Güd, Altrincham, Greater Manchester
In order to cook flavourful vegan food you have to think in a way that’s alien to most chefs. That’s why, says John Waddington, owner of street food stall güd, so few restaurants serve quality vegan food: “You need to pack in flavour because you don’t have all the fats and sugars present in meat and dairy – you have to be creative in achieving a depth of flavour.”
Now a fixture at Altrincham Market, John’s dishes – spiced chickpea and root vegetable stews, Mexican black bean burger – are thrilling local vegans and surprising meat-eaters, too. Not that everyone gets it: “People say ‘this looks nice’, then ‘oh sorry, I’m not vegan’ and walk away. I’m perplexed by that”.
Dishes £4 – £7; gudvegan.co.uk
Rudy’s Diner, London
Rudy’s in Islington claims the title of London’s first all-vegan diner and butcher, offering veganised versions of American fast food from lunch through to dinner. The bright interior echoes 1950’s style American diners – though at a more high-end scale – with cheerful yellow booths, black leather stools and black and white tiling setting the scene.
Proving that tofu and falafel isn’t all there is for vegans, the wide-ranging menu covers meat-free twists on junk food staples, from towering burgers and beefy sandwiches to dirty fries and mozzarella sticks (with no cheese or meat in sight). Come for the Rubenz, a vegan twist on the meaty Reuben sandwich, where seitan pastrami meets grilled onions, sauerkraut, cheeze, dill pickles and a secret sauce. Meat-eaters and vegans alike will enjoy this for its resemblance to the original, together with the thick, creamy milkshakes and dense chocolate brownies to finish.
Though vegan meat alternatives may not be to everyone’s taste, if you fancy trying vegan food that’s inventive, fun and casual, it’s worth paying a visit.
Starters from £6.50, mains from £8.80; rudysvegan.com
The Gate, London
From miso-glazed aubergines with toasted cashews to stuffed plantains, the menu at London’s Gate restaurants (pictured left) – in Hammersmith, Islington and Marylebone – could not, in its fusion of global flavours, be any more on-trend. However, its owners, Adrian and Michael Daniel, have been cooking this way since 1989.
For the London-born sons of Indian parents of Iraqi descent, as Michael puts it, “Using chilli and spices is in our DNA. We grew up on a fusion of Arabic and Indian with local influences, so it was easy to mix cuisines”. The Daniels are pioneers in other ways, too: the Gate Islington was the UK’s first accredited, autism-friendly restaurant. 28 years in, they’re as focussed as ever. “If food doesn’t pass my test, it’s not served. If the passion goes, we’re gone.” says Michael.
Starters from £6, mains from £13; thegaterestaurants.com
Paradise Palms, Edinburgh
A live music and leftfield cabaret lounge, a cocktail dive and record shop, this neon-lit space ploughs its own furrow. In food, too. As lifelong vegetarians, Paradise Palms’ owners, half-brothers Trystan O’Brien and Andrew Rennie, were determined to create a meat-free menu as indulgent as the filthiest ‘dude food’. “It’s close to our hearts, environmentally right, and we very much wanted to show that vegan and vegetarian food can be as naughty as anything,” says Trystan.
Hence their soul-food-inspired menu of BBQ pulled jackfruit subs, chipotle mac ‘n’ cheese and southern fried halloumi. “Soul food has its roots in a plant-based diet,” says Trystan. The drinks list is almost entirely vegan or vegetarian, too. Paradise only stocks two products that use isinglass, the fish product used to clear beers and wines: “We do an almond milk White Russian and no animals are harmed in the making of our Buckfast daiquiris.”
Large dishes from £5.50; theparadisepalms.com
Mr Falafel, London
This simple takeaway-café on Shepherd’s Bush Market dispenses crisp, herb-laden falafel of staggering lightness. Packed into wraps with his zippy pickled veg, delicious additions such as fried cauliflower and dressed with various tahini, garlic and pomegranate syrup sauces, they abound in flavour.
Wraps £4.50 – £6.80; mrfalafel.co.uk
There are four 1847 restaurants and all offer modish dishes in chic, Scandi-style settings. “We’re not trying to improvise meat or use substitutes. It’s all about the vegetables,” says chef Matty Bowling of dishes that include socca flatbread with mushrooms, chilli yogurt and quinoa, or a potato terrine with charred broccoli, potato dashi, salsa verde and quince. 1847 is big on natural, organic wines, too. Matty loves Soellner’s Wogenrian Grüner Veltliner (glass, £5).
Small plates from £8, large plates from £12.50; by1847.com
It has the same communal benches, bar-ordering and top craft beers, but Bundobust’s second site – a large basement with gritty atrium views of the surrounding city centre – differs from the Leeds original in more than just location. “We started as a bar that does food but, in Manchester, we’re definitely a restaurant,” says co-founder Mark Husak.
This emphasis on food is testament to the skill of head chef, Mayur Patel. His menu of Gujarati snacks and dishes is at another level. The chaat (samosa, chickpeas, potato and more, bound in a sweet ‘n’ sour tamarind chutney) or the Bundobust tarka daal, have such depth of flavour that Mark says, “Some meat-eaters don’t realise there’s no meat until they finish their meal.”
