Itadaki-Zen (King's Cross, London)

Chinese has for a long time been my favourite type of foreign food. There are elements of Japanese that I enjoy - udon noodles, miso, mirin, tamari, pickled ginger, shiitake, nori rolls etc but overall the cuisine's just never held the same appeal for me.

I'm fully open to the possibility that I've just not tried enough of the right things yet or that I've an underdeveloped western palate. Certainly there are a lot of Japanese ingredients that aren't widely available in the UK, which is why the prospect of trying Itadaki-Zen when it opened seemed like a great opportunity.

I obviously wasn't that excited though - instead of rushing down with my camera I randomly ended up there with a cameraphone one evening after work, approximately 3 years later! :)

The restaurant is a 5-10 min walk from Kings Cross station. I pleased to find it about half full, including Japanese diners (always a good sign).

Overwhelmed by the long list of options that frankly I have very little clue over I opted for a four course set meal:
02 Itadaki Course 2 £21.00
いただきコース2 麺セット
(Noodles Set)
3 Vegetable dishes with delicate dressing or special salt seasoning

6 Pieces of sushi (includes oriental herbs, seaweed, and wild plants)

・Harumaki (deep-fried or grilled on request) or Kakiage Tempura
・Seaweed salad
・Noodles with original soup

Itadaki Zen muffin
A light, soft and sugar free cake, made with Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), jujube and chestnusts; top with tofu-vanilla cream.
What the menu makes sound like an awful lot of food actually isn't - it's about the right amount:

The first course was like eating canapes - each one a mouthful in size. Flavours were good; it was a nice start to the meal.

The sushi course looked good but sadly wasn't that great:

Mostly because each piece was practically the same - there wasn't enough variance between them. They didn't taste bad, but I have had better tasting sushi from supermarkets.

Even though I had no idea what a Harumaki is I required that it be deep fried anyway. After all, deep frying makes all things good. As it turns out they're just spring rolls:

Main course was OK. Again each of the dishes were tiny and I wasn't sure whether I was meant to be drinking the soup or pouring it over the noodles!

Dessert was weird but tasty:

No amount of airbrushing and filters are enough to make this shot look any more appealing!

All in all, the meal was OK. It was good to try some new things and the food certainly can't be described as bland. Overall I just wasn't particularly wowed by anything I tried though.

I will return however - there's a vast menu that I've yet to try before passing further judgement. I'll try to take a proper camera with me next time ;)

The Red Lion (Gt Bricett, Suffolk)

Why does every village not have a v*gan pub?

The Red Lion's not the first that I've visited, but I'm pleased to say that it is the best. It's just a shame that it's not down the road or in a nearby village, instead of 140 miles away. Still, if you ever find yourself on the A14 to Ipswich (or live in the area) then it's definitely worth a visit.

I couldn't have picked a better day - it's been unseasonably warm this week. Sitting in the beer garden felt like the middle of August.

The pub itself looks a lot like any other - rural location, reasonably sized, traditional interior, large beer garden and kids play area. It had quite a few other diners there as well, which is impressive considering it was a weekday lunch time.

Most of the savory dishes are VO, but disappointingly only 2 of the desserts are suitable. At least 2 of the specials could have been made vegan without anyone noticing (chocolate fudge cake and sticky toffee pudding), so it'd be good to see more choice in the future.

Pricing is reasonable and portion sizes very generous. Quality is above average - food is obviously a key part of the business rather than a token gesture to sell more drinks.

I ordered:
Mixed olive platter £5.90
Black and green olives, sun dried tomatoes and red peppers, served with a balsamic dressing and a basket of freshly baked bread v*

Artichoke linguine £10.90
Freshly cooked pasta, tossed with artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, vodka, red chilli and oregano, finished with cream and parmesan and served with garlic ciabatta vo

Summer Pudding £4.90
Filled with soft fruits and cassis, drizzled with raspberry coulis vo*
Good to see the use of baskets in pubs is still alive :)

I'm not convinced that this was meant to be for one person! I've been known to eat bread + oil + balsamic as an entire meal before, so this choice suited me fine. The bread they'd used was warm and decent quality.

