Jackson and Rye, London

  

I’m off to the Arctic for the next four weeks, which means that my partner and I won’t see each other for a very long time. We took the day off work today (Friday) and set out to do some tourist London exploration, because I realised that I never, ever big up my home town enough.

I reckon that’s because the vegan food offerings here just aren’t very good. Why not? The centre of London has a dearth of places that serve vegan breakfasts. Vegetarian food offerings are awesome, but if you have allergies or have cut out animal items from your diet totally, London is not the best place for you.

That said, I live here, so make do I must. Tibits is great for some vegan food, Inspiral is super, and unintentionally vegan ethnic offerings are plentiful. But it’s no New York (hello vegan Chinese) or LA (they have a vegan CHEESE SHOP). And this continues to make me sad.

So we took the day off work and this took us to Jackson and Rye because I was determined not to go to Hospital Club AGAIN (my fail safe brunch location). It sucks for vegans. And for anyone with allergies. But it’s glorious inside, and their country style potatoes with caramelised onions may well be one of the most delicious thins I’ve eaten this week.

I literally have a plate of avocado and some green juice, but hey, the tiling is nice and they have a bottle of Tabasco, so life’s not all bad.

And if you’ve got a meat eater in your life, I imagine they would be a huge fan.

Brunch sandwiches @Pickle and Rye, Mortlake, London

London was awash with sunshine again this weekend. It wasn’t warm – at one point I took my thick down jacket off and as soon as I walked into shadow had to put it on again. Brrr.

Saturday had been a catchup brunch with a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time – the afternoon was a walk around Soho to pick up some books and have a bite of Korean food. The evening was film night, which meant Sam got to choose what we watched on TV. He opted for the TV show full of fairy tales called Once upon a time; I made a tart and we hunkered down.

Sam spends most of the weekend rowing in West London, up near Richmond. I rarely head west – trains are unreliable and there’s not tonnes to do unless you like rowing, expensive coffee, or small children. But as I’ve never seen his rowing club house and it looked like a gorgeous day, we linked arms and went for a walk up the river from Barnes to Richmond, past Kew Gardens and around the protruding loop of Kew, past Mortlake and towards Richmond Lock.

In Mortlake Sam wanted to show me Pickle and Rye: he’d raved about this place for years. “You won’t be able to eat anything here,” he said, trying to drag me onwards. I shrugged. “No worries – you said these were the best sandwiches, let’s go on.”

He looked uncomfortable. He always feels bad if he knows I won’t be able to eat much, but I feel constantly guilty about how my stupid allergies have affected our eating habits as a couple. I’ve always been vegetarian, but the added on allergy extras? He didn’t ask for that.

Pickle and Rye is yummy mummy central, full of privileged kids asking for more buttermilk pancakes and the ilk. But they’re easy to ignore when they’ve got their chops full of french toast, so we sat down and perused the menu.

But our server was fabulous and happy, and she brought a ray of sunshine to our table. Juice and tea followed, and I opted for a club california, hold the feta cheese and basil mayo.

“You’re vegan?” Asked our server.

“Kinda.”

“Try the basil vinaigrette. It’s totally vegan and has the same kind of fragrant kick as the basil mayo does.”

“Sounds fabulous.”

My sandwich was toasted granary, with avocado, mustard cress, basil vinaigrette, tomato, and cucumber. It was zingy, fresh, and perfect for brunch.

Sam had the Cobb sandwich – lots of bacon and avocado. It set us up for the onwards walk to Richmond, and the great service and busy, bustling family atmosphere left a spring in our step.

We’ll know where to turn next time we find ourself in Mortlake.

When fusion gets weird: Chotto Matte Peruvian Japanese in Soho, London

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The staircase leading to the weird-ass toilets

Something isn’t quite right. It’s dark. There are lots of girls wearing short dresses and spangly earrings. The sort of music that might induce me to take speed is playing. And there’s a rockery. Just the one, piled up in the corner, like an abandoned archeological dig. Welcome to Chotto Matte: which seems to be a club, restaurant, and garden centre all rolled into one. 

