Review: Zizzi (UK pizza and pasta chain)

This is actually the Strand branch, I forgot to take a photo at Victoria, doh!

I was looking for a decent place to meet a friend on a Saturday – a lovely friend who, though not vegan, is totally on board with eating at vegan restaurants with me.

She told me to choose the venue.

My criteria were location (I couldn’t be bothered travelling that far on a Saturday, and it needed to be easy for us both to get to), and price. I remembered it was my turn to treat us to a meal and I wanted amazing food at a good price.

I remembered a friend had emailed me a £10 Zizzi voucher, and I’d heard that Zizzi now have a separate vegan menu.

They also had a branch in London’s Victoria, which was a perfect location for us.

Done, done and DONE!

I was quite optimistic about what the experience would be like. I’d visited Zizzi about 10 years previously and had a super-yummy pizza with tomato sauce and a few veggies on top (no cheese) that they’d had no problem sorting out for me.

Once at the restaurant I asked for the vegan menu which was brought to me immediately – it definitely seemed like they were used to people asking for it. I say that because I’ve been in other restaurants where you ask to see the vegan menu and they look at you like ‘oh jeez, I have to remember where I put that thing?’

The vegan menu was of course much more diminutive in size than the carnist one – but there was a small selection of dishes that, if each dish was good, would constitute a fair selection.

There was a margherita pizza where you can add your own topping; a couple of great-looking pasta dishes; salads; bruschetta; and several nibbles and sides that were exactly the same as on the carnist menu.

OMG that torte!

The main dessert option – sticky chocolate praline torte with coconut and chocolate swirl gelato called my name loud and clear, and I kinda couldn’t wait to get to it!

It’s not many places that do vegan pizza with ACTUAL vegan cheese in the UK as of yet, so I wasn’t gonna hesitate in ordering pizza.

Normally a basic margherita wouldn’t hold enough interest for me (I like a TON of shit on my shit!), but you could add three toppings for the same price, so I plumped for artichokes, field mushrooms and red chillies.

I also chose the gluten-free crust (made of rice-flour) as I try and avoid white wheat flour. If you want to know why, read this post.

While waiting for the pizza I ordered some green tea, and was thrilled to find out they serve Teapigs super quality fancy muslin teabag tea! Not being a millionaire, I can’t afford to buy boxes of Teapigs tea in the supermarket, so it’s great that I can sample it at places like this.

Fancy tea

It was served in a glass (I LOVE tea served in a glass!), on a very artsy saucer, with a block of honeycomb (not ACTUAL honeycomb, but the stuff that we Brits call ‘honeycomb’ but which is actually caramelised sugar).

Everything boded well for the food…

The pizza came, and while a nice size, I was struck by the thin-ness of the crust. To be fair, I think it was described as thin on the menu, and I’m probably comparing it to American pizzas – which are the only other vegan pizzas I’ve experienced.

Great pizza, but cheese not working visually! 😁

It looked fine, but not super-pretty. I can’t help but be blunt here – visually the melted cheese had a jizzy appearance, like someone had just serviced themself over the pizza (if that needed explaining!) I’ve noticed that lots of the UK vegan cheeses have that kind of an appearance when melted. As opposed to the amazing Daiya cheese in the US, which when melted, looks, like…well….melted cheese. We clearly still have a way to go on the visual side of things!

I could have done with slightly more of each topping too. Though I can accept that this might be me being Greedy Gertie.

Now I’ve had a moan – I’ll tell you what it tasted like.

It tasted pretty great. It was a perfectly fine pizza.

The cheese tasted a lot better than it looked! It tasted of cheese, not rubbery or weird – definitely cheesy. I think a non-vegan would tell it wasn’t dairy cheese by the look of it, but perhaps not by the taste.

I gave some pizza to my non-vegan friend and she was surprised at how nice it was. I’m pretty sure the vegetable toppings were fresh as fresh, and the crust was not too hard – as crusts sometimes can be.

Even though I love my American pizzas, I’m pretty sure that this is a more authentic Italian experience.

I’m definitely coming back for this pizza, and I’m going to encourage my local vegan (and non-vegan) community to try it too.

Now for my favourite bit.

The dessert choices other than the above-mentioned chocolate praline torte were just your classic lemon or strawberry sorbets. But why in the name of all that’s holy would you not go for the torte???

I wasn’t ready for just how delicious the torte was.

Chocgasm alert!

I was expecting a nice chocolatey, gooey vibe; but this was beyond Beyond.

You know when you involuntarily make a sex face while you’re eating something extraordinarily delicious? Well, that happened.

The coconut and chocolate swirl gelato made for a perfect pairing, and more flakes of ‘honeycomb’ were sprinkled on top.

It was rich and creamy, not bitter and not too sweet.

I don’t know what else to say about the torte except that when you eat it time stops and it becomes all about what is going on in your mouth. I can normally eat and yak and do fifty other things at once, but this torte demanded my absolute attention. It violently stole my attention in fact (um, in a good way!),  and I become a slave to the taste and texture sensations I was experiencing. Hehe – yes, I know I’ll never be a food writer, but I don’t know how else to explain it.

The portion size was spot on. When I’d finished – I was definitely done, but didn’t feel like I’d eaten too much.

Another wonderful thing – I don’t think this torte is particularly unhealthy either, since the base is made from dates, hazelnuts and walnuts. And we all know dark chocolate is good for you, so…

Without exaggeration, I’ve spent a large proportion of my time since that Saturday dreaming about the torte, trying to conjure up the taste and checking over and over again online to see which branch of Zizzi I could get to this weekend to grab some more (they do take away, so I knew this was possible).

The space was large and with all different types of seating, so you can sit in a cosy booth; on the banquette seating; or at the tables for two in the middle. And unlike lots of UK restaurants, the tables weren’t too crowded together. It felt like there was enough space for everyone, even when it got busy.