The main was pretty decent too:

It'd got quite a lot of oil in it - I wasn't sure whether the sauce had split or it was just from the veg that had been fried separately. It tasted good though, so I didn't really mind :)

Having already eaten a load of bread I got more with the main:

Couldn't really taste the garlic in it, but possibly because the flavours in the linguine were so strong.

Dessert again was generously portioned and excellent value for money:

As far as summer puddings go; this was a good one. Whole berries inside and a sensible amount of icecream.

Everything I ordered I'd be happy to eat again (which happens at less than half of the places I visit). The choice of vegan food's not as imaginative as some places, but if it were local I'd definitely visit on a regular basis. If not only for the novelty of being able to eat a vegan meal outside in the countryside :-)

Urban Eats (Holborn, London)

I'm still slightly mourning the loss of Saf. Yes, it was expensive. No, not every dish they made worked. On the whole though they created flavours and textures I've not experienced either before or since.

I've tried Aloka's raw restaurant and Cafe Gratitude in Cupertino, as well as various attempts at raw dishes by places like Manna V. Some sweet things have worked (Aloka's cheesecake is to die for) but none have come close at creating savoury food that actually tastes like its cooked - or at least processed to the point where it's not obviously a bunch of raw ingredients mashed together. In November last year I met up with Sash and Mits to try a new raw place in London - Wild Foods Cafe in Covent Garden. See Mits' review here for pictures of what can only be described as sliced raw vegetables in orange juice - yuck!

I didn't have high hopes for Urban Eats, but was pleasantly surprised.

Location's good - a nice looking street with plenty of other cafes, 5 minute walk from Holborn tube. When I visited on Wednesday lunch time I was pleased to see a stream of other customers both eating in and getting takeaway.

Everything on the menu is vegetarian, many vegan. Confusingly though items containing honey are marked as vegan. Whilst I realise that some "vegans" eat honey, almost all I've met don't, including the Vegan Society's definition. It'd be good if the menu could be made clearer.

Not all menu items are always available - those that are are in a small chiller next to the counter. It's not obvious which are which or what a plate of food looks like. The front of house staff were friendly, but I had some difficulty trying to figure out what it was I was ordering. The one lady who did seem to know about the items (who I assume is the owner/chef) disappeared into the back before I got a chance to ask.

Hopefully everything I ate contained agave not actual honey.....

Eventually I settled for raw lasagne and a smoothie, followed by a couple of desserts (I'm greedy like that):
Raw Vegetable Lasagne £4.80
served with salad and bread
This is a delicious raw vegan lasagne bursting with flavour from the sundried tomato and macadamia cheese. (R)(G)(W)(D)(S)(V)

Minty Fresh £3
Bananas, Cucumber, Basil, Fresh Mint, Peaches and Apple. Great smoothie with soothing qualities which protect and heal the stomach lining. (G)(V)(R)

Marbled Chocolate & Orange Tavoletta (R)(V)(G) £2

Unbaked Mint Avocado Layer Chocolate Cake (R)(V)(G) £2
This cake is full of omegas, potassium and fibre.
Cheap prices! I can't remember the last time a dessert cost less than £4. I'm not complaining, but given the location I think they could afford to up the prices slightly without scaring away any custom.

First impressions very good - the £4.80 lasagne tasted as good as Saf's £15 attempt! The cheese part was moist and had the flavour / texture of grainy cottage cheese (or at least what I remember it as, it's been a while). The other ingredients were all tasty and worked together. Seriously delicious.

The salad size was extremely generous (but again well dressed), it also came with a couple of slices of "bread":

which I really didn't like at all (I love real bread too much).

I'll definitely order the lasagne again - I look forward to trying other options. The smoothie was good too (I know I use the word good too often and should learn to use a thesaurus).

Dessert a mixed bag. The upper part of the torte/cheesecake was as good as Aloka's:

Really smooth and no sign that it was raw whatsoever. Raw or cooked; a steal at £2!

