegan food trends? We’ve rounded up nine of the most enduring and influential ones here, with the best restaurants to sample them in.
What is it? The water in which chickpeas and other legumes (and even tofu) have been cooked or preserved. Its carbohydrate and protein content makes it a suitable replacement for egg whites in meringues and other desserts – and no, the finished dishes don’t taste of pulses. Most successful with chickpeas, the brine foams, binds, emulsifies and thickens just like egg whites.
The technique was first discovered by French chef Joël Roessel, and popularised by vegan American food lover Goose Wohlt via his popular Facebook group. It was Wohlt who coined the term ‘aquafaba’ (Latin for ‘water plus beans’). This vegan egg replacer is used in many desserts, ‘freakshakes’, and even mayonnaise and cocktails.
Where to find it: we love the aquafaba meringues at Farmacy, a trendy plant-based restaurant in Notting Hill owned by entrepreneur Camilla Fayed, the daughter of Mohamed Al-Fayed. Slightly chewier than regular meringues but otherwise just like the real thing, they’re currently served in a ‘berry mess’ dessert with fresh mixed berries, caramelised almonds and dairy-free coconut ‘nice cream’.
Farmacy, 74 Westbourne Grove, W2 5SH
Trend: Raw food
What is it? This is a dietary practice most popular among the vegan community of eating only – or mostly – unprocessed, uncooked plant-based foods. These include raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains and beans, pickled and fermented condiments and non-dairy cheeses.
Foods should not be heated above 40-49° C (104-120° F) – raw food practitioners vary in their views. They believe that cooking destroys essential natural enzymes, reducing their nutritional value, and that cooked food is harmful to the body.
The contemporary raw diet was first popularised in Switzerland by Maximillan Bircher-Benner (yes, the muesli chap) in the late nineteenth century. He insisted that raw fruit and veg contain energy direct from the sun, and that it’s more natural for humans to eat like this. His ideas were dismissed as quackery at the time; and even today they divide opinion, with scientists claiming they’re based on flawed nutritional philosophy.
Nonetheless the popularity of raw food – and the use of dehydrators to create elaborate dishes – continues to rise, especially among famous classically-trained chefs. Whether you’re for or against adopting a raw diet, you’ll surely admire raw chefs’ creativity and ingenuity.
Where to find it: Notting Hill’s hugely ambitious gourmet vegan restaurant Nama is the last word in London’s raw food – nobody does it better. There are breakfasts, sandwiches, pasta and pizzas on its regularly changing menu; plus imaginative takes on classics like fish and chips, masala dosa and tiramisu.
Nama Foods, 110 Talbot Road, W11 1JR
Trend: Acai bowls
What are they? Considered to be a ‘superfood’, delicious acai berries are grape-like purplish-black fruits of the tropical acai palm native to Brazil and Trinidad. Acai bowls are a breakfast dish, made by blending (usually frozen) acai berries with other ‘base’ fruits like bananas, plus non-dairy milk. They’re topped with any combination of: nuts, seeds, granola, oatmeal, cacao nibs, protein powder, and healthy fats such as peanut butter. They’re believed to have originated in Brazil, before becoming a hit in New York’s health circles and making their way to London.
Smoothie bowls – another huge trend, especially on Instagram – are similar, but made without acai berries. Both are essentially just pimped-up smoothies, but thicker and meant to be eaten with a spoon.
Where to find them: Kensington’s Viva Acai is London’s first dedicated acai bowl bar – yes, there is such a thing. It sells acai bowls made fresh from scratch according to traditional Brazilian recipes; and toppings include berries and gluten-free granola. If you’ve never tried one before, this tiny venue is a good place to start: you’ll never look at smoothie in the same way again.
Viva Acai, 15 Gloucester Arcade, 128 Gloucester Road, SW7 4SF
Trend: Chia puddings
What are they? Also known as ‘chia pots’, these are another popular item mostly eaten for breakfast, Chia are tiny black or white seeds of a plant in the mint family that’s native to Mexico and Guatemala. They’re packed with nutritional benefits, so they’re the darlings of healthy eaters – added to everything from crackers to curry sauces. When soaked in liquid, they look like frogspawn but give a gelatinous texture that’s highly prized in vegan desserts free from eggs and gelatine.
Chia puddings are made by soaking the seeds in non-dairy milk and leaving them to set in a cool place for several hours. They’re usually sweetened with non-refined sugars or natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, and topped with other seeds, fruits or nuts. They have a creamy, comforting, baby food-like texture – in a nice way – and remind us of a few different Indian and Middle Eastern drinks and desserts.
Where to find them: Rawligion, a small, healthy-eating grab-and-go café and juice bar near Goodge Street sells apple-cinnamon and chocolate-strawberry chia pots in small and large sizes. The apple-cinnamon pot is nourishing, and contains fashionable ingredients like raw coconut nectar, ‘sunflower lecithin’, Himalayan salt, walnuts, dates and vanilla. The chocolate-strawberry combo is just as tasty, and contains even more fashionable ingredients.
Rawligion, 3 Tottenham Street, W1T 2AF
Trend: Pulled jackfruit
What is it? Jackfruit is a deliciously versatile tropical fruit with spiky green skin and cream-coloured flesh that becomes yellow when ripe. (You’ll find it in Asian greengrocers in season). The fleshy pods inside – each containing a seed – have a distinctive taste, yet readily absorb other flavours too. The pods’ chewy, meaty, somewhat fibrous texture pulls apart in shreds like pork belly when cooked.