Service was efficient and friendly, and the staff were all knowledgeable about the food.

To conclude: I highly recommend Zizzi for vegans. If my pizza and the standard of the food I tasted was anything to go by, then all the vegan dishes are totally solid.

It’s a great lunch spot, but personally I’d even go there for a long dinner with friends or family. But possibly that’s just me; I prefer hustly-bustly places full of a cross-section of the community rather than your swanky-wanky gaffes.

Hustly-bustly, swanky-wanky. Hee.

And when you go, for the love of Pete – get the torte!!

 

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Review: Riverside Vegetaria In South London

South Londoners and North Surreyites – you need to know about this little gem of a restaurant on the River Thames called Riverside Vegetaria.

I paid my second visit there last week, and for the second time had a great evening.

It’s in Kingston-Upon-Thames, and a 25 minute drive from my home in South West London. Although I’d say it’s totally worth up to an hour’s travel!

The restaurant has been there for almost 30 years, and has won a ton of awards. The owner has a spiritual philosophy of ‘love all, serve all’ and this definitely shines through in the high quality of the service.

You: ‘What about the food already???’

Ok, ok, I just wanted to set the scene.

The menu is approximately 80% vegan, and 20% vegetarian, and everything is clearly marked. If you are gluten-free there are a large number of items marked ‘wheat-free;’ and if, like me, you are health-conscious, all rice is brown rice, and all grains served are whole grains. Very little oil is used.

There is a huge variety of dishes available, from Indian dishes, to Mexican, Italian and Jamaican.

Now when I say that from my experience the food is hit and miss, you need to know that it’s 80% hit, and 20% miss, and even the misses are still good – they’re just not exceptional like the ‘hits’ are.

Organic Spicy Vegetable Balls with Coriander Sauce

Our stand-out starter is the vegetable balls with coriander sauce. These balls are fried but not at all greasy, and they are brilliantly set off by the intense coriander flavour in the dip.

Now as a health freak, I wouldn’t normally entertain the notion of a dosa for a main course. They can be greasy and often contain white wheat flour – which I’m not a fan of.

Masala Dosai

Riverside Vegetaria’s dosa is not only To.Freakin.Die.For taste-wise, but it’s made with lentil flour, is not at all oily, and comes with the most delicious coconut sambal and vegetable sambar for dipping.

I’ve also tried the Jamaican stew and a special – green lentil curry, which were both excellent.

Organic Spicy Jamaican Stew

 

Green Lentil Curry

The dosa really is top class though, and my absolute first recommendation.

I’ve found that the Italian dishes are not quite as good as the Indian dishes, so my advice would be to stick to spicy Indian, African and Jamaican dishes.

I love that the garlic bread is wholemeal – you hardly ever get this in restaurants! And a soup we tried this time was full of fresh okra and herbs, a perfect dunking receptacle for the bread 🙂

Okra & Chickpea Soup; Garlic Bread

Most dishes come with a colourful salad – not as a sloppy garnish but as a thoughtful, well-presented accompaniment. You’ll want to take a pic for Instagram before you tuck in!

You must also consult the ‘specials’ board as there seem to be a huge amount every day.

As for dessert, my partner says the chocolate fudge cake was great – moist, rich and as decadent as it should be. I had an orange sorbet which was decent.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

I can’t offer much info about the drinks as I just have tea and my partner has beer. Sorry – we’re just not wine aficionados!

Riverside Vegetaria is in a beautiful setting next to the river, with a small outside terrace for spring and summer dining.

The decor is cozy and cute; prices are absolutely fair; and the vibe is friendly, casual, local and inviting.

The only downsides are that the space is very small, and fills up quickly as the restaurant is so popular. You can find yourself squeezed in tight with the neighbouring table practically joining yours. Not too cool if you wanted a more intimate meal with a friend/partner. I guess this is worse in winter because the outside space is closed, so they have to maximise covers inside. My advice is to visit on a Monday or close to the beginning of the week, or wait until later in the evening when the restaurant has emptied out a bit, to have your meal.

I haven’t yet visited on a summer evening but I can only imagine that if you go on a warm night, and are lucky enough to snag one of the riverside tables, you’ll find yourself in heaven for a couple of hours…

 

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Yorica Ice Cream London: A Review.

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It’s way past the time that I should have written my review of Yorica, London’s only fully vegan ice-cream parlour.

It’s been about three months since I visited the first time, and about six weeks since I went the second time. I put off writing this because, well, you’ll see.

I remember being soooo excited to hear there was an ALL.VEGAN.ICE.CREAM place in London.

This stuff normally happens in New York or Austin – not London!

And it’s on Wardour St, one of my favourite streets ever!!

It opened in March, but I didn’t have occasion to visit until July of this year.

I was with my (non-vegan) mum. The idea was we’d have a mini ice-cream crawl. First, a gelateria in Covent Garden, which has several vegan options, then on to Yorica.

When you enter Yorica as a vegan it seems magical. It has a sixties psychedelic theme going on decor-wise, and is…just…so…pretty! It has fun slogans and signs everywhere like this:

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Yorica actually offer froyo as well as ice-cream, so if you want a lighter dessert, you’re covered!

They have four flavours of froyo – caramel, matcha, chocolate and vanilla, and there are around thirteen flavours of ice-cream, including chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, bubblegum, cookies and cream, and beetroot (which, while inventive, didn’t really sound appealing, at least to me!)

There’s a decent selection of toppings at the counter; healthy ones – blueberries, pomegranate seeds etc, along with the old fun favourites – sprinkles, candy, marshmallows, gummy bears, oreos etc.

There are also sprinkle machines in the main space, so you can cover your ice cream in however much crap you want!

I try and limit sugar now for health reasons, but I know that if I’d visited as a kid, I’d have thought this place was heaven on earth.