The base however is what gave it away as being raw - it had that unmistakable texture and taste of raw ingredients mashed together.

The chocolate mint cake looked and sounded good: (there's that word again)
Unfortunately it didn't taste good, at all. I'm not afraid of avocado in sweet dishes - I know it works perfectly well in chocolate mousse. I couldn't eat more than a few mouthfuls of this cake though. It seemed to have been partially defrosted, with big ice crystals still in it. Not to my taste at all :/

Though I ended on a low note, my overall impression of Urban Eats is very positive.

Three out of the four things I had I'd order again, two were exceptionally good and far too underpriced!

I'm really looking forward to revisiting and trying other things :-)

Fellinis (Ambleside)

Having visited Zeffirellis in Ambleside many times over the years; I was initially excited by the prospect of trying their latest venture - Fellinis, a supposedly higher end vegetarian restaurant.

Their website describes it as a "modern 'Vegeterranean' restaurant catering for the most discerning vegetarian palette with a distinct Mediterranean twist", before going on to promise that "You can indulge in fine dining vegetarian cuisine with us at Fellinis."

Sound good?

My excitment waned somewhat however, on finding quite how unvegan-friendly the menu is. When we were up in the area last year they had a vegan starter and dessert option with no main! This time round there was 1 starter and 2 mains, which was enough for us to try it out.

Fellini's is a short walk from Zeffirellis and clearly styled by the same person (the interior is almost identical). Prices are above average for vegan options that sound uninspiring to say the least.

We ordered the one starter, a couple of sides and both the mains:
Spiced baba ganoush with green tahini dressed crudites, pickled cucumber and toasted pitta (V) £5.95

Basket of homemade bread with virgin olive oil and balsamic reduction (V) £3.50

Bowl of marinated olives (V) £3.50

Butternut squash, with a tomato, walnut and puy lentil filling served on fresh spinach and saute potato (V) £11.95

Spanish roasted vegetables and chickpea cassoulet topped with crostinis and basil oil (V) £11.95

Paprika roasted potatoes (V/GF) £3.50
It's the kind of menu which whilst boring; if perfectly executed is worth a go.

It's a good job that we had a big basket of bread; half a pitta isn't enough to eat an entire pot of baba ganoush with!

The pickled cucumbers and baba ganoush were actually pretty good. It tasted a lot like hummus though and we chose to avoid the creamy looking dressing on the veg. The bread was OK but not stunning (focaccia or ciabatta would have tasted a lot better) and olives fairly average. I'm not convinced the balsamic had been reduced, at least it was still at the thin and runny stage rather than sweet and sticky.

In contrast the mains were probably the most boring things we ate whilst away:They were pretty much as advertised - half a butternut squash filled with lentils and some sauted potatoes on the side, a thick chickpea and vegetable soup with teeth breakingly hard crostini.

The roast potatoes (recommended by the waitress for my main) were above average, but didn't really fit with the dish.

We skipped the £5.95 sorbet option for dessert and opted for ice-cream sundaes at the hotel instead :)

(crappy looking picture taken on an iPad3)

Overall, at £20 for 2 courses of uninspiring food each it's difficult to recommend Fellinis to other vegans. It's a real shame too - irconically it's un-fine dining sister restaurant serves better food for less money.

Dandelion & Burdock (Sowerby Bridge)

I travel a lot. In the past year I've visited the US twice (San Francisco & DC), Belgium twice, France, Holland and Estonia. Having also blogged 35 vegetarian cafes & restaurants across England in this period (and eaten at many more over the past decade); I can with great pleasure confirm that Dandelion & Burdock is amongst the best.

Inconveniently for us; it's neither nearby, near to the area I work or close to where we holiday. Having heard positive reviews from people in Manchester though we detoured on the way back south from The Lake District, adding about an hour extra onto the journey. I'm a great fan of breaking up otherwise long laborious journeys with meals out and National Trust properties (this time Lyme Park). Sowerby Bridge isn't the best looking town I've ever driven through, but it is well located for trade from Manchester, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds and Sheffield.

