The Waiting Room (Stockton-on-Tees)

I'm never quite sure what to expect when I find a random v*gan restaurant on the interweb, then get in the car and go. After a grueling 5.5 hour journey up the M1 from London I'm pleased to say that on this occasion at least I was pleasantly surprised.

First good impression: it's clearly visible from the street and looks inviting. No alley ways, basements or entrances through other shops. It looked busy too, which for a weekday evening is always a good sign.

Second: it's big inside, has candles on the tables and more of a restaurant feel than cafe. There's definitely a place in my heart for quirky cafes selling burgers and wedges (provided they're good), but it's nice to find places a little more 'sit down' restaurant like from time to time. The decor wasn't amazing, but the tables and chairs didn't look like they'd come from a skip either.

Third: the staff were lovely and seemed knowledgeable on the contents of the menu. Contrary to its name, waiting times were reasonable.

The only negative point to note on arrival was quite how unpleasantly warm it was. The radiators seemed stuck on max - I can only imagine they had a problem with the heating that evening and it's not a regular thing.

Oh, and there's the other negative point: it's definitely a vegetarian restaurant with a vegan afterthought, rather than a vegan restaurant with a few vegetarian dishes to please a wider audience. The menu contains many delicious sounding things, but vegan choice is definitely limited.

I ordered a Trio of pates for starter, which turned out to be a Duo of houmous and one pate:

It tasted OK, but I was naturally jealous of the good looking vegetarian starters being served to other diners. The houmous seemed homemade and the salad was exceptionally well dressed (generally I leave the token salad).

The more observant of you will notice the bottle of Sam Smiths cherry beer. Their selection of vegan booze was very good indeed - next time someone else is driving.

My shepherds pie was more hotpot than pie, but very good all the same:

Everything I tasted there was pretty 'old school' vegan cooking - no tofu or new 1990s fangled ingredients. The pie was lentil based, but one of the best I've had.

The one vegan dessert offering was orchard crumble, which didn't overly fill me with excitement at the prospect of trying:

It was however one of the best I've ever had (certainly the best I've paid for).

It was weird - good weird. I'm not entirely sure what the crumble was made of, it didn't conform to normal flour/oat standards. It was sort of dumped in a pile at the centre of the plate with stewed fruit and nuts.

Nuts? Pecan nuts, in crumble. Worked really well. The fruit (including whole black cherries) was stewed to perfection.

Conclusion? The Waiting Room is unimaginative vegan cooking, done extremely well. If they offered a little more choice it'd become a firm favourite. Either way: I'll certainly give it another go when I'm next up in that direction.


Like most UK vegans, houmous has figured heavily in my diet over the years. Mostly through desperation/lack of choice from supermarkets when I've forgotten to make lunch, but occasionally for pleasure too.

Embarrassingly, it's not been until recently that I've tried making it myself. Too much faff and all that.

It's actually remarkably easy however, and doing so allows you to use much better quality extra virgin olive oil than you'd ever get in premade stuff.

  • 390g Organic Chickpeas in Water
  • 1 tbsp Tahini
  • 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 tbsp Chopped Garlic
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Drain the chickpeas and blend the chickpeas into a paste:

Add the rest of ingredients (salt and pepper to taste), minus the oil:

As it blends, pour oil in until the right consistancy is reached:

Taste, season and reblend if required. Serve topped with pesto, or simply on its own. You can add other flavours in the final blend (olives, sundried tomatoes etc) also.

Screaming Carrot Bakery (Nottingham)

If first impressions count, the Screaming Carrot Bakery's not off to a good start.

Metal grills over a shop's windows are never a good sign. The area didn't look overly nice when we drove up - I wasn't confident my car would still have hub caps when I returned.

Still, a vegan bakery is something pretty special. There aren't many on the planet - Babycakes in New York, Mrs Cupcake in London etc.

First impression when you go in through the door?

Well, first off, it's not a bakery. It's a health food store with a few slices of cake and pasties behind the counter. A pretty poor selection at that (Saturday lunchtime). OK, they're made on site, but the word bakery I think is taking things a little far.

Worried that the car's windscreen wipers were being stolen; we ordered a few things and made a dash for it.

The good news is: the pasties we bought were quite pleasant. Not worth a drive to Nottingham for, but above average. They were very cheap too.

The cakes were mediocre:

Carrot was OK (quite sponge like - not heavy), but the bakewell slice lacked flavour and had pastry approx 1mm thick.

If I lived down the road I'd definitely go back. That's unlikely to happen though!

222 (London)

222 Veggie Vegan is (confusingly) a vegan restaurant, on a random street in West London. I'm probably one of the last vegans I know to visit, but it wasn't until I was at Earls Court recently that I've ever been in walking distance.

The decor's clean & pleasant with a reasonable number of tables. Service was polite / friendly / efficient.

I visited on a weekday lunchtime and didn't have long, so went with the all you can eat buffet option.

The lunch buffet's £7.50 all you can eat, which is pretty reasonable. I can't comment on how often the selection changes, but I enjoyed almost everything I tried:

It all seemed quite fresh & included a good variety of flavours.