This visit, I opted for the matcha froyo. Partly because it’s one of my favourite flavours, but partly because I wanted it ‘soft serve’ (‘Mr Whippy style’ to us Brits!) Only the froyo is soft serve, the ice-cream is scooped.

I chose pomegranate seeds as a topping because I couldn’t resist seeing the bright red against the pale green of the matcha froyo, I knew it’d be pretty – and it was:

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My mum opted for caramel flavour with, er, nothing on top. I KNOW! Boring! 🙂

So what did it taste like?

Look. I can only be honest.

Much as I hate to say anything less than congenial about the first vegan ice-cream joint in London; I ain’t gonna lie either. There’s no reason why we should hold a vegan place to a lower standard than a non-vegan place. That wouldn’t make sense. And perhaps you’ll have a different experience to me in any case.

Firstly, the pomegranate seeds were not fresh; they were pretty dry and hard. I was worried I’d lose a filling so I spat them into a tissue.

This alone was not a problem to me. So it was a bad day for the pomegranate seeds, so what? I still had all that luscious froyo right?

You know, the matcha froyo didn’t taste bad; it just wasn’t great, and didn’t particularly taste like matcha. It was pleasant enough for a few mouthfuls. Then, something happened which just does.not.happen.to.me.ever. I found I was having trouble finishing it up!!!! It was just a medium pot; not super big, and bear in mind I can eat a whole pint of Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, no problem!

I really wasn’t enjoying it as much as I’d hoped to.

The caramel froyo my mum had was a little bit better, but not much.

I think part of the problem was the lack of creaminess, and I figured that froyo wouldn’t be as creamy as ice-cream, what with it not being, um, cream, right?

So I thought it was only fair to give Yorica another try before I wrote a review, and I’d be sure to get some actual ice-cream next time.

SO, a month or so later, the next time occurred, and I found myself at Yorica again, on this occasion with a friend.

This time I wanted strawberry ice-cream. When strawberry ice-cream is done well, then it’s glorious. No need for bells and whistles.

I had a big scoop of strawberry ice-cream, then inquired about a flavour that I wasn’t sure about. I was told it was called ‘wowbutter’ which is like peanut butter, but not peanut butter. Uh, ok! Nothing else was really tempting me so I got a big ol’ scoop of that too.

A drizzle of strawberry syrup to top it off, and then I couldn’t wait to get stuck in!

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I really wanted it to be great, but….it just wasn’t. I had trouble finishing this too. Both flavours just tasted like….cheap ice-cream.

It’s a shame.

I KNOW how great vegan ice-cream can be. There’s an all-vegan place in Austin, Texas which had me going back for 3 more helpings.

And I already mentioned how much Luna & Larry’s coconut Bliss I can devour.

So Delicious, too, are champs at plant-based ice-cream.

So what was the problem here?

I can’t work it out exactly.

I asked what the ice-cream was made with, and was told rice milk. I feel rice milk may be too thin to make a decent ice-cream, perhaps this is the problem? I’m not sure though as it was also a taste problem, not just texture.

Conclusion:

The place is pretty; the service is friendly; and it’s fun looking at all the things you can top your dessert with.

I may come back with my friends’ kids – I know they’d adore topping their ice-cream with ten tons of candy!

And if I was out with several friends just looking for something fun and light to do, I may bring them here.

BUT…if I’m out on the town looking for a truly yummy iced dessert with my partner or a friend, I’ll probably go to one of the gelaterias that have vegan options. La Gelatiera on New Row for example (which has a good number of options), or Snowflake, a few doors down from Yorica on Wardour St that has one or two vegan options.

 

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Review of Beyond Sushi (The Best Sushi You’ll Ever Taste)

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I’m freshly back from a short jaunt to NYC, and I HAVE to share my experience at Beyond Sushi.

We’ve visited New York several times, and I’d heard tell of the gloriousness of Beyond Sushi, and even walked past the branch in Chelsea Market; but not stopped to eat there because it looked tiny, and didn’t seem like there was an area to sit down comfortably.

When we’re on vacation, we like to sit down properly ya know? We like to enjoy our time in a restaurant – we do this so little at home in London so we really like to savour the experience when we’re away, rather than just grabbing food and eating it quickly at a bar or a high table.

However, we’re MAJOR sushi lovers, and on this visit it was time to try this place we’d heard so much about.

There are three branches of Beyond Sushi – in Chelsea Market, Union Square, and Midtown West.

Since we knew we wanted to spend our last afternoon in Central Park, we chose the Midtown West branch.

I had no idea if the space was as small as the Chelsea Market branch but decided to give it a go anyway, if the food was as good as I’d been led to believe, it would be worth the discomfort, right? I’m a foodie and I’ll suffer a LOT to satisfy my palate 😀

But when we hit West 56th, I saw the frontage of the place and my heart sank. It was obvious the place was REALLY tiny. Even kinda hole-in-the-wall’y.’ This wasn’t how I’d envisaged spending my last precious lunchtime in NYC.

On walking in I saw there were around 5 or 6 high chairs at a wall bar, and maybe 3 or 4 tiny tables for two. The place is SO narrow though, and it was SO PACKED, that nothing looked comfortable. Wherever you sat (IF you got a seat in the first place) people would be brushing past you, constantly knocking you.

It was too late to turn back now, so as soon as I saw two of the better wall bar chairs become free, I got my partner to bag them, and I got in line to order.

The menu looked delicious but there wasn’t much time to make selections before someone was yelling at me for my order. It was so noisy and bustly it was difficult to think straight. I went for three of the sushi rolls, but if the atmosphere had been more relaxed I’d probably have ordered from the rest of the menu too.

They have noodle salads, noodle soups, incredible sounding dumplings and wraps; but if you’re new to the place, you don’t have long enough to peruse the menu in this cramped, crowded type of set-up; which is a shame.

I guess this place is great for if you know the menu well, and can go in and order what you want straight away.

