The Vurger Co

I often find myself with two DJ gigs on a Friday or Saturday, and therefore a need to grab a bite between, or else risk serious hunger pangs in the 2nd set, usually followed by a gigantic late-night junk food binge the moment I have finished. In one such window recently, I found myself stood metres away from The Vurger Co, the day after eating my weight in chops at Blacklock. I felt like this could be a good way of restoring a little balance there, as I try to become a bit less meat-focused in my diet (as previous reviews have showed)

I’d heard from vegan friends that it’s good, and I liked the look of their offerings. I went for the Classic – black bean, chargrilled red peppers, chick peas and corn patty, tomato, red onions, gherkins, vegan cheese, and house made burger sauce. I also ordered a portion of skin-on fries, and a bottle of Karma Cola Gingerella ginger ale. That came to £14.20.

I took my seat with my little buzzy widget, and waited, collecting little tubs of ketchup and chilli mayo and a big glass of free water. The pint pots a big plus there, I hate having to go back and forth to refill constantly when the water is in a font like this was.

 

 

When the burger arrived, it looked really good. The portion of fries was huge which is fine by me. I also appreciated that the Gingerella was a 330ml bottle, rather than the 250ml cans many places stock, and often charge more for than I paid here.

 

Picking up the burger, it became apparent that it was a slippery beast, largely because of the abundant (and very tasty) burger sauce. My hands got very messy, and it was a constant battle to keep it together, but I just about did it til the end. The sauce had a zip to it, not exactly spicy, I guess its some combo of ketchup and mustard, and I liked it a lot. The patty is essentially a bean burger, which I have no problem with. It was cooked on a hot plate, giving it nice crispy edges, with the softer veggie fillings inside.

At this point in time, meat substitutes are serviceable, but generally not as nice as things where vegetables and pulses are allowed to shine on their own terms, so this sort of burger suits me. The bun was toasted, and given my travails keeping the burger inside the bun, held together like a champ. In truth, these travails may have been my own fault, as the burger came run-through with a wooden stick, I guess I could have used that to maintain structural integrity, but at the considerable risk of accidentally harpooning myself.

The skin on fries were fine – unremarkable, but nothing to complain about. Just perfectly decent fries, and lots of them. The chilli mayo was a good accompaniment alongside the ketchup, and to me fries are essentially edible spoons for condiments anyway!

I left very full, having enjoyed a simple, straightforward, comfort-food meal. The “burger” was hard work to handle, but tasted great. Was it something to convert a meat-eater? No, not really – but as an alternative for a bit of variety, or as a tasty choice for someone who doesn’t eat meat? Yeah, I’d give this the thumbs up.

All in all, a broadly positive experience, and would happily eat here again.

Score – 7.5/10

Radio Alice x Club Mexicana

This will be short and sweet – I’ve reviewed Radio Alice before, although I think I was a little harsh in the score I gave (7.5/10 at the time); it has since become a firm favourite in my pizza adventures.

To business – for 5 weeks Radio Alice is hosting a different guest pizza each week. I missed the opening week with Bubble Dogs, the hotdog specialists. This week, it’s Club Mexicana. They are based at The Spread Eagle, a vegan pub (more fun than it sounds apparently), and are very highly thought of by many of my friends.

This offering brings jackfruit carnitas, pink onion, salsa verde, sour “cream” and coriander to Radio Alice’s incredible trademark sourdough bases.

First up – it looks beautiful.

Next, it is absolutely delicious, a very gentle Mexican spice note underpinning it, a welcome crunch to the pink onion, the tomato just sweet enough, a genuinely excellent combination of toppings. The base is light and flavourful, the crusts bubbling up delightfully. I’m generally not a fan of coriander, but this worked really well both aesthetically and to the palate. For a pizza it is very light and fresh feeling thanks to the great combination

All in all, an absolute triumph, I think possibly even better than the Yard Sale x Biff’s Jack Shack “Jack To The Future” pizza which I reviewed here. I’ve always wondered how a pizza could exist without cheese, and these two have made me sure that it can be done. I mean, I still would prefer it to be smothered in lovely melted cheese and all that, but vegan pizzas appear to have worked out how to please even committed cheesaholics such as myself. More power to them, and for now, I heartily recommend that you try to get down to Radio Alice and try this before it’s gone.