There are 2 key ingredients for a good cafe/restaurant: good food and good service. You can't have one or the other and expect repeat business (hence why despite regularly passing Mildreds I rarely go). Everything else is a bonus - my favourite restaurant has dreadful decor. Food doesn't have to be fancy or complicated, provided that it's flavoursome, well seasoned and priced accordingly (e.g. not fine dining price if it's not fine dining).

Dandelion & Burdoch scores well on all points. With the exception of the terrible music that was playing when we were there; decor is above average (well chosen furniture and a decent number of tables), service efficient, polite and friendly. I don't know the area well enough to comment on pricing, other than that it's at the lower end of the national scale for restaurant quality food. It isn't fine dining, but doesn't profess to be.

Not everyone's definition of the phrase "Pure Vegetarian" is the same; it's not obvious looking at the website, menu or restaurant frontage that everything is vegan. I guess that this is a tactical decision so as not to scare off non-vegans. I can genuinely believe that some people dine there without realizing it's vegan.

What it does mean is that there are no "Vegan Options" or compromises on the menu, where you're never sure quite how disappointed you'll be by what is served vs the vegetarian version that's advertised.

We were pleased to see Fentiman's Cherry Cola for the first time, which like their standard cola tastes a lot like sweets (I realise that my manliness is in jeopardy by shunning bitter drinks):

On the Sunday lunchtime that we visited the food menu wasn't extensive: 3 starters, 3 mains, 3 desserts. Still stuffed from a 3 course breakfast at the hotel (which in our restraint we only took 2 courses of) we shared a starter, then broke the golden rule of new restaurant visits by ordering the same thing (you'd think we'd have learnt from the £30 bird seed Aloka fail by now):
Mediterranean Tart £4.50
Spinach, sundried tomato, basil, green olives, mixed baby leaf salad, olive oil & balsamic syrup

Sausage & Mash £9.50
Sun dried tomato sausage roll, spinach mash, tender stem brocolli, mushroom sauce
The tart was exceptionally good. It was closer to quiche than any dish claiming to be quiche that I've had. It tasted like Taifun Olive Tofu (which @cherrivalentine has taken to eating straight out of the pack), but creamier; with good pastry, whole olives and sundried tomatoes:

Main course was confusing, but very good. Confusing because what is normally served as sausages without pastry or some kind of fancy looking roulade was in fact a sausage roll! Probably the best vegan sausage roll I've eaten though, with well above average mash and a creamy mushroom sauce. The whole dish worked really well:

For dessert we ordered a couple of cheesecakes:
Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake £4.50
Vanilla Ice Cream

Strawberry Cheesecake £4.50
Vanilla Ice Cream
I didn't get a chance to photograph mine - I was too busy salivating over (and trying to pinch spoonfuls of) @cherrivalentine's:

I considered ordering a 2nd but was too full. If it wasn't so warm I'd have requested some for take away.

It was by far and away the best vegan cheesecake I've eaten in a restaurant. It reminded us both of Turtle Mountain ice cream in the states. Consistency was perfect, height perfect and visually stunning.

If the restaurant owners ever read this review: if you ever have difficulty trading in Yorkshire then please do consider re-opening in West London. Now that Saf has closed there really is only Manna V to get a decent vegan meal, and your dessert is better!

Now to find reasons to return....

Amico Bio (London)

Amico Bio's a good looking organic Italian restaurant in a good part of London. If first impressions are all that matter then they're onto a winner.

Having heard several negative comments about their food I gave it a go anyway. A few months back I had a four course dinner (with at least a bottle of wine). It wasn't overwhelmingly good, but it wasn't that bad either. Everything's vegetarian and the number of vegan dishes/options is quite reasonable (except on the dessert menu, as is often the case with vegetarian places).

I didn't take any pics and I can't fully remember all that I had, so decided to return for lunch whilst in the area.

Whilst dinner service had been almost full; at lunch it was relatively quiet - only a few other diners. I guess most people in the area are seeking faster food than a sit down meal at lunch time.