There seemed to be lots of workers on their lunch breaks that had ordered take-out, and were just there to pick up their food. The place (at least this branch) seemed to cater best to these people; OR, those that just waltz in knowing exactly what they want ’cause they’ve been so many times before.

As well as the sushi rolls, I also ordered a seaweed salad, and a small bowl of kimchi. We had to catch the red-eye home to London later that night, and kimchi is great for keeping the bugs away!

The kimchi and salad were served quickly, and before too long, out came the rolls, and OMG, they looked specTACular.

I’d ordered these:

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Check out the La Fiesta and the Chic Pea
My top choice - the Mighty Mushroom!
My top choice – the Mighty Mushroom!

They looked like this:

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WOW!

What magnificent, gourmet sushi.

The one that stood out for me was the Mighty Mushroom. That blob of shiitake truffle on top so perfectly and subtly infused each piece with smoke and salt and…just…shiitake-ishness (!) I could’ve eaten these all day.

The next best for me, La Fiesta, was still incredible. You could taste each element just enough, and each complimented the other delightfully in taste and texture.

My other choice, the Chic Pea, was still delicious, even though the other two were slightly better. I love tahini with anything, so I was always going to love this.

The seaweed salad couldn’t have been any better unless it had been brought to me by a hot naked dude. I’ve had plenty of crappy ones where there’s too much added sugar and the seaweed is too hard and chewy. This seaweed was fresh, soft and delicately flavoured.

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As for the house-made kimchi, it looked like a classic kimchi, but I felt it may have contained  pear? I thought I could taste it. I’m normally weird about fruit in savoury stuff, but pear or no, it was great.

I learnt later that it’s the Spicy Mang roll that everyone raves about (avo, mango, cucumber, spiced veggies and toasted cayenne). I saw it on the menu, but again, BLECH with the whole fruit in savoury stuff.

So I didn’t go there.

Next time I’ll quit being a special snowflake and try it.

I was absolutely blown away by this food, and could’ve easily eaten another round of everything – not because I was still hungry, but just so that eating this scrumptiousness wouldn’t have to stop.

As we were eating, the place cleared out a bit (this happened around 1pm) and it became a much more comfortable atmosphere. If we’d have known, we’d have come a bit later to avoid the lunch rush.

Inside Beyond Sushi, Midtown West branch, as the rush hour calms down!
Inside Beyond Sushi, Midtown West branch, as the rush hour calms down!

Look. The food really IS beyond sushi, it’s BEYOND BEYOND. I’d come back in a heartbeat. I’ll dream about these rolls until I get the chance to come back and eat them again.

But, it’s such a shame Beyond Sushi don’t have bigger spaces and can’t make newbies more comfortable, and feel more welcome.

I mean, I get it – they don’t need to. You taste it; you’re hooked, and you’d come back even if they set up in a public toilet.

You’d go and see a good gig in a cramped, hot hall without a/c; you’d go to the theatre and sit on the floor to see a good play – anything that is so good it feeds the soul you’d happily suffer a little discomfort for.

It’d just be nice to be able to eat this gorgeous food in a comfortable space, like omnivores get to do all the time.

My recommendation: Go to Beyond Sushi ASAP. Avoid lunch hours and rush hours. Maybe look at the menu online first, decide what you want, order take-out then eat in a nearby park.

I think next time we’ll get take-out from the Chelsea Market branch, then go up to the High Line, bag sunbeds, and eat in (relative) peace.

 

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Vegan In Brooklyn

This week: Coming to you from NYC!!!

OK, Brooklyn.

But you know what? I ADORE Brooklyn.

I’d much rather stay here than in Manhattan.

It’s peaceful; has stoop-tastic brownstones; wide, tree-lined cobbled streets; amazing street art; cool restaurants – MANY of which are vegan; and a great atmosphere.

You don’t need to be in hipster Williamsburg to get the great vegan food either. We have three vegan places (two entirely vegan and one vegetarian/vegan place) within twenty minutes walk of where we are staying in Park Slope.

As I have limited time, and as I’ve written about New York restaurants before, both here and here; if it’s OK with you, for this week I’m just gonna leave you with a few pics from where we ate today. In Brooklyn.

Hightail it to both of these joints if you get the chance.

Start salivating…..NOW!

First up, from the V Spot:

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Fried avocado in breadcrumbs with spicy mayo and lime wedge. As delicious as it sounds

 

Jamaican wrap with collards, onions, vegan cheese, vegan chicken, Caribbean brown rice and peas. Spicy and scrumptious.
Jamaican wrap with collards, onions, vegan cheese, vegan chicken, Caribbean brown rice and peas. Spicy and scrumptious
Chilaquiles & tofu scramble topped with vegan cheese
Chilaquiles & tofu scramble topped with vegan cheese. This did not touch the sides of my partner’s mouth.
Lightly fried plantain with a thin curry sauce. Because if there's plantain on the menu, I'm having it
Lightly fried plantain with a thin curry sauce. Because if there’s plantain on the menu, I’m having it

For dessert, we ambled a few blocks to the Park Slope branch of Van Leeuwens Artisanal Ice Creamery. These pics are actually from the branch in the West Village in NYC, because they were better than my pics from today.

Van Leeuwens is not a wholly vegan place, but has a decent vegan menu, and the ice-creams are artisanal, with quality ingredients (the vegan ones at least 🙂 ).

The base of the vegan ice-cream is coconut milk, almond and cashew milk. I was a little disappointed that they’d run out of the pistachio flavour AND the coconut whipped cream on both of our visits, but whatever. The ice-cream we had was still very, very good.

Behold these beauties:

One mint choc chip/cookie dough, one banana nut/matcha. Bliss.
One mint choc chip/cookie dough, one banana nut/matcha. Bliss.

