One of the main things that concerned me about going vegan (which you can read more about here) was whether I’d still be able to enjoy dining out at restaurants. The good news is that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of restaurants in my area that now offer vegan choices on the menu so I thought I’d share some highlights with you. Some of them might just surprise you!
This might seem like an odd place to go to as a vegan but the rest of my family are meat eaters who really enjoy a good carvery. The Toby Carvery have a whole section of their menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan dishes which means that I don’t have to miss family get togethers!
Oliver and I were invited along to try out the menu during Veganuary but hit upon a snag when we put in our order as our waiter very apologetically informed us that the vegan options weren’t available as they’d sold out over the weekend. However after a bit of a wait we were offered a choice of three other suitable mains which were not on the current menu but that they could make for us – lunch was saved!
All of the vegan and vegetarian dishes were really clearly labelled on the menu and there were guidance notes on anything I’d need to tell my server, such as making sure to ask for steamed greens as some are cooked with butter.
Oliver had the vegan Root Vegetable Roast and I went for an Onion Tarte. Both were tasty, hearty meals that came with unlimited sides from the carvery. I was a bit limited in my choices once I’d discounted anything made with cheese, milk or butter but still managed to fill my plate. I was over the moon when our waiter told us the vegetarian gravy was also suitable for vegans as it brought the meal together and gave it the ‘Sunday lunch’ feel. I’d forgotten how much I missed gravy!
Most restaurants I’ve been to seem to have either forgotten about dessert or just gone with a less than adventurous sorbet option. The Toby Carvery, however have a delicious sounding vegan chocolate and cherry cake on the menu. Due to the slight confusion over the mains we ran out of time for dessert, so I’m going to have to head back and check it out another time.
Verdict: Good hearty food and value for money, great if you crave Sunday roasts!
My top tip: Advise your dietary requirements when booking.
I love Italian food but it’s something I associate with lots of cheese, cream and butter. A quick check of the menus for my closest restaurants confirmed that Frankie & Benny’s only had one vegan main, Penne Arribiata, but Bella Italia seem to be more on board with providing dairy free options. In fact there are multiple vegan mains in its pasta, risotto, salad and pizza sections as well as a burger.
The starter options are limited to what I’d call ‘healthy options’ of olives, bruschetta and soup, but it’s a start. My bruschetta was really light and fresh actually, and I’m learning that dishes that I’d normally avoid because I’ve always automatically gone for the ‘cheesy’ option are sometimes vastly underrated. This one didn’t leave me feeling too full before my main which a lot of my ‘pre vegan’ choices would have.
For my main I tried the Lenticchie on my first visit which is a smoky lentil ragu that I highly recommend. It was packed with rich complex flavours and left me full, happy and with a massive food baby, just the way Italian food should! It was a fabulous dish in its own right that just happened to be vegan.
Upon my return a few weeks later, I opted for the Risotto Funghi (mushroom risotto with tomatoes and a balsamic vinegar glaze). Again, this was a lovely little dish in its own right but this time I did think ‘this would be even better with a bit of cheese’. Not dairy cheese of course, but maybe a grating of some Violife (a vegan cheese which I’ve come to adore) would have given it that extra something to satisfy my craving.
You can veganise your pizza at Bella Italia by asking for it without mozzarella, but it would be great if they could offer a vegan alternative instead.
Verdict: A great option if you want plenty of choice, go here for proper comfort food.
My top tip: Maybe bring your own vegan cheese until they add it to the menu? I’m tempted to next time! Also there are no vegan dessert options, so bear this in mind.
My friend Sian got a promotion last week (woo hoo!) so we celebrated with a feast at Wagamama.
First of all, let’s give a round of applause to Wagamama for having a vegan starter which isn’t just vegetables or bread and olives! I had Yasai Steamed Gyoza, which are served grilled to give them a crispy outer coating which is perfect for dipping into the mildly spicy dipping sauce.
They too have a diverse range of mains to choose from which makes the experience so much more enjoyable. Part of the pleasure of going to a restaurant for me is that time spent deciding what to eat, and at some places due to the severely limited options for vegans it’s just not there. Not so at Wagamama thankfully.
I opted for the Kare Burosu for my main, an absolutely delicious dish consisting of shichimi coated silken tofu and grilled mixed mushrooms on a bed of udon noodles. This all sits within a curried vegetable broth which I drank every last drop of, it was just so good!
Sian, a meat eater, also went for a vegan option in the end, the Yasai Samla Curry. It’s a vibrant dish of fragrant, spicy lemongrass and coconut curry with tofu, peppers, shiitake mushrooms and baby plum tomatoes which is good if you like things a bit spicy!
Verdict: These guys know their way around a block of tofu and use it in all kinds of inspiring ways.
My top tip: If you struggle with chopsticks ask your server for cutlery when ordering your food to avoid any messy mishaps!
Whilst it’s easy enough to make a vegan pizza at home, it’s just not the same as a proper deep pan fresh from the pizzeria. I was excited to see Pizza Hut announce that they’d introduced a pizza with vegan cheese nationwide just in time for Veganuary – my heroes!
There’s currently only one vegan option available on the main menu but if you don’t like the toppings you do have the option to customise your pizza and choose your own for a bit extra. Plus you get to load up your side bowl at the salad bar and they have ‘bacon bits’ which, ironcially, are completely vegan, so I was happy before I’d even started my pizza!
Oliver tried some of my pizza and amazingly, his comment was that it tasted more cheesy than his non vegan version, just not quite the same oozy texture as with regular cheese! It certainly hit the spot for me. Who says vegans just eat leaves and chickpeas huh?
Verdict: It’s the Pizza Hut pizza you know and love, just vegan. Hooray!
My top tip: Plan ahead to make sure you know which salad bar options are vegan friendly, as it’s not so easy to tell with sauces and dressings. Veganuary have a list of what you can eat here: Pizza Hut Vegan Options
Why we should support restaurants, even when choices are limited
Whilst the number of vegan choices at restaurants is still most definitely limited, I think it’s great that so many popular restaurants are now providing some options. If we all support the vegan menus and, like with Toby Carvery, they see an increase in demand as a result it can only lead to good things – more vegan choices and greater understanding!
Disclaimer: We were provided with a £20 voucher towards our meal at the Toby Carvery in return for providing an honest review. All other meals were paid for by ourselves.