I planned only for 2 courses, but my greedy eyes got the better of me and I ended up with 3:
Tofu arrosto con scarola £6.00 V-Gf
Roasted tofu served with scarola

Seiten Sandwich with Chips £10 V
I can't remember the exact description so I'm making this up

Selezioni di gelati e sorbetti £5.00 V-Gf
Selection of ice cream and sorbets
Service was polite and efficient. Waiting times reasonable.

OK, so what do we have here then? A lump of non-marinated plain firm tofu (lightly fried on one side) on top of some leaves.


Redeemed only by the fact it had olive oil and salt, it was overall not so great. Last time I had polenta, which was far far better. This however was something I'd expect a non vegetarian restaurant to serve.

It's a burger and chips. The chips were soggy and barely cooked. The bread was focaccia roughly cut into a circle and the burger a slab of seitan.

Seitan is a concept most UK vegans are unfamiliar with, yet widely available in Europe and America. Believing everything I read on the Internet without question (OK, not quite); I was led to believe when I turned vegan that I was seriously missing out here by not being able to buy it in the UK. The reality is that whilst seitan is pretty good, really it's the base for many mock meats we have in the UK already - which are better than eating seitan on its own.

Overall the burger concept was pretty good - the bread was nice, the salad good and well seasoned. If it had better chips and cost £7 I'd happily order it again.

Gelato is one thing that Amico does do well. I had it last time and this time again. Elsewhere this option would consist of a few scoops of Swedish Glace, but here it's something to actually look forward to.

I'm in two minds about Amico. I'd like to like it and there's enough menu options I've not tried yet. Maybe I've just been unlucky? Maybe I've an unsophisticated palate?

As there's not much else in the area and I'm often nearby I'll probably try it out again. It does seem a missed opportunity for some seriously good Italian flavours though.

Terre a Terre (Brighton)

I eat out at least twice a week, but generally don't reblog restaurants over an over. Terre a Terre gets a yearly mention however, because its food is simply amongst the best in the UK.

Our latest trip was under the guise of Brighton Vegfest, which we travelled down from the Midlands for the day for (see separate post).

We'd eaten dessert at Food for Friends an hour before sitting down for a 3 course meal at Terre a Terre, so it's safe to say we were pretty stuffed.

In my last blog post I complained about the lack of vegan options - that sometimes there's a few, other times a distinct lack. This time however almost ever item on the menu was either V or VO! I doubt they've taken on board my comments personally, but hopefully the overall message has gotten through and this trend will continue.

The menu choice is large, however there's a definite re-use of ingredients between dishes. Perhaps we got unlucky or ordered the wrong things, but it'd be good to experience new flavours with each course.

I'm nit picking - this trip was our best ever to Terre a Terre. I'm glad we don't live closer (could get expensive), but with the recent closure of Saf; London really does need another 'high end' option to rival Manna V.

Is that the supreme master sitting behind @cherrivalentine?

We ordered a couple of starters:
Tarator Tomatoes (v) 6.10
Smoked Sundried tomatoes with beetroot, walnut and flat leaf parsley tarator and focaccia fingers.

Bison Bon Bon Beet’s (gf/vo) 8.95
Pumpkin terrine tarator with bison beetroot vodka verrine, slipcote sheeps cheese bon bons soaked in dill oil with caraway pepper salt, served with a sage onion fritter biscuit, brittle walnut crumble and apple balsamic.
Due to a mix up, we got an extra starter for free (if we'd have been starving this would have been perfect!):
Smoked Tomato and Rocket Salad (vo/gf) 6.10
Leafy salad of rocket, lashings of herbs and smoked tomatoes, shaved Grana Padano dressed with lemon and extra virgin olive oil scattered with tamari oven roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
This was the best - by far. Horseradish icecream is not something I've had the pleasure of trying before, but it really did work with the middle column. On the left was the aforementioned tomato paste (which I'm not sure really worked) and on the right a shot of vodka tasting beatroot soup. I mentioned previously my bemusement at Terre's obsession with using neat vodka in dishes. It was just a little too strong for us - with less vodka it'd have been more edible.