I read favourable reports of their pancakes over the years, so ordered one when I arrived to be ready when I'd finish mains:

Top marks for presentation, good marks for flavour.

Price was OK (£5.25), however the pancake texture could be improved - it's impossible to cut through within massacring the whole dish and ending up with a big sloppy mess! I expect that if they used non-wholemeal flour it'd be easier to cut.

Overall though, I was quite pleased with the meal. I'll certainly return next time I'm in the area.

The Rainbow Cafe (Cambridge)

Tucked away in a basement at the end of an alley, The Rainbow Cafe is a slightly misleading name for a premises free of natural light!

With an hour to kill in Cambridge this lunchtime I was pleased to find the place packed out (always a good sign). Luckily there was one table free, even if it was a bit of a squeeze to fit in.

I was averagely hungry, so ordered 3 courses (strictly for research purposes, you understand). Service was friendly and reasonably efficient:
Garlic bread £3.45
with sun-dried tomato or sun-dried chilli

Vegan Artichoke Parcel £9.95
Delightful filo pastry parcels wrapping artichoke heart, red pepper, black olives, sun dried tomato, & vegan cheese, rich & delectable, served with rice or fusilli pasta with optional marinara sauce & salad garnish.

Mocha Swirl Cheesecake £4.25
(from the specials board)
Choice of vegan options was good, with several proper (non-token) desserts. Waiting times were reasonable too, considering the place was full. Pricing was about average compared to other v*gan cafes across the UK (£15-£20 inc drink).

The garlic bread was odd, but good. Breaking from the tradition of crispy french bread or ciabatta, it seemed to be a soft finger roll; heated till the garlic spread had melted. It was certainly different, but I'd order it again.

Not sure what I made of the main:

It looked good and the filo pastry filling was very tasty. It was difficult to eat with the cheap cutlery however and really needed some kind of sauce to soak up the dry pastry, rather than the side salad. I guess it suffered slightly from 3 things on a plate syndrome, as opposed to a mixture of components that all complimented one another.

I wasn't disappointed by it, but I'd try something else next time.

Having been thoroughly spoilt by The Alley Cafe in Nottingham's cheesecake less than 48 hours previous (which I described as 'perfect'), The Rainbow Cafe's attempt would have to be something really special to compete.

It wasn't. It was a good attempt however - texture was pleasant and price sensible. The base could use some work, as could the height. I'd rank it about average on the vegan cheesecake scale :)

Overall, a fairly decent experience. I wouldn't drive miles to get there, but I'd certainly return if in Cambridge again and can happily recommend it to others.

Alley Cafe (Nottingham)

Apologies for the lack of posts recently - Mofo's definitely off the cards this year! Lots of good things have been happening recently and blogging's just been a bit too far down my to-do list. It's safe to say that being 30 is not as bad as I thought it'd be - so far it's just been one good thing after another.

We were in Nottingham this afternoon, a bit peckish (starving) and completely by chance a couple of hundred yards from the Alley Cafe. We planned to go for coffee + cake, but with eyes bigger than our stomachs we ended up with main courses and garlic bread too!

Despite reviews saying it's difficult to find; we had no problems at all. It's location couldn't be more central (or at least, what I define as being central). It was a bit cold for outdoor seating - luckily one of the 6 or so tables inside was free.

Here's the odd bit - it's not an overly big place, but the bar takes up approximately a third of the floor space. It's an attractive looking bar, but they probably could have made it smaller and fitted some more tables in / made it feel less cramped.

Also, I realise we're not in the South East in Nottingham, but prices were very good indeed - well below average. Almost too cheap - just inside the very good value bracket. They serve booze and cocktails too - also at unusually good prices. Service was OK - not overly attentive but not rude. Waiting times were reasonable for what appeared to be mostly made to order.

We ordered a hemp burger with vegan cheese (almost certainly mozzarella cheezly) (£6.50), marinated tofu steak with root mash (£6.85) and cheesy garlic bread (£2.50).

The hemp burger was fantastically good - definitely home made and a contender for best in the UK (far better than Saf's poor attempt!):

The tofu steak was exceptionally good for the price. The tomato component had a slight smokiness to it and root mash quite edible (generally I hate mashed root veg). I probably wouldn't order it again though - whilst the burger was burger perfection, this didn't quite hit the spot. It needed to cost more and come with some kind of starch rather than salad (which didn't seem to work with it).

We made room for dessert - blackcurrant cheesecake (£3) and chocolate torte (£3.75):

There seems to have been a recent trend amongst veg cafes/restaurants charging £5+ for puddings, but this cheesecake was simply the best I've paid money for. The flavour balance was perfect and it was satisfyingly deep. Excellent.

The chocolate torte was rich but too small - I"d have paid more for a larger portion. It wasn't quite creamy enough for me either - it was more like chocolate biscuit cake than ganache.

Overall, I'd return if in the area and would recommend. The burger and cheesecake were perfect (not a word I use often). I didn't notice their drinks menu until the end (there wasn't one on our table) - next time I'll definitely try a few.