The rise of vegan junk food
Fruit is fine but a burger is better – here’s how to indulge in the best vegan junk food and plant-based meat and dairy dupes
Plant-based eating is advocated as a generally healthy diet – or even a lifesaver that cures all, if the documentaries Forks over Knives and What the Health are to be believed. Strictly speaking, though, veganism is an ethical choice that’s concerned about animal rights rather than the maxed-up sex appeal and eternal life that are alleged to come with it. Ditching dairy and caring about cows doesn’t make everyone a lover of lentils or queen of quinoa: vegans get junk food cravings just as their carnivore cousins, and it’s perfectly possible to indulge and go for that artery-clogging effect with no animal product in sight.
Plant-based innovation: new meat substitutes
As the classic meat and two veg is becoming increasingly veg, veg, and veg – one in eight in the UK is now vegan or vegetarian – restaurants and supermarkets alike are realizing that it’s not just salad that vegans want, but also comfort from carbs or non-meaty munchies.
Chefs and food scientists are working their magic on soy, seitan (a chewy wheat gluten based meat substitute – not as satanic as it sounds), oats and jackfruit, to mention but a few, to create substitutes for meat and dairy favourites, covering everything from mac’n’cheese to hotdogs. 2018 saw Beyond Burgers making their UK supermarket debut – the plant-based burger is so meat-like that it bleeds (beetroot juice, worry not), while 2019 kicked off with Gregg’s vegan sausage roll, which dominated headlines and had devotees queuing up for pastry-wrapped goodness.
Vegan ingredients and brands
Just like traditional junk, not all vegan alternatives are created equal, and the best ones are innovative and play with flavours instead of just providing a fat high and sugar rush. Vx near King’s Cross, for instance, prides itself in being London’s first wholly vegan shop, and while its steak frites, burgers and nuggets might’ve been at the top of the food chain when cardboard-like soy patties were the best you could get, now it’s something of a vegan McDonalds. You know what you’re getting – and also that there are better options out there.
Beware of anything that claims to be just like the non-vegan original – blue cheese substitutes are particularly notorious among the vegan community, and fish alternatives full of mystery ingredients that haven’t been anywhere near the sea tend to be plain fishy. Instead, opt for the not-so-fakes: Gosh! and Viviera satisfy the soul and lull cravings with burgers, balls and other bites that are based on actual vegetables.
London's best Vegan junk food restaurants
Beetroot bun and meat-free burger at Filth, Shoreditch
Restaurants, too, are catching on the to appetite for plant-based meals beyond salad and creating increasingly more exciting menus. The latest reincarnation of TV chef Gizzi Erskine’s and nutritionist-model Rosemary Ferguson’s Filth has popped up in Shoreditch, dishing out fast food that promises to give you seven of your 10 a day – the signature burger packs in black beans, quinoa, lentils and a specially blended umami paste. The red beetroot bun is nothing short of photogenic, and the menu is equally colourful in other aspects too, with appearances from kimchi in the Korean burger to a salad topped with seaweed miso and a strawberry-acai milkshake.
Tofu 'fish' and chips at by CHLOE
by CHLOE. in Covent Garden goes further still, and addresses most imaginable junk food cravings in style: the fully-vegan menu has everything from tofu-based fish and chips to pancakes and sticky toffee pudding, alongside burgers brimming with nuts, mushrooms and pulses and topped with the likes of quacamole, basil pesto and cashew mozzarella. Mooshies in Shoreditch is yet another must-go for burger aficionados, boasting names such as Fillet-Om-Phish and Magic Mushroom, and playing with ingredients such as pulled jackfruit and nori seaweed that trump processed meat any time.
Brown rice milk 'mozzarella' pizza at Purezza
For those leaning towards pizzas, the good news is that vegan cheese is becoming a staple at chain pizzerias; most recently, Pizza Hut hit the headlines with its vegan jackfruit pizza (who said Brexit dominates the news?). But if you’re looking to go beyond the chain experience, then Purezza is your friend. The UK’s first wholly vegan pizzeria has expanded from its hipster heaven in Brighton to Camden, and ups the game with homemade mozzarella (from fermented brown rice milk – it tastes batter than it sounds), toppings such as shaved seitan and smoked beetroot, as well as a black truffle base.
If a cheesesteak calzone or an Oreo pizza cannot fulfill your junk food cravings, then nothing can – you might even need that green detox juice afterwards.