I let my obsession with bread get the better of me with this dish, which was more of a 'nibbles for 2 to share' than starter in its own right:

I've eaten far, far better focaccia, but far worse too. I'd class it Tesco standard rather than Waitrose (although both companies seem to be using the same supplier currently). This is the one dish where the tomato 'tarator' actually worked for me - it made the bread a lot more tasty. The smoked sundried tomatoes were new to me - definitely nice to try.

The token salad was pretty nice. The tofu was the best part, although in stingy quantity (we counted 3 pieces):

Main course didn't quite hit the spot for me. It was good to see a lot more choice, but it was my least favourite part:
Aubergine Dengaku (v/gf) 14.50
Slow soft sake baked aubergine sizzled with tahini, sesame and white miso finish served with edamame and yuzu pesto, sesame ginger dressed Arame Wakame vegetable thread salad and a hibiscus, amchur, nori salt dusted puffed rice seaweed cracker.

Bison and Beet Rosti (gf/vo) 14.65
Crispy fried potato, onion and garlic rosti topped with sage baked butternut squash, walnut beetroot and smoked tomato tarator. Finished with fresh slipcote sheeps cheese and beetroot bison vodka sauce.
I've not tried one of their rostis before, which seem to be a standard part of the menu. Frankly, I don't really understand it - it's not something I associate with restaurant food. It also seemed to be an amalgamation of our starters - the same beatroot soup (without the strong vodka taste), some of the salad, tofu and a big splodge of the tomato paste.

It wasn't as much of a miss as last year's main course across the road at Aloka, but I wouldn't order it again - not for £15.

I can't really comment on @cherrivalentine's main as I don't really like aubergine very much! :)

The noodle salad with it was very good though - we've had it before as part of the meze and were pleased to see it again.

I was uncomfortably full by this point. There were 2 desserts, one of which was churros (which I personally don't understand - see previous post for details). I was delighted to see frangepane though:
Frangipane Sizzle Dates (gf/v) 6.85
with mint tea granita and lemon and mint pomegranate gazpacho.
A couple of years ago I had the most amazing frangipane at Terre a Terre - I've been looking forward to its return since. I was therefore disappointed to find when it arrived that it was actually just a couple of dates with paste inside:

This dessert really hit the spot though. The dates were warm, sticky and delicious. Honestly I don't think I could have fit a frangipane tart anyway! The crushed minty ice was refreshing and a perfect way to finish the meal. The pomegranate and berries were good too, although 'gazpacho' is a slight over exaggeration :)

I'm really pleased to see more vegan choice on Terre a Terre's menu. More desserts would be welcome though and an explanation of what the vegan option is on the menu would be extremely useful. Their substitutions are for the most part reasonable (unlike a recent trip to The Warehouse in Birmingham, where the dish just totally didn't work without the strong taste of cheese), but if you know what's coming then you can plan around duplication of ingredients.

We left feeling full and content - the bill was not at all bad considering the quality of food we'd eaten. Open a branch in The Midlands please!

Food for Friends (Brighton)

We stayed at Vegfest for about an hour, then went for a wander around Brighton (Steamer Trading and Heals). As it was particularly wet (and foggy!); both Starbucks and Costa were rammed.

I quickly realised that a better idea would be to get coffee and a dessert from a restaurant instead. It was at least 90 minutes before we'd booked Terre a Terre - plenty of time for a pre dinner snack.

I've not been to Food for Friends since 2002. I remember it being pretty good back then (and the first time I ever bought vegan cake that didn't look like it'd been made in a large rectangular pan in school canteen), but haven't been tempted back enough by their menu since.

This time though it looked actually pretty good - we'll definitely return for a full meal at some point.

Impressively; they have a couple of options on their afternoon tea menu - a vegan cake and vegan scones (I'm not sure why this is impressive come to think of it, but most vegetarian restaurants don't).

We skipped the tea menu though and ordered a couple of desserts off the standard menu:
Rich dark chocolate truffle torte (V,N) £5.95
baked on a hazelnut biscuit base served with berry compote

Hot cinnamon apple and pear fritters (V,GF,S) £5.95
with vanilla icecream and a sweet sesame sauce
Service was polite and efficient, atmosphere good.