Score – 9/10

Dirty Vegan

As I’ve mentioned previously, in recent years I have switched to a much more plant-heavy diet. I’m certainly not vegetarian or vegan, but I eat maybe 20% of the meat I did a few years ago. So when things like Dirty Bones‘ venture Dirty Vegan pop along, I’m always curious to try them out (and by pure coincidence, this is National Vegetarian Week!).

Full disclosure – I DJ at Dirty Bones every so often, including the Saturday before this visit. I hope you will trust me to be fair in my review.

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I knew little of how this would operate – I assumed a menu much like their regular one, only with vegan food instead. In fact, it was a fixed menu at £25pp, with sharing plates. They also had a selection of vegan cocktails – not something I’d ever really thought about, but it makes sense for certain things that use dairy and so on.

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Happy idiot

Very generously, they brought over a pair of glasses of bubbly to welcome us. I’m not drinking, so my dining companion was able to drink in stereo. She was very, very happy about this.

So – the openers. Padron peppers, and mac balls. The Padron peppers were pretty much as you’d expect – I love them, and as far as I can tell, any half decent restaurant struggles to get them wrong. I’d maybe have had a tad more salt on them, but then I’m a salty sod.

The mac balls were a revelation though! Super crunchy panko crumbed, deep fried balls of macaroni – the pasilla chilli and cashew cheese filling worked well as a filling alongside the macaroni, but the key was the amazing sweet chilli sauce they were served with. The texture was very different to the sweet chilli sauces I’ve had before – this was more like if a really high quality spicy chutney was blitzed in a blender, smooth but with a tiny little residual coarseness. Sweet up front, with a gently glowing heat following through. Addictive stuff! I could happily have been given a bucket of these balls and left to my own devices. All in all, a very promising start

Next up, the main courses – buffalo aubergine wings, cauliflower chicken waffle, mac & cashew cheese and a gem lettuce side salad.

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Buffalo Aubergine “Wings”

These were visually all very appealing. We waited til we had the full lot in front of us before deciding which to go with, and dived in on the Buffalo aubergine “wings”. Now, obviously they had a completely different texture to a standard chicken wing – and frankly, having tried the “chicken” at Temple of Seitan (which was rank, and made me feel ill for the next day or so), I’m happy for restaurants to use these things as jump off points to showcase veggie items, rather than just badly mimic meat.

These were tempura-battered, giving a satisfying crunch to the bite, which masked the inherent mushiness of cooked aubergine. The cashew ranch dressing and buffalo combined really well, the buffalo having just enough of a vinegary-peppery punch. They weren’t anywhere near as satisfying to me as a good chicken wing (Randy’s Wing Bar, Wingmans and The Orange Buffalo are probably the best I’ve tried). But they are a fine dish in their own right, and a very imaginative use of aubergine, one of those vegetables I rarely think to cook at home.

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Cauliflower “Chicken” Waffle

The cauliflower waffle was probably the most interesting looking dish. The huge block of cauliflower itself was served brined and then “chicken fried” (not entirely sure what that means in a vegan context tbh!) in a crunchy coating, atop a sizeable waffle wedge. Incredibly, I don’t think I’ve ever had this style of waffle, so I’m poorly qualified to judge it’s quality relative to others, but the cauliflower was fantastic, cooked through really well, satisfyingly surrounded by that coating to give it some crunchy textures. The grilled lemon and maple syrup combo was a bit of a moment for me – the citrus really lifting the whole dish, and working well against the sweetness of the syrup. I’ve never really “got” maple syrup, but in this dish, with the acidity of the grilled lemon there to offset it, it suddenly made sense to me.

