Restaurant review: The Field, London Fields

Asparagus velouté, red cabbage ravioli, gravy that could wean Super Hans off crack… a new vegan spot that actually ISN’T doing fast food

The Field, 358-360 Westgate St, London E8 3RN (07736 670367). Five-course tasting menu for two, including drinks: £84

*Journalistic integrity announcement: one of the chefs here is a friend of a friend. This has not tempered any of my opinions*

★★★★☆

Joanna Lumley once said, when it comes to vegetarian and vegan food, don’t bully, tempt. And London has answered her call – with the all day breakfast pie and mash at Young Vegans, fried chicken at Temple of Seitan, peanut butter ice cream sandwiches at Cookies and Scream

However, there isn’t so much in the way of refined vegan food. Something a bit lighter than Purezza’s sourdough balls filled with hot cheese and emotions (which, incidentally, are not a wise order on a first date).

Then comes along the vegan tasting menu at The Field, at London Fields in Hackney. The concept is that you can add a meat or fish option to two courses if you fancy. I didn’t, because I’m vegan, if you hadn’t noticed.

First off was a mezze plate – sourdough painted in sweet, umami mushroom coconut butter; a super-smooth cashew butter; toasty sunflower seed lavash (like a cracker); beetroot dip; and spicy harissa.

It was all a bit thicker, richer, smoother, just better than the vegan food I make at home, or the stuff in tubs and jars.Mezze platter

Next was asparagus velouté with asparagus, almonds, puffed spelt, herb oil and tiny cubes of pickled courgette. It was like a mathematical exercise in gastronomic balance: crunchy spelt vs smooth velouté, bitter almond vs sweet asparagus, fat of the oil vs acid in the pickle. My vegetable-fearing friend declared asparagus was now on his list of edible greens. A+.

Velouté, meaning velvety, is usually (but not always) made with cream and butter, so to get the richness across without them is impressive. My only negative is that I prefer it when it’s not foamy at all, and this was a little.

This was followed by pasta – warm agnolotti, with a lot of heat from black pepper. In the middle was caramelised orange and cabbage reduced until it had this great tear-apart bundle of hay texture. The mild tofu sauce was just a foil to mop up everything else. The pasta dough was not as soft as your average, but with the pine nuts and freshness from raw red cabbage and herbs, I could have had seconds and eaten everyone else’s too.

The celeriac with a nori (seaweed) and olive crumb, in mushroom broth, was the only course I didn’t love. Mushrooms were missing umami and depth of flavour and the broth was a bit watery. There was a strong taste of the sea with sea veg (also seaweed) but it wasn’t balanced by the other flavours. The celeriac needed some serious roasting until it does that amazing sticky, caramelised thing.

The meatiest course was a cauliflower steak with a sticky gravy that could wean Super Hans off crack, made from reduced root veg and cumin. I would buy that gravy by the bucket.

A warm caramelised yeast sauce was beautifully smooth and the cauliflower was roasted properly, without fear.

The last course was basically a magic trick on the theme of of sweetcorn – a custard tart where the custard was made from only blended corn and sugar, with salted caramel popcorn. Even my dairy-eating friends were convinced.

As for drinks, the wine list is vegan and we had a Folle Blanche for £25, or they have Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club if you want vegan beer.

It came to £42 for the five courses and drinks, plus the bonus mezze plate and a granita. It’s not cheap and isn’t far off the £35 five-course vegan menu at Marcus Wareing’s Tredwells in Covent Garden. But I was happy to pay for it as a treat, and particularly to support a new restaurant that is somehow making British vegan food classy.

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A Chick Flick: Rescuing battery hens and why you should only buy organic eggs

In November, my sister Hannah took in four battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust. They looked skeletal and raw, having spent their lives inside in the dark with no space to stretch their wings.

But now three of them are doing great and it’s wonderful to see them running up to greet visitors, exploring, dust-bathing and generally being crazy chickens. Sadly one died early on, not used to the cold.

Hannah and I made a video to highlight just how much difference a bit of care and space makes to their lives. The take-home message is that we shouldn’t be eating chicken and eggs that come from cages.

And even free-range systems vary so much that hens could still spend most of their lives crammed in dark barns.

In the first three months of 2018, according to Defra, 45% of eggs in the UK were still from caged hens while 51% were free range.

The solution is to either buy organic eggs, which have higher animal welfare standards, or avoid eggs and chicken entirely. I really find it hard to believe that (even drunk at 2am in the chicken shop) anyone would want to eat the eggs or meat that came from hens that looked like Hannah’s did.

 

Cheesy nachos with cajun British black badger peas

This is my all-time favourite dinner. When I first discovered nutritional yeast I was pretty excited, but that was nothing compared to when I found out how make it into a supremely cheesy sauce — using mostly potatoes and carrots?! It sounds mad but seriously, try it. Plus it takes the guilt factor out of eating a huge plate of melted cheese.  See ya, raclette.