@cherrivalentine didn't want to give the torte up when we swapped half way through. Uninspiring as a concept (just about every v*gan restaurant has sold it at one time or another), but a seriously good effort. It wasn't obviously tofu or tofutti cream cheese based - it didn't have any weird hippy flavours either, just rich velvety chocolate. It didn't look like it'd be smooth but it was - it melted beautifully in the mouth and even the base didn't fall apart:

In comparison however; the fritters sounded fucking boring.

It's the token dessert that Chinese restaurants sell, knowing full well that diners will be far too stuffed to ever order it. We chose it anyway (for research purposes) and I agreed to go first:

In a word; they were fucking amazing (that's two, I realise).

Great taste, well balanced, simple yet complex enough flavour, perfect consistency, crisp, light, refreshing.

Completely unexpected; they were potentially the best thing I tasted all day. I would totally order these again.

(that awkward moment when you swap plates, hoping that no one will notice; immortalised in photograph):

For 6 quid each; Food for Friends' desserts are exceptionally good quality for the money. It's everything that Mildreds should be, but isn't.

As previously stated; we'll definitely return for a full meal in the future.

Brighton Vegfest

Having been to many vegan festivals over the past 12 years; I've not frequently them so much recently.

I find it difficult to get excited about of bunch of stalls in an overcrowded room. Isn't that what the Internet was invented for?

Samples are good, but products are either available in shops or they aren't, and it's cheaper to just buy products to try them out than travel across the country to get an eighth of a mouthful for free.

Festivals are and always have been an excuse to meet up with some folk you don't get to see often, pick up a few bargains and then go for dinner. I used to enjoy the London vegan festivals back when there was a bar and a group of people I knew who'd all get smashed at 2pm and we'd sit around outside for the afternoon.

Visiting a couple of West Mids vegan festivals in Wolverhampton is enough to put anyone off for life. Far, far, far too many people, half of whom appear to have randomly wandered in off the street to eat an entire meal in free samples; blocking off anyone else's attempts to get to the front. Both times I didn't make it past 15 minutes before it was time to leave!

I realise this probably makes me sound like a complete snob, but so be it :) I've met many lovely vegans over the years in other circumstances, but at festivals it just turns into a fake cheese frenzied mob. There's no form of politeness or queuing system - it's everyone for themselves in the rush for the samples.

It wasn't until just before 12pm that we decided that Vegfest was in fact enough of an excuse to drive 150 miles for a meal at Terre a Terre. The weather was shite and we've run out of places to visit within 50 miles of Veggie World now. We booked dinner for 6pm and arrived at about 2.45pm.

We did a particularly crap job of meeting up with various people we know, but ran into a few anyway. We stayed for about an hour, then headed into Brighton.

I gave up waiting for the Vegusto stand. I tried a few times, but each time there were people hogging the samples, with clearly no intent of letting anyone else near. I did get to the Bessant & Drury stand though. @cherrivalentine thought it was disgusting. I thought it was edible, but in no way a threat to Swedish Glace.

Seriously; why recreate what already exists and is readily available, when what the UK is really crying out for is US Turtle Mountain style icecream?

I picked up a box of spacebars (£15 for 20) and a fake kebab. It was good, but not up to Vebab standards (a company that appeared at the '05 Birmingham Vegan Festival and hasn't been seen since):

We got some half price Yaoh suncream (the current bottles I have were bought in 2006 - that's how sunny it is the UK) and a load of Jason baby products. The Jason guy didn't seem to be on the same planet as everyone else - it was difficult getting any info out of him about their products. His maths skills were also questionable - 4 for £20 is not a better deal than 2 for £10. Still, £5 a bottle is better than normal.