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Mac & Cashew Cheese

The 3rd main was actually a bit of a reimagining of the mac balls – essentially the filling of that served as conventional mac & cheese, with toasted almond panko breadcrumbs sprinkled atop. According the menu, this was a slightly different version (pasilla chilli, garlic and almond milk vs the balls’ pasilla chilli and cashew cheese), but it was very similar. It was ok, but in my opinion not a patch on the mac balls, and I felt like have two mac & cheese based dishes out of 5 was a little unimaginative. We’d actually requested a pot of the sweet chilli to have as a condiment for the mains, and that gave this dish a little more zip, but while it was a perfectly serviceable mac & cheese (especially considering it is vegan, in that context it was actually really rather good), this was the one false note for me. Saying that, we pretty much licked the dish clean, so it certainly wasn’t that bad

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It was all served with a side salad of gem lettuce, shaved radishes, avocado, savoury mixed granola, and green-goodness vinaigrette (again, not entirely sure what that means!).

This was ok – it’s a side salad, not a lot much more to say, but added a nice fresh note to offset the heavier main dishes.

Between the pair of us, there wasn’t a crumb left with either the starters or the mains, so it certainly kept us happy.

The final dish was chocolate pudding – pure cacao and tofu pudding with whipped coconut cream, and cacao nibs sprinkled on top.
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My first mouthful, I wasn’t at all sure what to think – but that was partially because I hadn’t bothered to read the menu properly, so the coconut flavour took me aback slightly!

After that it was swift work to get to the bottom of the glass. I think I would have liked it to have had a slightly thicker texture and more intense, darker chocolateyness, but it was certainly still a tasty and satisfying way to end a thoroughly enjoyable meal, with the nibs giving a little crunch to proceedings, and the coconut and chocolate flavours playing well off each other in the silky feeling pudding.

We managed to forget to order either of the vegan cocktails, so sadly can’t report in on those, but the meal in general was a real pleasure. I don’t imagine a time where I will ever become fully vegan, I just love cheese too much, and a good steak or burger is one of my life’s great joys, but I’m delighted that more and more places are offering options like this. I tend to take the view that if you double the number of vegans or vegetarians, then sure, that would make an impact – but if you get everyone who eats meat and/or dairy to halve their consumption, that would actually have a far greater effect. And so there being this kind of option available on a night out is fantastic news.

For £25 a head (plus service), we’d had 6 dishes, and were extremely satisfied with our night out. I imagine some meat-eaters will scoff at this – the idea of deep fried cauliflower instead of chicken on the waffles, the absence of real cheese and so on – and I am not going to pretend that this was as good to my palate as it might have been with those alternatives when done well.

But on it’s own terms, this was a really good meal at an excellent price. If you are vegan and seeking this style of American comfort food, I highly recommend trying to get a table either during this run of Tuesdays (I believe it’s on until June 5th, but I’ve a feeling it may already be sold out), or down the line if they repeat it, which I’m sure they will based on this.

Reviewing this from a non-vegan perspective, I reckon I’d give this 7/10.

In the context of my experiences with vegan food (which have been generally decent, but occasionally a little sketchy), I’d say this is deserves 8.5/10.

 

London Pizza Round-Up, Vol 8 – Vegan Edition!

Yard Sale, Clapton

It’s been a long while since I added to the London Pizza Round-Up, and this time it’s with a slight twist – trying out Yard Sale‘s guest vegan pizza, the Jack To The Future. I’m intending to try out a lot more vegan and vegetarian pizzas and burgers when the opportunity arises – for the last few years I’ve gone from a very meat-heavy diet to one where I hardly eat it at all at home. This has seemed to coincide with an explosion in the popularity and availability of vegan and vegetarian food around London – much of it very good indeed.

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The pizza that brought me and my friends here is a collaboration with Biff’s Jack Shack – a jackfruit themed vegan-friendly street food trader. I’ve come to really quite like jackfruit – I usually have a few cans knocking about at home, and I’ve had some excellent meals with that in there as a meat substitute. I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s indistinguishable from pulled pork. Anyone that says that, I can only assume they’ve either never actually had pulled pork, or it’s been so long they’ve forgotten what it’s really like. But, jackfruit is a tasty and versatile ingredient in it’s own right, and it works well for the things I’ve seen it used in.