Lately I’ve been trying to source as much of my food as possible from organic British growers. Pesticides (variations of which are used to make nerve gases and bombs) are what is behind the prediction that some of our soils have only 30 to 40 years of harvests left.

We’re only just starting to clock their effect on our health, and they’ve certainly killed wildlife and even people in farms around the world. We absolutely depend on wildlife as part of the ecosystem to grow food, so at some point our chemical addiction has to be addressed or we won’t be able to grow anything to feed ourselves.

Getting an organic veg box is an easy, delicious way to help, and I’ve started ordering organic pulses online from Hodmedod’s, who are bringing back some really great ancient British peas and grains.

So here’s my recipe for nachos with vegan cheesy sauce, cajun black badger peas and a green chilli coriander salsa.

RECIPE

Feeds 4

Ingredients

** The black badgers need to be soaked overnight **

For the cheese sauce

  • 125g carrot (approx. one)
  • 250g potato (approx. one big one)
  • 125ml water
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25g nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves of garlic

For the nachos 

  • 6 tortilla wraps

For the black badgers

  • 200g dried black badgers (carlin peas) or black beans
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 tbsps vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsps paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt

For the salsa

  • 3 small green chillies, go for the variety that suits you for hotness
  • Bunch of coriander, about 30g
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 4 tbsps water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Squeeze of lime juice

Extras

Spring onions, jalapenos, sweetcorn, tomato, limes — but try to go for what’s seasonal! Spring onions are good at the end of winter.

Method

1. Soak the black badgers overnight in plenty of water. Rinse and cover again with water plus 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, bring to the boil then turn the heat down low and cover. Cook for 40-60 minutes until soft.

2. Meanwhile, start on the cheese sauce. Peel and roughly chop the potato and carrot into same-sized chunks and boil for 15-20 mins until soft. Don’t overcook or the sauce will go floury!

3. Drain then blend the potato and carrots with the rest of the ingredients, using a hand blender or nutribullet. You could mash it but the garlic would need to be crushed into a paste.

4. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ 390F/ gas mark 6

5. To finish off the beans, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions over a fairly high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add all the herbs and spices, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the cooked beans and fry until everything is really crispy. Add any more salt, spices, herbs or oil to taste along the way, the black badgers are great for taking on flavour.

6. Cut the tortilla wraps into triangles and bake in the oven on trays for 10 minutes. Try not to overlap them too much or they won’t crisp up as well.

7. For the salsa, blend all the ingredients together, or chop really finely omitting the water.

8. Assemble — start with the nachos, add the cheese sauce, then black badgers, salsa and any extras. This would also be great reimagined as wraps for packed lunches.

 

Marmite and peanut latkes

I love Marmite so much I once wrote an embarrassing song about it in response to an Amanda Palmer song about her hatred of Vegemite. Just call me Joan Marmiterading. (Sorry.)

Anyway Amanda retweeted it and my life was made.

I’ve now invented a way of getting the salty sticky toffee coffee stuff into a latke, which is the more trendy and pretentious way of saying ‘hash brown’. I went rogue and added peanut butter (although I’m very unsure about the provenance of all nuts and don’t know if they’re ethical, can anyone help?!)

I think tahini would also work instead of peanut butter, and a fried free-range, organic egg would make it even better, if you eat eggs. I just went with wilted spinach and vegan mayo. Here’s the recipe, feel free to write a song about it.

RECIPE

Makes 6 latkes

Ingredients

  • 1lb floury potatoes (three medium sized), peeled
  • 1 onion
  • 25g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsps Marmite
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter, crunchy or smooth, Fairtrade and organic is best
  • 2 tbsps water
  • 5 tbsps sunflower or rapeseed oil

Method

  1. Grate the potato and grate or finely chop the onion. Squeeze it all in a teatowel or muslin until as much water as possible has come out. Wait a minute and then squeeze out more.
  2. Mix with the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
  3. Gently heat the peanut butter and Marmite in a pan with the water and one of the tbsps of oil. Stir until you have a well-mixed paste.
  4. Stir quickly into the potato mixture before it cools and hardens then shape into 6 patties about 2 centimetres thick.
  5. In a non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsps oil over a medium heat and fry half of the latkes for three minutes on each side until good and brown. You can sacrifice one to check it’s cooked in the middle, cook for another minute if not. Repeat with the remaining oil and latkes.
  6. Write a song about them.

Vegan herby dumplings and onion soup

Let’s talk butter. Beurre noisette, almond croissants, madeleines, hollandaise, Nigella’s Marmite butter pasta… this is essentially a list of my life’s greatest moments. My corpulent childhood golden labrador once ate half a pound of butter when our backs were turned and I can’t say I blame her. 