Overall though; Vegfest was actually not that bad. There were a decent number of influential vendors there and it wasn't too crowded. I'd question whether it's worth traveling a large distance for, but as excuse to go to Brighton before/after it's perfect :)

Manna V (Primrose Hill, London)

With ever decreasing standards of vegan food in central London; I've started exploring into the outer reaches of Zone 2. Despite the lack of tube station (a walk from Chalf Farm or £10 taxi from Marylebone) I'm pleased to say that Manna Vegetarian in Primrose Hill is well worth the effort.

Having visited alone after work one day a month ago I was impressed enough to drive back down with @cherrivalentine today for Sunday lunch. Though relatively close to Marylebone (where I often catch trains to/from on weekdays), it's not open at lunch times and is just a little too far for grabbing food from in a hurry. A shame too; it's far, far nicer than anything in Zone 1.

I was particularly impressed by their ravioli, which despite being more pastry than pasta like is the best I've tasted.

Today we started off our meal with a Meze to share - a selection of 3 starters for £20 (usually £24):
basil & cashew cheese croquettes (v)(n)(gf option) £8
served on a bed of watercress & pea sprouts with our homemade chilli jam

ravioli (v)(n) £8
a crisped ravioli filled with wild mushroom & walnut pâté with fennel cream sauce, sundried tomato pesto & balsamic reduction - also available as a full pasta main dish

raw maki rolls (v)(gf) £8
raw 'riced' parsnip, carrots beetroot and avocado, served with tamari, pickled ginger and wasabi pea coulis
The Ravioli looks more like Jamaican patties than ravioli and the pasta unlike any I've tried before, but the overall effect is seriously good! With the filling, sauce and rocket this is my favourite thing they do. Worth noting however - despite being told that each of the 3 starters are full portion on the Meze platter - there was two ravioli this time not three. Therefore it's possibly more cost effective to order 3 starters (if you want 3 starters!).

Considering they're raw; the nori rolls are extremely impressive. I've tasted better rice based ones before, but change is good. The wasabi dip was good too - definitely wasabi but sweeter and ever so slightly less potent.

The croquettes looked like Terre a Terre's corn cakes, but taste a lot nicer. Manna's homemade cheese is possibly better than Saf's!

@cherrivalentine went for the Sunday roast for mains; I went for the sausage and mash:
cashew roast (v)
high protein roast recipe served with a balancing rich, homemade gravy and seasonal, freshly selected roasted potatoes & lightly cooked root & green leaf or sprouted vegetables

organic bangers and mash (v) £14
organic fennel and pumpkin seed sausages on a bed of parsnip & carrot mas h served with cavalo nero on a red wine, leek & thyme jus
Manna certainly can't be accused of small portion sizes! Between us we couldn't finish it. The roast itself was seriously good though, the veg so so. The jus was a little too rich, but I'm picking. We'd order it again, but have one less starter :)

The bangers and mash score 10/10 for presentation! Taste wise they were more a 6/10 - on a par with those from the nearly identical dish from The Warehouse in Birmingham. It's good to try new sausage flavours and definite effort had gone into the mash. For me there was too much kale, not enough gravy and too much oil on the onion rings. Next time I'm trying something different.

Last time I had their enchilada casserole, which tasted great but was just a little too stodgy. I took a photo on my iphone, but it isn't good enough to post ;)

Completely stuffed; we shared a pudding between us:
mexican chili chocolate cake (v) £8
served with avacado chocolate ganache, tequila lime sorbet raspberry coulis & grenadine coulis
It took 20 minutes to come and was the least impressive of the dishes. The cake was pretty average - the ganache just a thin layer. Overall the flavours didn't fight each other, but it wasn't a marriage made in heaven.

Last time (again the pic looks crap) I went for their banoffee sundae. It was huge and looked fantastic! Flavour wise it was pretty decent - I'm still waiting for a restaurant to serve an actual banoffee pie though (then I'll be impressed!).

Manna has room for improvement, but its already entered my top 5 favourite restaurants in London (possibly my top 10 worldwide). It's great to find another place that makes its own vegan cheese, with good atmosphere and more exciting menu than standard cafe offering.

It's almost Terre a Terre standard, but more experimental and with much better vegan choice.

I'll be returning many times.