Those who follow Canny Food on Twitter (if not, why not?!) will have seen a recent tweet concerning a meal I had at Toby Carvery. I have blogged about the vegan menu at Toby in the past and always been positive about our experiences. While it isn’t haute cuisine, I’ve always felt it was good value for money and they seemed to think a little harder about their menu than other chains we’d visited.
This experience was a farce from start to finish. I will be writing up a post about it, but in the meantime these photos of my dessert(s) act as a testament to how badly I fared during the visit. I was served what resembled cowpat with a side of dairy, despite the pudding labelled as vegan on the menu. The replacement dish was little better, although it was free from animal products (I presume).
It got me thinking about the lacklustre meals I’ve endured since I became vegan. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some incredible culinary experiences and I don’t regret my decision to put the lives of animals ahead of my own palate. Off the top of my head I can think of stellar meals at Harmonium in Edinburgh and trying out French food in New York that blew my mind. That said, when you pay £9 for the starter salad above from 21 in Newcastle or £15 for a plate of potatoes and mushrooms at a hotel we were staying in recently (reviews coming soon) you start to question whether your own attitude towards food needs to adjust or whether kitchens across the country need to up their game.
Too many times I’ve seen people excuse these poor performances. ‘At least they’re accommodating’, is often the retort. If I did my job incorrectly every day and turned round to my boss and said ‘At least I’m showing up!’ I can guess what the response would be! I understand food is subjective and what I find substandard, others may think is the best meal of their lives. Experience, tastes, and expectations all form part of this. I don’t think as a community we can routinely accept less than what vegetarians and meat eaters are served as standard in restaurants, however. In order for veganism to gain more traction and be seen as viable in the ‘foodie’ scene we should be voicing our disdain at the chefs serving this half arsed grub. Who else is fed up of falafel and sorbet? I’m pretty sure I am! It’s almost like a ticking box exercise for some places. ‘There’s a salad so the vegans are covered’ is a conversation I’m sure takes place.
It isn’t just non-vegan joints to blame either. Many will remember my chagrin at paying £6 for this tiny pizza above that looked (and tasted) little better than a supermarket Basics version in a vegan cafe in Durham earlier in the year. I’ve seen people actively recommending this place since on Facebook. What gives? Am I a snob for thinking this was sh*t? How about this from The Glasvegan? I played a game of ‘Home or Restaurant’ with this pathetic looking burger on social media and the majority of voters thought it was created by my own fair hands than by those who make a living out of cooking. It isn’t enough that they are serving vegan food. With more choices than ever those who have been ahead of the game and perhaps resting on their laurels need to pull their socks up and offer a better standard and more create dishes if they want to stay relevant in the future. Of course I want to support local vegan businesses as I want to promote this way of life but there are times when I can’t do it, ethics aside. I can’t recommend a restaurant, vegan or otherwise, if I don’t think the food is up to standard I’d expect from someone who has trained or does this as a career. It seems most places will now knock you up a vegan burger or tomato pasta and charge you through the nose for the privilege. Funny that. Whether it’s a chain or an independent, I’m looking for food that lives up to its promise and shows imagination.
I also started pondering over the fact many restaurants have a nifty disclaimer at the bottom of their vegan option-lite menus saying that allergies and dietary requirements may be accommodated with advance notice. We’ve played this game before and have had some lovely meals as a result of me phoning in advance. But with the seeming ease we can dine out these days, should we really have to do this? Surely most kitchens will have enough ingredients to hand, and enough imagination, to adapt dishes without 2 days notice.
The Vegan Society advises contacting A WEEK ahead of dining out in non-vegan restaurants. Really?! Unless you’re planning a special occasion who even knows what they want to eat that far in the future! With dairy and egg allergies AN ACTUAL THING, why aren’t more establishments taking this seriously. I don’t think it is just vegans and those with life-threatening conditions that are marginalised as if we like our scran any less than Johnny Meat Eater. I’ve seen a Michelin starred restaurant say that they will not accommodate vegetarians! How elitist is this? You have to eat the flesh of other animals or you aren’t deserving of this kitchen’s time. Your money isn’t good enough here. It blows my mind that in this day and age that some chefs still have this rigid view towards food.
That said, I would rather a restaurant say they won’t bother their backsides to cook for us than churn out inferior vegan dishes. If their heart isn’t in it, that’s up to them. There’s definitely a willing market out there to pay good money for (sometimes) average food you could probably knock up in your own kitchen. This plate of slop, pictured above, was part of a raved about vegan menu from Hungry Horse. I walked out at the sorry plight of this. Please, stop accepting crappy food. We deserve better. Vegan food can be every bit as – if not more – tasty than a chunk of cow.
Thanks for reading,
I’d love to know what others think about this! Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.