 

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Review: More Than Meat’s Lamb Casserole & Jerk Burgers

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Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion; I am not being financially compensated for it (though even if I was, it would STILL be my honest opinion). I received the food samples free, with no brief from the More Than Meat company other than to taste test and review them.

 

I have to admit, when I tweeted Barry responding to his request for vegan bloggers to review his More Than Meat meat-alternative products, my primary motivation was to get my greedy mitts on some yummy free food.

Then I remembered I’m not really a huge fan of meat-alternatives.

THEN I remembered that most meat-alternatives often contain not-so healthy ingredients, like white flour breadcrumbs, sugar etc.

As I’m all about the healthy, I started panicking and wondered if I could make my husband eat all the food and just TELL me how it tasted so I could write the review? Hee.

I checked out Barry’s website, plantalicious.com and breathed a sigh of relief. I could see that one of his main motivations for going plant-based was to improve his health, and I realised he wouldn’t be making products that were full of crapola…phew!

A few days later I received a hyyuuuuge bag of More Than Meat frozen goodies. Barry had thoughtfully included cooking instructions for each product, and each one was marked with the date it was made.

It looked so good I couldn’t wait to get started!

First off, the More Than Lamb Casserole.

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As a 26 year vegan, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a casserole with these particular flavours. I thought that this kind of dish only worked with meat, so I’d never tried to re-create or ‘veganise’ it.

The ‘lamb’ is made with wheat gluten – I’m assuming it’s similar to ‘seitan,’ but it’s marked in the ingredients list as wheat gluten. All the More Than Meat products contain gluten, so are not suitable for celiacs.

I was delighted to see huge butter beans (I’m a bean freak), and celery, carrots and leeks rounded out the mix.

Check out the rest of the ingredients for the healthiest and kindest lamb casserole you’ve ever seen!

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It was VERY easy to prepare. I forgot to take it out of the freezer earlier in the day, and had to cook it from frozen. The instructions say you can microwave it OR heat it on the hob. I don’t have a microwave so I went with the hob option. It didn’t take long for the frozen block of casserole to break down on a gentle heat; then I simmered it for a few minutes to heat the ‘meat’ pieces all the way through.

The picture on the packaging gave me the idea to serve it with mash, and as I had a sweet potato and a white potato left in the fridge I went for a white/sweet potato mash combo, and steamed some greens to serve alongside.

This wasn’t a bad idea, but now I’ve tasted the dish I would advise going completely trad-ish and sticking to white potato mash, which would be a more perfect foil for the flavours of the casserole.

AND WHAT FLAVOURS THEY ARE! I’d completely forgotten about this kind of dish; about how ingredients like wine, redcurrant jelly, and herbs and spices can make a savoury dish taste so rich and warming. And very British! As a vegan that is very happy eating mostly ethnic dishes it was a pleasant change to taste flavours of my childhood and teen years but without the cruelty, cholesterol and planet-warping products those types of meals would usually contain.

I loved:

  • The balance of the flavours, the richness, the fruitiness, and that it had just the right amount of ‘tang’ – More Than Meat have 100% nailed the flavours of a traditional lamb casserole.
  • The butterbeans that really DID melt like butter in the mouth. Beans in pre-cooked food are NOT always this good.
  • The fact that although this was a very rich dish, it was not remotely greasy, so it actually felt healthy.
  • The fact there were no sugars in the ingredients.
  • The ease of preparation. To make a dish like this yourself would take hours. To be able to heat this up from frozen and it take 10 minutes was amazing.

My only personal gripe was that I’d have liked the wheat gluten/seitan pieces to have had a chewier texture, but I asked my husband about this and he said he liked them just fine – and he’s a seitan connoisseur! So to be fair this is probably just subjective on my part.

Later in the week, we tried the More Than Jerk Burgers.

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These contain a tiny bit of raw cane sugar, but otherwise it’s the healthiest damn ingredients list I ever saw for a burger!

They come with the directive to brush a little oil on them before grilling, because they don’t contain any added oil. I really appreciated this – I like to control how much oil I’m getting.

I’d taken the burgers out of the freezer earlier in the day, so they literally only took around 10 minutes to grill – 5 minutes on each side.

Roast squash and steamed greens were my accompaniment of choice (though of course these burgers would be perfect to serve in a bun); some sliced onions and lettuce, and a dollop of my homemade ketchup completed the picture.

Despite slightly overcooking them (my fault entirely – next time I’d cook them a couple of minutes less) they were still delicious. The texture is very hearty and meat-like – it’s not exactly the same texture as meat, but it’s definitely a good replacement for the density and ‘mouthfeel’ that meat has – EXACTLY what you’d want from a burger in fact. I feel that even a staunch meat-eater wouldn’t grumble about the texture.

The jerk seasoning made itself known agreably, and my ketchup and crunchy (but thinly) sliced onions really complimented this.

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You know what? The burger was over way too quickly for me. I can’t blame it on the burger because though its diameter was small, it was quite thick, and what most would consider to be adequate portion size, but it was just so good I wanted more.

A couple of hours later I was working, and could still faintly smell the jerk seasoning from where the burgers had been cooked earlier. It was making me REALLY crave another one, to the point where I couldn’t concentrate!

Warning: If you take these mothers to a barbecue or plan on having them at a dinner party, you’d better count on at LEAST two per person – they’re THAT more-ish.

Both these products (and many more – check out the full product list) can be ordered from the More Than Meat website, or see the list of stockists to see if there is one near you.

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Pain Quotidien UK; A Review

Having visited the US lots in the past 10 years, and having consulted Happy Cow a bazillion times to find vegan restaurants (or restaurants with vegan options) in various towns and cities, I’ve long been aware of the Pain Quotidien chain of rustic, casual bakery/restaurants.

I’ve just read they are Belgian of origin, but the headquarters are now in New York. You can find them in London; many cities in the US; Paris, Belgium and Australia; and you can find franchises of PQ in places such as Japan, Brazil, UAE and Spain.

