I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a rubbish cook. For me, the kitchen resembles a kind of torture chamber with utensils meant for slicing, peeling, boiling and crushing. Unfortunately, my housemates don’t share my fear and insist on making extravagant dinners most nights while I hide in my bedroom, the intermingling stench of frying meat and exotic spices seeping underneath my door.
My diet is simple. I like: fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes and pasta. I like it all the more if I don’t have to cook it. When I first started this blog, I had hoped to construct fancy vegan recipes and show off my superb cooking skills. Realising this wasn’t going to happen, I thought I had better come up with some other way to showcase the variety of innovative dishes that are often not associated with a vegan diet.
I decided to book a table at a popular vegan restaurant in London. Now, as you may have gathered I’m not a food snob. I don’t like it when my dinner looks like it could belong in the Saatchi Gallery. So despite being a vegan, I had never actually been to a vegan restaurant before. This was an entirely new experience for me. For comic value and moral support, I decided to coerce my meat eating boyfriend, Chris, into coming too.
We arrived at Vitao Organic (http://www.vitao.co.uk/) in time for our 6:30pm booking. Quite frankly, I was terrified. I was wearing a faux fur leopard print coat and only realised my mistake after leaving the house. Plus, I had a few glasses of wine beforehand and, being a restaurant that doesn’t sell any alcohol, I was certain they could smell it on me.
Anyway, the best thing about a vegan diet is you get to eat a lot. Most of the food is low in calories and fat, so it takes more to satiate you. Luckily, my boyfriend and I have huge appetites and we got a load of dishes to review particularly for this blog! So enjoy!
Ash: Before ordering from the menu, we decided to hit the buffet. There was a variety of colourful dishes to choose from, both raw and cooked. I went for a generous helping of salad and brown rice with curried chickpeas and stewed black beans. I don’t usually eat pulses because I find them bland, but I was surprised at how flavoursome these ones were. The black beans had a rich earthy taste and really worked with the nuttiness of the brown rice. They were not watery either, which can be common in vegan cooking because of the lack of cream, milk and yoghurt in sauces. In fact, the yellow chickpeas had a very thick and rich sauce. I assume they used coconut milk to achieve this. The red chickpeas were more tomato-y and included sizable chunks of soft aubergine. All in all, this was a very good fresh first course. The only drawback is that they charge by the weight, £1.80 per 100g. I think mine came to about £12.
Chris: I must admit that, despite my revulsion at the concept of paying for a buffet by weight, the selection of vegan dishes available was diverse and the quality impressive. I would have bet my arm that the mash had contained butter and milk and I found the lentil and bean dishes extremely pleasurable to eat. What made it all the more enjoyable was the fact the dishes were clearly all low salt. I was thus able to eat a large plate- worth 14 pounds- of food and not feel uncomfortably full or thirsty afterwards. I was left wanting more and feeling energetic.
Ash: Next, we decided to try out a couple of the dishes from the small plate section of the menu. What we have above is the pitiful imitations of “pizza” (left) and “nachos” (right). They are both raw dishes which means no cooking was involved at all in the making of them. I’ll start with the nachos. The nachos themselves are described as “flax seed tortilla chips with pineapple salsa, guacamole and tomato salsa”. They were, to be blunt, hideous. The flax seed crackers were airy and bland, the salsa packed no punch, the guacamole was a tasteless blog of green goo and god knows why there was pineapple. Then we have the “buckwheat pizza with tomato sauce and seed-cheese”. When my boyfriend saw these, he genuinely thought someone had spread a bit of tomato puree on ryvita crackers. The buckwheat based was strange, very dense and chewy. The seed cheese was just gross and added a sourness to the whole dish plus I couldn’t taste the tomato topping or the olives. Every tentative bite was worse than the last.
Chris: When it came to the a la carte menu, we decided to order what we thought would be safe dishes: vegan nachos and pizzettes. It was my contention that these dishes would be exemplary of the geniuses of vegan cuisine and would demonstrate how, despite the lack of cheese and cream, food as comforting and pleasurable as nachos and pizza were still accessible on a vegan diet. How very wrong I was. I will deal with the nachos first. They were tiny and resembled crushed, ‘dehydrated’ green leaves in triangle shapes with three small mounds of dips. The first dip was salsa and bitter tasting. The second was guacamole but tasted nothing like it. The third was the worse of the three. Crushed pineapple does not belong on nachos.
The pizzettes were equally as poor. Not only did they resemble ryvita with a salsa spread, the actually tasted like it as well! Moreover, the pitiful amount of fake vegan cheese and olive in the middle of the cracker tasted so bland it needn’t have been there. The only redeeming factor was the fresh rocket decorating the plate which I ate and which contained more flavour than the vast majority of the dish.
Ash: As you can see, I’m no food photographer. By the time our main dish came, we were so hungry we pretty much started eating straight away. Luckily, I remembered the task at hand and got a photo of the dish before we completed devoured it. This was the strangest thing we ordered, the mysteriously named Oasis of Sahara. It was described as “Wrapped avocado, squash hummus, brazil nut falafel, coriander and sunflower seed cream”. It was another raw dish and I’m not sure how to describe it. It was a wrap, a dehydrated falafel sort of wrap. It was like they rolling pinned falafel and made a chewy sheet out of it, then shoved it full of cucumber and onion and then covered it with a mustardy, avocado sauce. It wasn’t actually that bad. It had the same sourness that permeated the other dishes, but at least there were some strong flavours present. You could taste the falafel and the mustard type dressing was spicy and made you smack your lips. However, once again, it was not worth the money. Three small wraps for £12.95…ouch.
Chris: I was left, after these two starters, in a daze but eager to see if the place could redeem itself with a decent main course. We had ordered what we thought was falafel in a wrap with various veg and sauces. The menu, it seems, had tricked us again. What we received was not falafel in a wrap but wraps made of falafel with cucumber and onions inside. It was essentially falafel skin without the soft, tasty bit on the inside. It was unimpressive and frankly a rip off. For at £12.90 I wanted more than a small- no bigger than a Sainsbury’s basic- wrap filled with cucumber and onions. Couldn’t they have packed a tomato in there for a bit of variety?
Ash: I don’t usually have vegan desserts because they are notoriously tricky to make and find, so this was a real treat. It was a “raspberry chocolate mousse torte with a cacao nib crust, served with mixed fruit”. The chocolate mousse was actually a cacao avocado mousse. It was creamy and very, very rich. It tasted like a dark chocolate cream. Actually, the whole thing tasted a bit like a raspberry ripple bar, if you’ve ever had one of those. The raspberry flavour was very prominent but it wasn’t sharp, which is good because cacao can be quite bitter in itself. The cacao nibs were interesting; you can’t really see them but they were like a thin crispy base. They were crunchy rather than biscuit-y and it offset the creaminess of the mousse perfectly.
Chris: Next there came dessert: avocado cake with cocoa, a chocolate type substance, and raspberry. I must admit, I was amazed by the result. It didn’t taste anything like avocado and it did taste like a chocolate cake, albeit a very bitter one. Nevertheless it was with admiration and amazement that I lapped up the dish although I’d take a normal chocolate cake any day.
All in all it was an experience and the food wasn’t a complete let down. I felt that it did show the inventiveness of vegan cooking despite the fact that I found myself craving a big bowl of plain rice several times throughout the meal.