So it is with a very heavy heart that I have cut it out, after learning that it is one of the most carbon intensive foods around. Since going vegan, I have been trying to find recipes where I can replace it without feeling like I’m missing out on life. Cold-pressed rapeseed and sunflower are the oils with the smallest carbon footprints and have roughly a quarter of the footprint of butter. Read this article for a great environmental comparison of butter and margarine. 

Enter steamed dumplings. They are partly about high fat content, traditionally from suet, but mostly about texture – fluffy and doughy.

To make them I swapped butter for margarine in this herby dumpling recipe. I steamed them for 25 minutes in a huge cast iron pot of onion soup subbing beef stock for veggie and using nice white wine.

The only vegan margarine I can find that uses sustainable palm oil is Biona sunflower spread, but it’s expensive at £3.49 for a 500g tub. I can’t find any margarines that don’t use palm oil at all. I tried to bypass margarine and use rapeseed oil on its own but it was a massive fail. 

I used Flora Freedom (£1.80 for 500g) which has sustainable palm oil label of sorts – its parent company Unilever says it plans to source its oil completely sustainably by 2019. A big part of the problem is a transparent supply chain but by the end of this year they aim to have full traceability. It’s not perfect but it’s better than most others, which make no promises at all to end deforestation and treat workers fairly. 

RECIPE

Makes 14 medium sized dumplings

Ingredients

  • 140g cold margarine, diced
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs – try parsley, thyme and sage or chives

Method

  1. Rub the marg into the flour with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the herbs, plus salt and pepper. Drizzle over 150ml water, and stir in quickly with a cutlery knife to form a light dough. Shape into 14 ping pong sized balls.
  2. 25 minutes before your soup or stew is cooked, place the dumplings on top, put the lid on and steam.

 

Restaurant review: World Vegan Month at Foxlow

Upmarket meaty chain flirts with veganism

Foxlow, 8-10 Lower James St, Soho, London W1F 9EL (020 7680 2710). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £26

★★★★☆

The best thing about eating in Foxlow, to be completely honest, is that you can get two courses for £10 on their veggie/ vegan menu. This, and the copper hanging lamps, teal subway tiles and gold table edging, give succour to the budget-ailed diner who would like to pretend she regularly meets friends for lunch in Soho.

For £3 more you can drink bottomless filter coffee until the caffeine buzz becomes unbearable, at which point you have pretty much won London.

Foxlow is a small chain of restaurants for meat lovers. It is the sister of steak chain Hawksmoor and its usual lunch fare includes rare breed ribs for starters and ribeye for mains. Not a place, then, where you would expect a vegan menu. But lo, in honour of World Vegan Month this November, Foxlow has devised one.

Kale, avocado & fresh herb salad, and carrot houmous with carrot top pesto and sourdough

We started with a smoky, creamy carrot houmous, on slices of sourdough, and a leafy pile of kale, avocado and herb salad. The houmous had a nice hit of tahini, which went nicely with carrot top pesto and pumpkin seeds. The kale was vinegary, offset by the avocado, and came with a meagre amount of squash. As it goes, the avocado, having been flown to the UK from lands afar, would have been unnecessary had there been more squash, which is in season and abundant in our own country.

Aubergine ‘steak’ with wild mushrooms and vegan béarnaise sauce, and spice-roasted cauliflower with chickpeas, wilted spinach and curried aubergine sauce

The aubergine steak sure looked like steak, and would please most people to whom the heavily lentilled vegan aesthetic does not appeal. As a meaty restaurant, it makes sense to ground the vegan menu in familiar territory, where diners don’t roll their eyes at descriptions of nut roast and tofu and the like.

The sauce was nice and sweet, the mushrooms added to the umami meaty vibe and and the béarnaise was cleverly veganised, although nothing will ever replace the taste of butter. I would only add that it could do with a side of veg or chips, which I suppose is my fault for not foreseeing.

The cauliflower, in the running for 2017’s most fashionable vegetable, was wonderful thanks to the sauces. The curried aubergine one tasted a bit like HP, and a cauliflower puree brought creamy goodness. The attention to detail of the spicing and seasoning was obvious and the fried chickpeas and wilted spinach helped mop the sauces up.

It’s worth pointing out that on the Thursday that I went to Foxlow with a friend, we turned up at 1pm without booking and were seated straight away. There are other branches in Balham, Chiswick and Clerkenwell.

Foxlow has a 3-star Sustainable Restaurant Association rating – the highest. The rating is based on ingredient sourcing, looking after workers, and caring for the environment. The introduction of more veggie/ vegan options is the cherry on top, given that beef, Foxlow’s specialty, is such a greenhouse gas-intensive food. Even better, rumour has it the dishes are staying put.