We got a table right away at the bar, and thank god, because it meant we got the chance to feel the “curved bar made out of lava stone” which the menu dedicated an entire page to describing. I wouldn’t have lived happily without experiencing it.

Sitting at the bar also meant that we were able to listen in on all the staff arguments which was an absolute relief. I hadn’t gone there with the intention of talking to my date, so again, praise the Lord that the staff yelling at each other about table orders which filled in all those awkward lapses in conversation. 

The interior of Chotte Matte at it's best-with no clientele, food, or waiters.

The interior of Chotte Matte at it’s best-with no clientele, food, or waiters.

Japanese and Peruvian restaurants have flooded into Central London in the last 18 months: Ceviche Lima and Coya from South America and Tonkotsu, Shoryu, Bone Daddies, Ramen Sasuke and Koya from the East. It’s entirely possible somebody noticed these cuisines were proving popular and so the brainstorming meeting went something like this:

“How do I make lots of money?” “Well people like ramen and they like ceviche.” “Let’s open a restaurant that serves Japanese food and Peruvian food!” “Why?” “Ceviche and sushi sound similar if you say them fast enough.” 

For that seems to be the only reason why you’d consider a joint venture between these two very different cuisines. My meal was comprised of whatever I’d had a chance to point at before the waiter left again, so whatever arrived had an element of surprise. I was slightly hungover so had opted for corn fritters (grease), barbecued courgette (yeh, what the hell), a sushi roll, sautéed chilli veggies, smokey brown rice, tostaditas with yellow heritage tomatoes and “guacamole”. I’d hoped that would give me a greasy kick out of my lethargy and perhaps my five a day at the same time. 

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Not sure what this is, but all the press pictures online were of food in a line. None of my food came in a line, but I didn’t want to be a food dick and photo my plate. So you’ve got this dish. That looks nothing like what I ate.

Meanwhile, our drinks had arrived. My date had got his beer, and I’d been given a litre of sparkling water which I was apparently expected to swig throughout the evening. Only after a bout of waving and gesticulating did I manage to secure a glass. Seconds later the tostaditas arrived, sadly the highlight of our meal. I say sadly, because at the time I was unaware that each dish we were served would get progressively more depressing. If I’d have known I would have savoured every bite of the tangy sweet yellow tomatoes prepared in front of us by a precise, Japanese-knife wielding chef layered on a charred tostada and soaked in lime and a guacamole paste.

Two bites and twenty minutes later our other courses arrived in that “fashionable style” of when the kitchen decides. Read: when they remember your order. How I wish they hadn’t. A bowl of soggy root vegetables stewed in the musty flavour of lotus root and miso smelt of old wardrobe and two hours later my fingers still smell of Narnia. My corn “fritters” were three chunks of corn on the cob. No oil, no grease, no indulgence. Just healthy, bites of gigantic corn to indulge in. The lack of fritters resulted in a disappointment that I found difficult to accept. The barbecued courgette was the only dish I’d reorder if forced to at knifepoint. Slivers of raw-ish and lukewarm courgette lay in a row on a rectangular plate topped with friseed carrot on top of a sickly sweet BBQ sauce. That also had a slight aroma of mothballs. A bowl of fried brown rice and vegetables was just that: healthy, wholesome and went some way to fill the cavernous space in my stomach that hadn’t been satisfied by the other eight courses (at on average £7-10 each-this is not a cheap joint). 

Food with flowers; presumably taken from the rockery

Food with flowers; presumably taken from the rockery

The toilets are also fucking weird. To empty your bladder you have to press a green, industrial “door open” button which reveals a slightly futuristic bathroom, and not the fire exit as you may have thought. Cue lots of drunk girls walking into the door with a series of soft thuds. The cubicle doors are so heavy that I wouldn’t be surprised if the puddles all over the floor by the sinks were caused not by the ridiculous design of the basins, but because women had lost the will to hold on any longer.

