London Vegan Food Calling
If you’re visiting London, we have some good news for you; the city has a wealth of vegan-friendly restaurants, cafes and stores. If you are vegan or vegetarian you will not go hungry - especially if you plan ahead of your trip.
We were recently in London for a bunch of shows and had time to check out a few veggie/vegan food joints. Our time was limited though so the below diners are just a tiny dip in the London veggie ocean.
First up was Beatroot (http://beatroot.org.uk), a great place to get to if you’re in the centre of London. It’s a few minutes walk from either Tottenham Court Road or Oxford Circus tube stations. The Berwick Street, Soho vegetarian café, sells hot and cold food, cakes and drinks. The prices are good for everyone with small veggie sausage rolls being 40p each. You can choose to have the food in different sized takeaway boxes if you don’t want to eat in the café. They use cardboard/paper plates, boxes and cups that can be recycled and the café was clean despite being fairly busy. There’s seating outside, which is by a small market area. Oh, and their hot chocolate is super-tasty! I bought a hot chocolate, carrot cake with lemon icing and a couple of veggie sausage rolls (I wasn't too hungry so didn't buy a bigger meal).
I was exceedingly happy to finally get to Pogo Café (www.pogocafe.co.uk). We’ve known about Pogo for years (and even bought a bunch of their ‘Pretty Vegan’ badges from their online store) but had never visited it before – but since we were at the O2 for some shows and staying near London City Airport, heading to Hackney wasn’t too much of a trek. Or at least it wasn’t when the tubes were running! I tried to go one day when a bunch of lines including the London Overground were shut and was told I’d need to get the bus instead. As I was short on time, I ended up giving it a miss… but resolved to go the following week. I ended up going there a couple of times, once on my own on a Sunday, and the second time I took a friend along too. The first time I almost thought Pogo had shut down as the metal rails were up along the windows and the door was closed. Thankfully they WERE open and I went in. The second time the window rails were taken down, wooden seats and tables had even been put outside and the door was open. Both times Pogo Café was pretty quiet – which is a shame as it’s a really great place. They have a lot of nice food – from a variety of burgers including the Punk Burger (I had to try that one first just because of the name!) to vegan BLTs and sausage or fishless fingers and chips on the children’s menu. The café has a DIY/community feel with a computer to surf the net with, free wi-fi, a bookshelf with lots of books to read (you can take one away but are asked to replace it), flyers on a board, sofas to chill out on, and more. The food was good, my friend had the Mex Burger and I had the vegan BLT on my second trip. I tried the milkshakes which are made from soya ice-cream. I preferred the vanilla one to the banana one. The great thing about Pogo Café is that it’s 100% vegan. The prices are decent and everyone who works there is a volunteer. You can also buy vegan badges, soap and deodorant at the counter. Pogo Café is open Wednesday – Sunday but unfortunately not Monday or Tuesday.
If you ever catch a train from or to Euston Station you HAVE TO visit Greens & Beans (www.greensandbeans.co.uk). Greens & Beans is literally 2 minutes walk from Euston Station and definitely worth going to if you’re in the area – or even if you’re not. It’s actually sandwiched between two Indian vegetarian restaurants. I’m not a fan of Indian food so didn’t try them. I was inspired into buying a traditional English vegetarian breakfast from Greens & Beans (even though it was 2pm!). As the café is vegetarian and not vegan I had to have the breakfast minus eggs (the full breakfast was 2 veggie sausages, tomatoes, toast with vegan margarine, baked beans and mushrooms). As I didn’t have eggs they gave me a discounted price for the breakfast which was nice. I had a hot chocolate with it which was also tasty – and the breakfast and chocolate came to just over £7. The staff were friendly and told me that an animal rights group has weekly meetings there. There are also weekly yoga sessions, and you can also buy chocolate bars and a few other snacks from the counter. The website states that they are open from Monday – Friday 9am – 4pm. More people definitely need to go there. It's a quality place. Seek it out next time you're in London. It's great that it's so close to Euston Station. It's a shame that so many people often don't venture outside of Euston Station when arriving there as this restaurant almost seems like a hidden gem.
While in Pogo Café perusing the flyers I noticed one advertising a vegan diner in Camden. Interested in its ‘eat & pay as much as you like’ offer and the fact that Camden’s not far from Euston on the tube, I decided that I’d head there one day. Loving Hut (www.lovinghut.co.uk), which is apparently part of a new chain, was easy to find down a side street off Camden High Street. The little café looked clean and fresh but unfortunately they didn’t have actual printed menus (or a menu board) to look at. There was a buffet area in one corner of the café and a counter showing some cakes and drinks (unfortunately no milkshakes!). As it was hot and I was in a rush I ended up just having a piece of cheesecake. They sell burgers and fries as well as asian food and more. The cafe had a TV showing Supreme Master TV, the vegetarian TV channel, which was a nice touch. The member of staff told me that they’re going to change things soon because the ‘eat and pay as much as you like’ offer wasn’t working so well with some people taking advantage and hardly paying anything. Not surprising as a lot of people (myself included!) do try and get what they can for as little as they can. I felt sorry for them so I made sure I gave the staff member a decent amount for my cheesecake.