Like pulled pork, pulled jackfruit is made by cooking in a sticky barbecue sauce, and used as a filling in burgers and tacos. Canned fruit instead of fresh, preserved in salt brine rather than sweet syrup, works best for this highly unusual and imaginative dish
Where to find it: A small number of London restaurants have been serving pulled jackfruit for a few years – but it’s when Mexican vegan street food maestros Club Mexicana started putting them in their tacos that the idea really took off. At their long-term residency in Dalston’s quirky Pamela bar, there’s jackfruit tinga packed with flavour, served with pumpkin seed puree, salsa verde and pink pickled onions. Like all their dishes, it’s a must-try.
Club Mexicana at Pamela, 428 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA. Club Mexicana is also found at Camden Market and Dinerama street food market.
What is it? Also known as’ tofish’, these are fish substitutes made by frying rectangular slabs of tofu in a batter flavoured with nori seaweed, which gives them a somewhat fishy taste.
Tofush is a rare homegrown vegan trend invented by a chef, rather than a US import or a social media phenomenon.
Where to find it: Norman’s Coach and Horses in Soho is a true legend for so many reasons: home to renowned journalists and thinkers over many years, it’s also the capital’s first vegetarian pub. Tofush and chips is its signature dish – it’s massively popular and many people visit the pub especially for it. It’s made from seaweed-wrapped tofu marinated in lemon, dipped in vegan beer batter, and served with chips, peas and vegan tartar sauce. It’s wonderfully moreish and, yes, lives up to the hype.
Norman’s Coach and Horses, 29 Greek Street, W1D 5DH
Trend: Buddha bowls
What are they? Nothing to do with Buddha, or indeed anything religious, Buddha bowls are not to be confused with the traditional Chinese dish ‘Buddha’s delight’. They’re essentially one-bowl meals composed of vegetables or salads, grains or starches, and a plant-based protein prettily arranged, often side-by-side in a circular pattern.
They’re piled so high with different items that they have the appearance of a rounded belly on top, like the belly of Buddha, hence the name. Based on the principles of Chinese and Japanese medicine, the bowls are a balance of flavours, colours, textures and ingredients to ensure that you don’t eat too much of one thing but everything in a proportional harmony. Eating like this is believed to be good for the mind, body and soul – Buddha would have approved.
One of the earliest written mentions of a Buddha bowl is in Martha Stewart’s cookbook ‘Meatless’ (2013), in which she advises that it’s a general formula rather than an exact recipe. In other words, there’s no prescribed starch/ protein/ vegetable ratio: pretty much anything goes. Buddha bowls are also known as grain bowls, earth bowls, macro bowls – or simply ‘bowls’, sealing vegan cooks’ long-term love affair with bowl food.
Where to find them: Wholefood Heaven’s Buddha Bowl van at Whitecross Street Market near the Barbican sells the capital’s most famous and beloved Buddha bowls. Their signature bowl (in fact served in a carton) is filled with delicious massaman curry with potatoes, pineapple and soya chunks, accompanied by carrot and kimchi pickle, kale or other greens, brown rice, and seed sprinkles. A worthy joint winner of ‘best main dish’ at the British Street Food Awards in 2011, no wonder the bowls attract long queues.
Buddha Bowl Van, Whitecross Street Market, 13 Whitecross Street, EC1Y
Trend: Dairy-free cheese
What is it? Vegan cheese has come a long way from weird-tasting, plastic-wrapped supermarket gunk of the recent past. The modern version – first popularised by the short-lived Saf restaurant around 10-15 years ago – is made from cashews or other nuts, beans, seeds, grains, vegetables or coconut oil, combined with cultured yeasts or nutritional yeast.
Raw nuts are often ‘cultured’ and ‘activated’ in a process similar to traditional dairy cheese-making, which gives them a broadly cheesy flavour and texture. The ‘cheeses’ are increasingly sophisticated, and there’s now a wide variety ranging from soft cream, to strong blue, to melting mozzarella. Some are even aged or smoked, just like regular cheeses. Even if you don’t think they approximate the taste of real cheese, enjoy them as interesting ingredients in their own right.
Where to find it: We’ve been impressed by the high-quality dairy-free cheeses at Fed By Water, a cosy, stylish vegan Italian in Dalston. A wide variety of cheeses made from soy, hemp, rice and cashew nuts feature in many of their pastas and pizzas; and there’s also a ‘bread and cheese experience’ for sharing. It comprises cashew cheese balls, rice-based smoked mozzarella, soy ricotta, hemp pecorino and more. The cheese used in their pizzas is light and moist, and we’re particularly partial to it.
Fed By Water, Dalston Cross Shopping Centre, 64 Kingsland High Street, E8 2LX
Trend: Nice cream
What is it? A substitute for dairy ice cream, made by blending very ripe frozen bananas in a food processor until they have the texture of soft-scoop ice cream. Adding a little fat like coconut milk or peanut butter gives it a flavour that is reminiscent of dairy ice cream.
Where to find it: Nanabar is a 3-month pop-up nice cream parlour in Shoreditch, showcasing nine flavours with toppings varying according to the day of the week. The delicious frozen banana sweet treats come in flavours like rocky road, hazelnut tart and blueberry – but hurry, the venue is scheduled to close on 23rd September (look out for their future ventures).
If you get withdrawal symptoms after that, Farmacy has a lovely menu of own-made nice creams; and there’s also Yorica, an expanding vegan ice cream chain that makes dairy-free ice cream from rice milk.
Nanabar, 45 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PD