Leaving Chotto Matte was the highlight of my evening. The feeling that I would never have to go back and navigate the dining area with the strangely roped off areas (like enclosures for rich people) or sit on a wobbly bar stool staring at a tomato, gave me a warm feeling inside that I normally hope to get from a good meal with friends.

I headed straight to Gelupo for a serving of bitter chocolate sorbet to celebrate my bravery and foolhardiness in the face of weird fusion restaurants. 

 

Banana and chocolate peanut butter icy almond milk goodness

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Peanut butter glory!

Two days ago I was waxing lyrical about my new favourite summer drink: banana almond-milk iced cooler. Except, I realised, as I was rooting through my fridge trying to find some olives to accompany a day-old enchilada, I could make it better.

But how to make a frozen, creamy, luxurious, iced banana beverage better, I hear you cry? Well how you make all things better-by adding peanut butter! I’ve been after a post-gym recovery drink for some time and this seems to hit the nail on the head.

As a vegan, I struggle to put away enough protein sometimes, especially in the summer when every day sees me cycling 15 miles along London’s busy roads, plus a trip to the gym and the pool as well. Tofu is expensive here, and beans and pulses just don’t cry summer weather to me. So I look for my protein in peanuts, which I sprinkle on salads, add to cold soups, and put in curries.

Peanut butter is a great healer (seriously, I eat the stuff by the spoonful, hence the need to do all the physical exercise…) and there is none more exciting than “Peanut Butter & Co’s Dark Chocolate Dreams.” I bought mine at Wholefoods Market in Kensington but if you can’t find any I imagine a scoop of your favourite crunchy or smooth nut butter plus some cocoa powder will do the job just as well. If you use plain peanut butter and cocoa powder, you might find you need to add whatever your favourite sweetener is to it (I use agave syrup, but I imagine maple would be incredible), or it could be a bit bitter.

Simply follow the recipe for the banana almond milk drink, and omit the honey/agave for the chocolate peanut butter.

Healthy, nutritious, post-work out, perfect for summer iced drink! 

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Vegan pizza: yummy or not yummy?

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My Holland and Barrett meat free pizza

When I was in the US, I saw a lot of hoohah about Amy’s pizzas. These seemed to be a frozen, gf, vg option for vegans who really just wanted a quick ready meal to eat with their non-vegan, pizza loving brethren. The UK is painfully low on GF-VG pizza stocks. Holland and Barrett, a health food shop, stocks vegan “meat feast” pizza in some of its stores. This has a doughy, flaccid base with almost non-existant tomato sauce and is heaped with chunks of “beef” and “mince” and strange vegan pepperoni. I’ve never been a vegetarian or vegan who craves substitute meat products, and I actually found the whole concept of eating fake meat so weird that I picked off the chunks of whatever they were meant to be.

In the UK, if you’re a vegan craving pizza, what’s the plan? Normally I go to Franco Manca’s and order a pizza with just the tomato and oregano sauce (with extra olives and basil of course). This also works if you go to Pizza Express, or Strada (though make sure you say you’re dairy free or sometimes they sprinkle the base with Parmesan).

Short of making my own with blobs of vegan cheese, I can’t find a decent vegan pizza anywhere. And as much as I’d love to, I can’t eat Mozzarella. So, if you have any hints or tips on where to find good vegan pizzas, please do let me know by tweeting me at @Ellieross102 or leaving a comment below.

I’m desperate folks!

 

 

The fussy eater’s Christmas dinner!