To vegans they are known for having very clearly marked vegan options on all their menus, and to others for having communal tables in their spaces (don’t panic Brits! They have smaller, private tables too. Or is it just me that gets nervous at the word communal 🙂 )

The vegan options are not just salad or hummus and celery sticks, but proper, grown-up starters and main courses that feel like they would rival the non-vegan dishes in taste and texture.

I have no idea why I didn’t try them out for the longest time.

Earlier this year, I finally got around to trying my first Pain Quotidien in Los Angeles (the Larchmont branch).

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t discovered them earlier!

The space was attractive, with a little shop selling some of their own artisanal products – jams, chutneys etc. The garden was beautiful, full of sweet-smelling flowers – but this was Los Angeles, you wouldn’t get this everywhere!

I opted for some lentil soup and salad, which were both substantial and thoughtfully flavoured. The salad wasn’t too heavily dressed (this is a common mistake in restaurants!), it was just perfect. My partner had a killer tofu scramble, and I washed my meal down with some delicious house chai with almond milk.

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The hot drinks are served in bowls, which I love; it reminds me of when I lived in the south of France.

I was really impressed with the food, value, service and ambience at this Pain Quotidien and will always bear PQ in mind now when looking for somewhere to eat in the US.

 

So how does Pain Quotidien UK measure up?

Well, I can only truly speak of one branch, I have no idea if it’s representative or not, though there are elements that are the same in every PQ – the wooden chairs and tables, the rustic atmosphere, the communal seating etc.

The menus are all similar but there are variances based on locale and season. There always does seem to be solid vegan options however, this doesn’t change.

On the rainy August Bank Holiday Monday, after an event that ended up being a washout at the Royal Festival Hall, we decided to try the local (Royal Festival Hall) branch of Pain Quotidien, for a late lunch.

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This particular branch is very close to Waterloo station, so as well as the space you see in the above photo, there’s also a basement level hall under the actual railway arches, which adds a nice local touch.

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The vegan options are clearly marked on the menu with a carrot sign, like so:

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As well as a vegan soup and a couple of decent vegan salads (forgot to take a photo – one had quinoa, taboulé, raw vegetables, avocado and organic rapeseed oil and the other was freshly shaved fennel, raw slaw, chickpeas and basil vinaigrette – no iceberg lettuce here!), they have a couple of vegan ‘tartine’ options:

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The other was also avocado toast but with lemon and cumin.

These were the hot dishes, or mains (the chilli seems to be available at most locations):

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Some straight-up sides:

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And desserts:

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They also do breakfasts, and vegan choices include porridge, fruit salad and granola.

 

Now I’m a huge lover of chilli, and have wanted to try PQ’s version since I learned they had one, so my choice was easy. My partner went for the quinoa cake.  We figured we couldn’t go wrong adding a side of roasted baby potatoes!

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This was a bean chilli, But I think I counted just 3 beans in the entire dish!

I ADORE chilli and it’s a great dish to veganise because it really doesn’t need meat. The beans carry the flavour marvellously, and if you have enough beans in there (you can chuck some corn in there too if you want to add another texture) you don’t need anything else.

Unfortunately, this chilli contained a tonne of  – I’m guessing it was soy protein or TVP? Now a little of this would have been fine, especially if there were more beans for variance of texture.

But whoever made this dish had been a bit heavy-handed with the soy protein, or maybe this is just the PQ recipe? It felt like a meat-eater had made it and thought ‘I’ll chuck a tonne of this meat-substitute in ‘cos that’s what vegans want.’ It definitely made for an, um, ‘over-chewy’ experience.

Yet…the actual taste was great. It absolutely came up to scratch flavour-wise. The guacamole that came with it was good too.

The soy sour cream was completely superfluous, and tasted more like soy yoghurt. Then one of the wait-staff told us it actually WAS soy yoghurt.

The dish came with a couple slices of bread, and it was strange that it was served with regular butter when it’s a vegan dish! I get that non-vegans may order this dish too, but maybe give us some vegan spread, and if someone wants regular butter they’ll ask?

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This was the quinoa cake. You know, it was ok. It tasted just fine. But I don’t know how they came up with it. The beetroot ‘caviar’ tasted just like mashed-up beetroot, and the carrot hummus tasted just like, well, mashed-up carrot.

Because these things are nice enough in and of themselves, this dish was, uh, nice enough. The quinoa cake was lightly flavoured with herbs, and not as dry as it perhaps looks. It was slightly weird to me that the cake was hot and the other elements were cold, but maybe this is a thing, I don’t know.

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The roasted baby potatoes were great, but I thought roast potatoes were supposed to be a bit browner and crunchier? Look, they were good, let’s leave it at that.

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I LOOOVVED my matcha latte! Hurrah! But can I have one final moan and say it could’ve been a bit hotter?

My partner enjoyed his coffee 🙂

I’m always thrilled to see agave available as a sweetener. This has been available for years in many US cafes, but I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it here,

Verdict:

If my experience of PQ in Los Angeles was pretty representative of all US branches – I’d say it’s an excellent choice for snacks, breakfasts, brunches, lunches and early dinners (they tend to close earlier than regular restaurants).

Service was second-to-none, as was the freshness, taste and value of the food.

If you find one with outdoor seating in a pretty space as we did, even better.

I’ll ALWAYS consider PQ while in the US if there is no dedicated vegan restaurant available, and you know what? Maybe even if there is.

As for PQ UK (which maybe should be PQ London – it’s the only city in the UK with branches) I’d still consider it. It wasn’t bad, it’s just that nothing was great, and a few things just niggled. It’s so great to not feel niggled when dining out!

I don’t know how much the fact that I’d consider it is due to there not being many other options.

Next time I’d probably stick to a soup and salad, which I’m sure they’d do well.