 

Restaurant review: Tibits

King of the veggie/ vegan buffet

Tibits, 12-14 Heddon Street, London W1B 4DA (0207 758 4112). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £46

★★★★☆

If you’re walking down Regent Street and realise you haven’t breathed normally in several minutes in an effort to dodge everyone, take a diversion down Heddon Street. It’s the type of street that Muggles don’t notice – you wouldn’t know there was anything to discover unless you were looking for it.

Suddenly you’re in a leafy enclave of restaurants, with strings of lightbulbs overhead. On a half-hot September day you can eat outside and forget about the bustle.

Tibits is king of vegetarian and vegan buffet. The food is so appealing because 1) it’s instant, just like Yo Sushi and 2) the quality and variety is excellent.

When I went on a Sunday lunchtime, there was a pleasant chattery thrum oozing out of the open windows. An oval table in the centre of the restaurant is filled with hot plates and salad dishes.

You pay by weight (£25/kg). So I set about filling up my plate with a little bit of everything…

  • gnocchi verde
  • beer battered onion rings
  • carrot salad
  • vegetable tartare
  • orecchiette pasta salad with tofu, olives and sundried tomato
  • houmous and za’atar
  • okra tempura
  • dried bean salad with a walnut coriander dressing (wait for it, this was unbelievably the best part)
  • rocket

IMG_2222 (1)

The gnocchi was a little overcooked and starchy but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to carry on eating it for the rest of the day. It comes in a creamy sauce with spinach, leek and basil, which was heaven. The onion rings were sweet and juicy and dangerously addictive. The carrot salad was not naked and sidelined but has its own secret recipe dressing.

Veg tartare had an odd carroty flavour but the tomatoey orecchiette salad was better. The houmous was one of the best ones I’ve had. Tempura okra was great, if you like okra.

But hold on. The best bit, incredibly, was the dried string bean salad. Nope, I’ve never heard of dried string beans either. They don’t look particularly special but the texture was so good and rubbery in a really, really good way? The garlic, walnut, coriander, onion, balsamic sauce – just yes.

The recipe is actually online here. Thank you Tibits.

… and that’s not all.

Vegan pudding. I know what you’re thinking. But oh my, the chocolate molten pudding AND sticky toffee pudding made me all fuzzy inside. They were squidgy and gooey and cakey and datey and saucy. I actually wrote down the word ‘PHENOM’ in my notebook.

I had them with a vegan mocha cream, which was thick, delicious and what a hippy Nigella Lawson would adore.

So now you know about Tibits, don’t be a Muggle.

5 of my favourite vegan recipes for Veganuary

If you’re one of the 80,000 who have signed up to Veganuary this year, help is at hand! These are five recipes that I would be making if I was vegan or not.

Of all the mainstream diets, veganism has the lowest impact on the planet. Going veggie is a huge help but dairy often has a bigger carbon footprint than chicken or eggs. This paper by Oxford University academics suggests vegan diets have half the greenhouse gas emissions of normal meat diets.

So keep going, you’re doing a great thing!

1. Jamie’s vegan shepherd’s pie 

The list of ingredients is a little long but I couldn’t believe how good it tastes. It has protein in the pulses to fill you up, and you can add vegan cheese to the top while the pie is cooking if you’re missing dairy. I’m usually very suspicious of vegan cheese but when it’s melted it all seems to be much nicer!

2. Vegan cheese sauce for nachos (or cauliflower cheese)

This one is going to seem mad but I can’t tell you enough how good it is. The combination of potatoes, carrots and nutritional yeast seems improbable — but it works and the best thing is, it’s so much healthier than actual cheese!

For dinner, I cut tortilla wraps into triangles, bake them in the oven for 10 minutes until toasted, pour the cheese sauce over the top and add salsa, jalapenos, refried beans and anything else vaguely Mexican. Do it.

3. Romesco sauce

I am forever sharing the recipe for this smokey red pepper, tomato, almond and paprika dip. I’ve taken it to pretty much every party I’ve ever been to. It also involves barely any cooking and makes for great packed lunches with roast veg and roast chickpeas.

4. BBQ baked beans

Another one of Jamie’s, serve it with or without vegan cheese and coconut yoghurt on the side. It’s great for the slow cooker and would go well with veggie sausages too.

5. Oatly oat milk

Okay this last one’s not a recipe but it’s important! Finding the best alt milk for tea has become a weird hobby of mine. The Barista version of Oatly’s oat milk is super creamy, goes perfectly in tea and coffee and has the most naturally milky taste in my opinion. It’s also great in porridge and smoothies.

The company’s ethics are sound and they grow all their organic oats in Sweden so you know the provenance of the ingredients isn’t dodgy.