On a previous trip to London (November 2009) I went to InSpiral (www.inspiralled.net) which is also in Camden. This is up by the lock and therefore was very busy. It consists of an upstairs and downstairs. Their menu is varied with everything from vegan lasagne to vegetable layer bake to sunfood burger and with lots of nice desserts. Their drinks menu is also wide-ranging, with healthy superfood smoothies and juices to wines and beers. The café is also a lounge/bar in the evenings and often features live music. We were inspired by InSpiralled and would go back again in an instant.
Camden is definitely a vegan hotspot. The market just the other side of the lock from Inspiral is where you'll find The Ha Ha Veggie Bar. If you're feeling the pinch, this is the place to be. It's cheap to grab one of their burgers. They sell a range of veggie burgers from traditional to avocado to 'monkey burger'. They also sell falafel and veggie hot dogs and have soft drinks for sale. There are a few tables outside and also further inside the market, although Ha Ha Veggie Bar is not a sit-down diner in itself. The pizza bar opposite sells soya hot chocolate as well, which was nice. Ask for it if you don't see it on their menu.
Vitao (www.vitaorganic.co.uk) in Wardour Street (a few minutes walk from Tottenham Court Road or Oxford Circus tube station) couldn’t quite compare. From the outside it looked good with a big sign by the door tempting us in. I was excited to be at Vitao. Apparently Vitao has been frequented by celebrities, nutrition analysts and more. Nutritionally they’ve got it going on… Vitao does concentrate on a healthy perspective. There’s no vegan junk food to cater to my needs! For once, I had a more healthy meal while I was out (this is quite shocking if you know me)! You can pay by scoop, by choosing items from a buffet. One downside I thought was the price. It cost £2 for a scoop – which wasn’t really that big. For example if you had a scoop of potatoes, scoop of broccoli/cauliflower and scoop of chilli that’s £6 straightaway. I also had a vanilla milkshake which was £3.80 (eek!). Granted, it was raw… although me not being a big raw food eater meant that I wasn’t too keen on the taste so I ended up leaving half of it. But maybe that’s just me. If you’re a raw foodist you’ll probably love Vitao… and I can definitely picture health conscious money-making celebs going there… Oh, I also would have liked the food to have been warmer, the potatoes and broccoli/cauliflower weren’t really too hot at all.
As far as shops, it’s great seeing more Wholefoods (www.wholefoodsmarket.com) now being open in London. There are currently now five branches. I made it to the original High Street Kensington branch, a few minutes walk from the High Street Kensington tube station and was in vegan heaven – buying vegan marshmallows, sweets and as much other stuff that I thought I could carry in my bag (or eat along the way!). Of course they sell meat which is gross, but the vegan selection is most notable. I'd have loved to have gone back there to buy a few more things, but unfortunately didn't get time. That said, I loved the violet bud boiled sweets I bought so much that I searched online for their website and have since bought 11 more containers of them! My dentist will have a field day... I did managed to visit the Camden Wholefoods which is much smaller. The range of products therefore wasn't as huge, although if you're in the area it's definitely still worth visiting. The vegan cupcakes were very, very tempting - although I managed to restrain myself! It's only a couple of minutes from Camden tube station, so in an easy-to-get-to location.
If you're ever catching a coach at Victoria Coach Station make sure you visit Revival health store. Revival is in between to the coach station and tube station, on Buckingham Palace Road – although in actual fact, there are further branches in Richmond, Willesdon and other areas of London as well as even Solihull and Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s nice to know that Revital is growing. They sell some items from the US and Europe that you may not find in other stores, as well as lots of UK veggie/vegan food. Revital is similar to Holland & Barrett in style, selling similar (but sometimes different) products, and of a similar size. So if you want food,soft drinks, vitamins, toiletries... head to Revival.
Another health store that I have visited during a trip to London (although not this most recent one) that deserves a shout out is Alara Wholefoods store which is located in Marchmont Street, not far from Russell Square tube station. At the time I stumbled across this by accident when heading to a B&B I’d booked. The store sells everything from crisps and biscuits and chocolate to superfoods to cosmetics. I came out with a big bag full of items and went back each subsequent day to buy more! I definitely give Alara the thumbs up.
Vx, the dedicated Secret Society Of Vegans store has now moved to Caledonian Road. The first time I managed to get to the store they were at their old location in Camden. They sell clothing and footwear as well as food products, vegan dog food, badges, bags and more. I adored the Dame Blanche biscuits that they sold and wished I’d bought more. I more recently went to their Caledonian Road location which is much better and bigger than the Camden location (albeit quieter). They have a room downstairs where you can sit and eat and they have free wifi. I bought a Mille Feuille, a cupcake, soya hot chocolate, a savoury pie and some Butternut Squash sandwiches with hummus and tomato to takeaway. It's a couple of minutes from Kings Cross station and worth venturing to. They also have a website at www.secretsocietyofvegans.co.uk where you can order online.
As I said, this is just a small dip in the ocean. There are lots of vegan/vegetarian places in London. They’re all in different areas so it can depend on where you’re going and how long you’ve got as to which you go to. We recommend using happycow.net for a full list of vegan and vegan-friendly diners and stores. Every time we go off on our travels we use Happy Cow for a list of places to visit. Next time we go to London we’ll try and get to a few other places that we haven’t visited yet. If you have any recommendations yourself, post them on our Facebook or MySpace page – www.facebook.com/saveascream and www.myspace.com/saveascream