Small plates, £3.50 – £6; bundobust.com
Alley Café, Nottingham
This loft café is intent on stepping lightly on the planet, but it’s far from monastic. By day it serves interesting vegetarian sandwiches (eg. smoked tofu, pesto and artichoke hearts), as well as burritos, burgers and vegan chocolate torte. By night the Alley’s organic wines and beers flow freely as it goes late with comedy, live music and dub sound system specials.
Mains £6.25 – £8.25; alleycafe.co.uk
Andy Rea is the culinary brains behind the Mourne Seafood Bar restaurants, but while Home, which he owns with Steve Haller, uses some meat, its vegetarian and vegan menus make it a flexitarian’s dream. “We wanted veggie dishes to be the star,” says Steve. The kitchen’s mantra is: “Source local and use global influences.”
Cheeses from County Tyrone’s Five Mile Town or Abernethy butter feed into dishes such as salt and chilli tofu with miso slaw or kale and quinoa tabbouleh with aubergine and mint yogurt. “Home embraces cultures where veggie food is the staple diet,” says Steve.
Starters from £5.50, mains from £8.50; homebelfast.co.uk
Quince & Medlar, Cockermouth
When Colin and Louisa Le Voi bought Quince & Medlar in 1989 it created a stir. “Everyone thought we were nuts to buy a vegetarian restaurant,” recalls Colin. But 28 years later, the restaurant is still here. The Le Vois trained at legendary Lake District hotel Sharrow Bay, but were relative novices in vegetarian cooking when they took charge. “It’s been a wonderful meat-free adventure,” says Colin. Try his cheese and mushroom pâté soufflé or baked beets, borlotti and horseradish under a herby suet top with wasabi mooli halloumi.
Starters from £4.70, mains £15.50; quinceandmedlar.co.uk
The first time olive ate at Saramago – an airy, fetching atrium café in Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts – it took several minutes of reading the menu to realise it is actually vegetarian. “We feel that good food is good food regardless of whether it’s animal-free or not,” says general manager Lisa Bolland.
Consequently, Saramago (named after the Portuguese communist writer José Saramago), doesn’t feel obliged to shout about its meat-free menu. It asks diners to judge it on the quality of its excellent, globally-inspired small plates such as roasted cauliflower with salsa verde or griddled leeks with romesco sauce. “Lots of vegetables are under-celebrated and classed as sides. Small plates allow us to showcase them in inventive ways,” says Lisa.
Small plates £3.25 – £4.50; larger dishes up to £11; cca-glasgow.com
When it first opened in 2006, Milgi’s owners, sisters Gabrielle and Rebecca Kelly, were fresh out of art school and their bar and restaurant retains a bohemian atmosphere. Milgi went meat-free in 2010 in order to avoid loaded terms such as vegetarian.
“We want to change the perception of what plant-based food can be,” says Gabrielle. Try the seasonal curry, laverbread potato cakes with eggs and steamed greens or the Mexican stack. “We’re as inspired by local Middle Eastern or Indian delis as local ingredients,” says Gabrielle.
Starters £7.25, mains £11.25; milgicardiff.com
Ital Fresh, Liverpool
The Rastafarian tradition of ital, whose vegan adherents eat only natural foods, is a holistic belief system that promotes protection of Mother Earth and all her creatures. Not that Poppy and Daniel Thompson, owners of Ital Fresh, give anyone the hard sell. “We’re not preachy, we live by the ‘one love’ philosophy. All are welcome at Ital Fresh. We let the food sing,” says Poppy.
The Thompsons’ use ital principles to rework classic Caribbean dishes. For instance, their ‘cauli wings’ are a ginger beer-battered, jerk-spiced take on fried chicken and rather than rice ‘n’ peas, they serve coconut-simmered quinoa with mango and lentils.
Small plates £3 – £5; italfreshhq.com
Planet India, Brighton & Hove
The Rupani family’s sensational vegetarian food is available at its original Brighton café – a comfortable, colourful bolthole full of trinkets and holiday snaps – and its grander, still quirky Hove restaurant. Go for the pea and paneer curry or the legendary dhai bhel puri.
Hove starters from £3.77, mains from £10.87; planetindia.co.uk
Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen, Bath
Acorn’s chef-owner Richard Buckley wants to transform how we think about meat-free cooking. Worthy self-denial and boring, stodgy veggie dishes just aren’t his thing. Instead, plant-based food is, very much, a celebration here: “I was raised vegetarian and always wanted a place that treated this food as a serious cuisine rather than a quirky alternative. It doesn’t have to be all hair shirts and sandals. We take plants and create beautiful food from them. Some of the world’s finest things are plant-based: truffles, coffee, chocolate, gin. Nobody thinks of these as vegetarian.”
Paired with small producer wines, Richard serves dishes such as seared broccoli with grated winter truffle and cauliflower panna cotta or shaved, herb-steamed Chioggia beetroots with aged cashew purée.
Dinner from £26.95; acornvegetariankitchen.co.uk
Maitreya Social, Bristol
From diverting weekend brunch dishes (spiced hash browns, spinach, poached eggs, dukkah, chilli sauce), to on-trend Middle Eastern inspired mains (freekeh arrancini with salt-baked beetroot, jerusalem artichoke, labneh, caraway dressing), this arty bar and restaurant is full of pleasant surprises.
Starters £5.95, mains £10.95; cafemaitreya.co.uk
Photographs: Claire Harrison, Uyen Luu, Getty, Cinnamon Sky Photography, Giles Smith, Gavin Millar, Katy Mutch Photography