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Dough!

So to this meal. Yard Sale are a very well-regarded pizza joint – they were awarded “Best Cheap Eats” in the 2017 Observer Food Monthly awards, and best restaurant in the 2016 Time Out awards. They have 3 locations (Clapton, Finsbury Park, Walthamstow), with a 4th in the pipeline in Leyton. Full disclosure – I have done paid work for Yard Sale as a DJ, and they comp’d this Jack To The Future off as a freebie. I’d rather be open and honest about that – I hope you will still trust my judgement on the pizzas here.

In the pizza that brought us here, the jackfruit is served in Biff’s crispy fried style, with chipotle slaw, buffalo sauce, and blue “cheese” sauce. We also ordered a 50/50, TSB (tender stem broccoli, manchego, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil) and The Aubergine (garlic roasted aubergine, parmesan crumb and fresh basil).

 

As you can see from the pics, these are big ol’ pizzas – 18 inchers. Prices are about consistent with their obvious rival, Homeslice, where a 20 incher is £20.

The first we tried was the Jack To The Future. And I have to say, it is really good. The combination of flavours works brilliantly. The chipotle slaw had a surprising kick to it, and would make an excellent side in it’s own right elsewhere – I guess maybe it is at Biff’s? If it isn’t, it should be.

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The buffalo and blue “cheese” wings sauce combo is an old classic, and works as well as you would expect – and the blue cheese sauce is quite amazing considering that it’s actually vegan. No idea how they did that, but it’s really good. The base at Yard Sale is one of their real strengths – very tasty, and done to perfection on both pizzas here. One of my few criticisms of Homeslice is that they sometimes under-do their pizzas a bit, so you struggle to pick them up as a slice – no such issues here.

 

All in all a success – ironically, it’s the jackfruit that is the least impressive ingredient. It does add a little crunch to the texture, but is only a bit-part player to the overall pizza. And for saying how many toppings are on there, and how generous they are with the sauce, the base doesn’t get at all soggy, even after it’s been sitting there for a while.

 

The other pizza (half TSB, half Aubergine) was a good pizza too, if not at the level of the Jack To The Future. The better half was The Aubergine, the garlic aubergine and parmesan crumb working really well together, with the generous fistful of fresh, aromatic basil a nice touch – the TSB was something of an anti-climax after being heavily recommended by several friends. It was perfectly decent, but probably the least impressive of the pizzas I’ve had at Yard Sale (I’ve been 4 times now and sampled 7 or 8 different toppings). The broccoli was cooked well, and it looked the business, but after the flavour-party of the Jack To The Future it didn’t grab me how I expected it might given the manchego and garlic combo. I think they suffered in comparison to a really interesting, unusual and well-executed special. Saying that, the tomato sauce at Yard Sale was as excellent as usual on both pizzas.

We also had a green chimichurri dip for the crusts that was amazing. Like, really, really good, I’d happily have bought a jar of that there and then for whatever it might have cost, absolutely lovely with a fresh, complex and slowly developing flavour that followed through with some real heat. 10/10 for that stuff.

So at the end of it all, a very enjoyable meal, and an excellent guest pizza (that I strongly think should become a fixture on the menu). The TSB and The Aubergine weren’t outstanding, but were good enough in their own right to recommend as vegetarian options for pizza lovers. Having eaten plenty of their offerings now, I’m happy to say Yard Sale are in my top handful of pizza joints around London.

My scores

Jack To The Future (£21) – 9/10

TSB (£9 for half) – 7/10

The Aubergine (£9.50 for half) – 7.5/10

Flo’s Scores

Jack To The Future – 9.5/10

TSB – 7/10

The Aubergine – 7/10

Amy’s score

Jack To The Future – 10/10

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 7

CHRISTMAS SANDWICH-OFF!