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A steamy Christmas dinner with very flat Yorkshires

This year, my mum and dad came round to the fact that I really was severely  intolerant to dairy and gluten, and went all out to ensure that I could enjoy the Christmas cheer. Normally, I hate Christmas food. As a vegetarian, I was always handed a cop-off dry nut roast from M&S while the rest of the family tucked into turkey and ham and all the trimmings. Even though my mum and dad are vegetarian too, before quite recently they still thought that overcooked vegetables were just great, so Christmas dinner usually descended into a soggy, water-logged affair where the sprouts, now light green, would ooze water over the plate soaking the roast potatoes and the nut roast. 

The last five years I have cooked my own Christmas dinner. While everyone else tucked into the turkey, I would cook an innovative veggie main for my mum, dad and I that made the rest of the family envious. Until this year, I really struggled to understand why people enjoyed Christmas dinner.

But then this year, we had a family meal with just my boyfriend, my mum and my dad on Christmas day. My dad encouraged me to try Christmas dinner again, so I conceded. He made everything dairy and gluten free including this amazing tomato, butter bean and lentil nut roast which was absolutely fabulous. 

The roast potatoes were flour-free and fondenty and delicious. The sprouts weren’t overcooked. Mum made some cranberry sauce which actually worked. And, best of all, he even made me some little Yorkshire Puddings that were dairy and gluten free. Which, considering that a Yorkie is basically flour and milk was an absolutely wonderful (if slightly flat) achievement. 

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Super out of focus

It has been the only meal in living memory where nothing was compromised and I was able to eat everything on the plate. And that, being able to join in with everybody else because there were so few of us, made the day pretty special. And, even though visiting extended family members over the last few days has meant that I’ve had to live off potatoes only for three days, the memory of the effort my mum and dad put into to making Christmas edible for me got me through!

But I’m interested in how other vegans and vegetarians celebrate Christmas. Do you go traditional and still have a nut-roast? Or do you just have the trimmings? Has anyone just cooked themselves a separate meal and brought it to the table? 

Itsu weird.

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Lunch.

Ok Wasabi Christmas special you have a contender! Welcome the Itsu “Eat beautiful Hummous flatbread”. This lunch choice is not excellent. In fact, the fact that I am now stuck with five pounds worth of regret on my desk saddens me.

I didn’t think you could really go wrong with hummous and flatbread. Evidently, I was mistaken. They’ve added some salad on to the hummous. Awesome! Nice touch! Except salad really translates as very long pieces of stringy rocket, the type that when you eat them the hang out of the side of your mouth and you have to make that apologetic face to colleagues as you suck in the greens like you would spaghetti, flicking hummous and sauce all over the shop.

Initially I only logged onto my wordpress blog to make the point that this hummous wrap is impossible to eat and that it is the nemesis of any desk worker. Especially when trying to hack at lumps of the wrap with Itsu’s flimsy cutlery.

Then you dig a little deeper into the mound of hummous and there are edamame beans. Why? What do edamame beans have to do with hummous? I’m sorry, is this fusion lunch food?

Want to know what’s worse? Sure you do. Someone has to warn you. They’ve added a sauce. No, me neither. No idea why you need a sauce with a hummous flatbread unless you’ve got something to hide. In this case, the edamame beans and the weirdly inconvenient wrap that’s not a wrap but a class A hassle. The sauce is bright green. I didn’t notice this when I bought it, but as soon as I did I was hooked. You don’t give somebody a luminous green sauce with a hummous wrap and not experiment. It would be mint, obviously. Everybody pairs mint with hummous. It’s very middle eastern. Maybe this would be a sensible step to cover their edaame mistake. They were probably embarassed by adding the beans. “Oh it’s Phil’s idea. He’s been here for ages. He has a wife and kids to support. Oh, we’ll give him the edamame beans. I know sounds horrific but it’s the first idea he’s had in months and we can’t fire him before christmas. Ok then, well develop something to disguise the idea then. Ok, brilliant, bye!”

And so they designed a lurid green coconut coriander lemon sauce to drizzle over the hummous, the floppy rocket and the wrap that can’t be wrapped. It was an expensive mistake and I feel it is my duty to alert others. Stick with the Potsu.