The service at this particular branch, like the food, was just ok. The ambience was nice, especially in the basement arches, and they do have free wifi – but it was painfully slow, so maybe not great for working, just playing.

For the portion sizes, it’s definitely overpriced, and there is a discretionary 12.5% service charge added onto the bill. The wait staff told us they get 70% of this and the restaurant gets 30%.

I will say that I definitely want to pass by and grab a matcha latte to go. They’re a whole quid cheaper to take out, and extra hot, it’ll be yummy.

Have you visited PQ anywhere, specifically for the vegan options? How did YOU find it? Does my review hit home? Or you think I’m being a bit of a grumpy-pants?

Hit reply and let me know!

 

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Review Of 222 Vegan Restaurant in London

222 vegan restaurant on North End Road in West Kensington is nothing if not a London vegan institution.

I’ve been there lots of times over the years for lunch and dinner, and it rarely disappoints.

It was my partner’s birthday last week, and we were both so busy, we couldn’t be bothered thinking of somewhere new to go to celebrate, so we figured we might as well go back to 222 – it’s not too far from us, and we knew it’d be good.

Like a ninny I forgot to take a photo of the exterior (so in a hurry was I to get to the food!), but you can get an idea of the feel of the restaurant from their instagram page – as well as perving over some top food porn!

Also, apologies in advance for the poor pics. The lighting wasn’t great, and the seating with better light that would have favoured the food pics wouldn’t have favoured ME, so I had to make a choice. You understand.

The space is small, but not cramped, and if you bag one of the window seats you’ve got the sweetest spot, in my opinion.

The decor has recently been revamped, and though it is still a simple and warm rustic style overall, they’ve installed mirrors down one of the walls, which personally I’m not a fan of. It’s obviously the old trick to make the space look bigger, but I find mirrors in your face while you’re at dinner distracting and off-putting – and we’re not stupid – we can SEE the room is small, but it doesn’t matter at all as long as you don’t feel cramped or squashed up in it, and the tables are set in such a way here as to avoid this, so the mirrors really aren’t needed.

The owner, Ben, has nearly always been on site when I’ve been there, supervising and checking everything is running smoothly. He is such a humble presence however, that I didn’t realise he was the owner till someone told me.

They’ve had the same menu for a while now, and it works. There’s enough variety of tastes and textures to please everyone, and we’ve been there so much we know what is good and what ain’t so great (there’s only a couple of dishes in this latter category, most everything else is highly recommended). Usually I can never quite choose between at least three of the main dishes, so it’s still exciting.

The absolute, hands down, best starter here is Hearts Desire  ‘specially selected artichoke heart sauteed with fresh aromatic herbs served on a bed of rocket leaves with a roasted pepper sauce.’

The artichoke positively melts in your mouth and the sauce compliments it so perfectly it’s hard to keep from making the ‘oooohhmmmmmm’ noise with every bite.

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We shared this and some wholemeal pitas with homemade hummous, guacamole and pimento dip.

The only choice of starter that, in my opinion, isn’t up to scratch here is the bean and tofu pancake. It’s not bad, per se, just not as tasty as the other options.

I was actually craving Indian food (I’m a true south Londoner!), and knew the chick pea curry here was fantastic and authentic tasting, so I opted for that.

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My partner went for the Seitan Stroganoff:

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This is apparently a customer favourite. I have to say it was a (cashew) creamy delight, and the seitan strips would have fooled any meat-eater. With caramelised onions, red peppers and herbs, it had a sweet and delicate flavour.

Both mains came with organic brown rice (so refreshing; it’s REALLY hard to find brown rice in London restaurants), and all veg and herbs are always as fresh as can be.

The portion sizes, while generous, are not so much that you feel stuffed, and guilty when you have to leave some.

We also had a side of yummy garlic wholemeal (yay!) bread.

We ALWAYS have the same dessert, the Spice Island Pie. Behold:

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The menu describes it thus:  ‘A delicious raw dessert of cashew and almond cream flavoured with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg on a crunchy nut and coconut base. Sweetened with agave nectar’

 

 

 

It is divine. If I didn’t know what it was called, I’d think it was chai cheesecake.

 

 

They serve a small, but solid selection of vegan wines and beers, and for any cola or soda loving kids (or big kids!) you’ll find a cola and lemonade, both made with natural ingredients and sweetened with fruit juice.

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I’ll be going back again and again for as long as this restaurant is around and performs to this same high standard.

It is very reasonably priced – if you’re on a budget the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet HAS to be one of the best deals in town. I forget how much it is (and it doesn’t say on the website), but I remember it to have been extremely good value for the amount of delicious food I ate.

Personally, I love the fact that the food is health-focussed, with whole foods and sugar alternatives being used where possible.

Service is friendly, and wait-staff are knowledgeable. Though there has been a problem in the past with servers not speaking English to a high enough standard to understand customers, this time that was not the case.

Don’t fear bringing non-vegans here, the meat-eaters I’ve brought here in the past have all left happy, and review sites speak to the amount of omnivores surprised at how much they’d enjoyed a vegan restaurant.

If you are a vegan visitor to our city, and staying centrally, is it worth you travelling for twenty minutes to West Kensington to eat here? Absolutely! GET on that tube!

 

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Review of Amico Bio, Italian Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant In London

So what do you do for the twenty-first anniversary of the day you and your partner got together?

Go for a hearty plant-based meal, that’s what.

Er… WITH your partner, in case that wasn’t clear!

We nearly didn’t go anywhere, what with it being a miserable, drizzly and cold London night, but the promise of good food (as always) motivated us to shake a leg, so off we went to try Amico Bio, a family-owned Italian vegetarian/vegan restaurant in London.

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A veggie Italian restaurant is a very rare thing. In fact I don’t know any other. Italian food, like French, often includes meat, cheese and cream, so is harder than other world cuisines to replicate in a veggie version – so we were really curious to see what it’d be like.