Marks & Spencer vs Pret

After my tour around various London restaurants and diners, I found myself with a couple of long journeys to go and see my parents in their respective homes. Christmas sandwiches were purchased to see me through the long trips, both well over 3 hours door-to-door. Sustenance is crucial on such days!

This was actually a pretty solid pair of sandwiches. Although in the case of Pret, that can be taken two ways – the granary bread mini-baguette was rather dense, possibly even to the very verge of being about to be stale. Or it might just have been very heavy bread. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t great.

The fillings though? Actually pretty good. I’d gone for their vegetarian option, which means this isn’t a like-for-like comparison, which is maybe a bit unfair. But hey – life ain’t fair, suck it up Pret! As a mark against M&S, they didn’t seem to have a Christmas vegetarian option at the shop I went to, which is pretty poor. Maybe they’d sold out though, as it was Christmas Eve and a lot of people were travelling that morning.

When I broke out the Pret on my way to Dad’s, it was noticeable that the sandwich had made a lot of liquid inside the plastic wrapper, and on opening you can see the effect. Not ideal if I was short on napkins, and not very appetising.

So the bread wasn’t great, the wrapping was making the sandwich a bit greasy, it’s a bad start by anyone’s reckoning. But you know what? This was a perfectly enjoyable sandwich. The chutney and parsnip puree gave it a sweet, tangy flavour, and the grilled carrots had a pleasing bite to them. The crispy onions had lost their crunch in truth, but not too much, so they were passable. And the pistachios were a great touch. The filling quantity was about right, if not generous. In a better baguette, and having not been wrapped and getting a bit sticky and wet, this would have been a very decent sandwich. Was it a Christmas sandwich…? Ehhhhh. Not to my mind, but I suppose it had some festive flavours going on if you’re avoiding the traditional Turkey dinner combinations.

I do try to buy vegetarian sandwiches if I’m forced to eat on the go, I don’t generally eat meat at home hardly at all, or at restaurants unless it’s stuff that’s been responsibly farmed etc, and I tend to be a little doubtful of sandwiches from these places to be very high quality meat. The trade-off, sadly, is that too often they are completely lacking in interesting flavours and textures. No such issues with this one, very impressive, and something I’d buy again. This was £3.75 and clocked in at 489 calories and 1.65g of salt.

Now to Marks & Spencer, although sadly I don’t have as many photos as I should really, as I was on a much busier route, and felt all embarrassed and self-conscious about taking photos of the sandwich in front of strangers!

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I’ll cut to the chase – this was a bloody brilliant Christmas sandwich. The bread was very fresh, the filling amounts incredibly generous, none of that trickery some triangular sandwiches pull, this was the same amount throughout. The bacon was crispy, the stuffing full of sage & onion flavour, plenty of sauces and mayo, delicious cranberry chutney and a good amount of turkey. I could happily eat these all day long at this time of year – for a store-bought fridge-sandwich, this really was a very good effort indeed. This one clocked in at 457 calories and 2g of salt, which apparently is a third of recommended daily intake, so pretty damn high really.

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 Both sandwiches include a donation to homeless charities, 50p from Pret, 5% from M&S (so that’s 16p from the £3.25 price), which is a pleasing thing to see at a tough time for many people. If you feel like making a donation, I can recommend St Mungo’s, who do terrific work with the homeless.

So the verdict in this head-to-head? I’m not going to put actual scores up, as I don’t want to conflate these with the restaurant reviews, it’s a totally different game. But the M&S Turkey Feast was nigh on perfect in terms of what you could hope for from a sandwich like this, and £3.25 is excellent value. The Pret Very Merry Christmas Lunch – nowhere near as good, but a perfectly decent sandwich in it’s own right, and certainly something I’d be happy to recommend as a veggie option, and I suspect I’ll nick the basic idea for my own self-made sandwiches in future!

The winner though – no contest. Take a bow M&S, well done for a wonderful Christmas sandwich.