There are two branches of Amico Bio. I believe the ‘original’ is in Smithfields, and the ‘spinoff’ is the Bloomsbury side of Holborn. We went to the Holborn branch – just because it was closer.

I’m not a huge fan of Italian food. My favourite foods tend to come from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America and contain a multitude of spices, so Italian food to me by contrast is a little, well, dull.

I KNOW, I KNOW, Italian food can be incredible, and I particularly like the emphasis on fresh, luscious veg and fruit that you find in Mediterranean cuisine, it just wouldn’t be my first choice, is all. I think also, the prevalence of white wheat pasta and white bread puts me off a little.

My partner loves Italian food, but hasn’t had much of it of late (or since I encouraged him to try food from a little further afield!), so it was nice for him to be reacquainted with it.

The restaurant is in a very pleasant space, very cosy and ‘Italian rustic,’ but still elegant, with a huge print sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci (who was vegan, as we know from here) on a back wall. It’s authentically appointed with huge dark wood (what I took to be very old-timey Italian) dressers and a vast mirror, which contrast with the more modern prints on the walls and arty paper table mats that tell you about the restaurants philosophy:

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Sorry for the crappy interior photo – you really need to see the back of the restaurant to get the whole effect, but I was worried I was starting to look weird to the other diners.

Apparently all the veg for the restaurant is grown on the family farm in Italy, so it promised to be full-flavoured and divine.

The online menu of Amico Bio offered a whole grain option – a risotto made with brown rice, and I was disappointed it wasn’t on the menu the night we went. It DOES say online that menus change according to the produce available, but you’d think brown rice would be available all year? They also have a store in the restaurant that sells wholemeal spelt, and buckwheat flour, so you’d think they’d want to have some whole grain pastas available on the menu, but it doesn’t seem to have been considered.

I don’t get this. If you’re open-minded enough to drop the meat from your traditional cuisine, and you tout the health benefits of your food, why not also make dishes with whole grains, to really optimise the health and wellness benefits?

There seemed to be more dishes containing dairy cheese than I remembered from online too, but there were lots of vegan or ‘can be made vegan’ options.

We shared a bruschetta starter which was the most incredible tasting olive oil drizzled over fresh cherry tomatoes and basil. I’ve never had bruschetta before so I have nothing to compare it to – and it’s a shame the bread was white (why use heavily processed wheat in your bread when the emphasis is on whole, fresh foods??) but the tomato, oil and basil mix was gorgeous – to the point of me craving it again today. UK supermarket tomatoes just don’t compare to Italian tomatoes grown on a farm.

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For a main course I chose ‘Carciofi e culvofiori brasati con parsinache arrosto e cavolo rosso‘ – braised cauliflower and artichokes, roasted parsnips and braised red cabbage.

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The cabbage, artichoke and whatever the shaved, fried veg was (that you can see on top – but was not mentioned in the dish description) were delicious. The cauliflower just really tasted boiled, and the roast parsnip wasn’t as roasted as I’d have liked. All in all, not bad, but a dish really needs a grain or legume to plump it out and satiate. It really wasn’t that filling. I like to feel that I’ve eaten, when I’ve eaten.

Luckily, my partner had ordered ‘Frittelle di farro e insalatina, con fagioli all’occhio nero e cime de rapa,’ or spelt and salad fritters, black-eyed peas and turnip tops, and we ordered a side of roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary.

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Now to me, black-eyed peas and turnip greens are Southern US soul food (another cuisine I adore). I didn’t know they were particularly Italian. This isn’t a complaint, I’m always up for black-eyed peas, it was just strange seeing them in this context. The fritters were fantastic; light, not too greasy, and the spelt made the batter taste richer. My lovely partner let me have most of his peas and turnip greens. This, exactly this, is why we’ve lasted twenty-one years.

We shared the roasties which were bursting with earthy flavour and subtly complimented by the rosemary.

And then, AND THEN, came time for dessert.

I knew the restaurant had a selection of homemade gelato, and I’d seen online that they had pistachio flavour (MY FAVOURITE!!! Or one of them, I seem to have a lot of favourites!) I was almost too scared to ask if they had it this night, what with the menu being as fluid as it was.

But they had it! They also had several other delicious sounding flavours – the only one I can remember is elderflower, but they all sounded so delicious I nearly got thrown from my focus. I stuck to pistachio though, and was not sorry.

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The pistachio came through loud and clear, and the sweetness was at the perfect level: sweet enough so you know you’re eating dessert, but not the slightest bit sickly or cloying. I could have eaten a LOT of this!

My partner had a quintessential Italian liqueur, Amaro Alle Herbe, which just means herbal liqueur. It contained herbs like mint, sage, gentian, rosemary, centaury; and spices like cloves and cinnamon.

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I didn’t try this. I don’t drink alcohol. It smelled a little like a dental rinse, though I kind of got why it might be nice. If you like that sort of thing. My partner loved it, and said it was very warming.

 

Conclusion

I’m kind of blinded by the delicious pistachio gelato and my old favourite black-eyed peas, which make me want to say I’d definitely go there again – and I would, that’s not wrong.

And the prices are reasonable; and service, while in no way exceptional, was acceptable. And it also should be said that the restaurant is in a nice area and has a great look and atmosphere.

BUT, in my opinion, a bit more thought needs to be taken with menu items. While the veg are certainly flavourful and fresh, and the gluten-free crowd have plenty of options (too many really, when you consider that very few people actually need gluten-free food); there is not enough emphasis on WHOLE foods where the grains and pastas are concerned. This means that those wishing to avoid refined and processed grains do not have much choice. As I said, whole grains ARE offered on the online menu. I have no idea why they are not offered in the restaurant.

You should absolutely try this restaurant. Whether you live in London or visit here from elsewhere, it’s a great lunch/dinner venue, and just down the road from the British museum.

 

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