THIN END OF THE VEG (ARTICLE)
Words, words, words. I have to admit it: I do like words. Even small words with only a few letters.
Here are some good words. Cake, that’s a very good word. Or how about a longer word: chocolate? Another very good word, indeed.
Some of my favourite words can even be built into charming little phrases like “vegan cake,” or, better still, “free vegan cake.”
So, it may not be too surprising to learn that two of my favourite phrases are “all-you-can-eat” and “vegan buffet.” Put these two together and they instantly become one of my very favourite phrases in the whole of the English language.
So why then, do I now find myself wanting to have words with the owners of the all-you-can-eat vegan buffet places in London?
Some years ago, a new chain of establishments, specialising in Chinese and Thai vegan cuisine, started popping up all over the London. These places, which normally had names with three letters: eg Tao, Veg and Joy, though small in name, offered a huge selection of vegan buffet delights.
Such buffets would host a mixture of hot and cold delicacies. Some, such as the much-missed Joy buffet in Percy Street, offered such a huge selection of salad items in their buffet that raw-food eaters could happily go in and chow down alongside their vegan cooked food-eating companions.
For the cooked food cabinet boasted all manner of hot vegan savouries: from spring rolls, sesame toast and vegetable dumplings, through to hearty tofu and wheat-based main dishes in a variety of flavoursome sauces.
And, even though such dishes were labelled “fish in black bean sauce” and “sweet and sour chicken,” vegan and vegetarian diners could happily eat in there, knowing that the nearest that the “fish” ever got to the sea was the small ribbon of seaweed which surrounded its wheat-filled interior and that the “sweet and sour chicken” was nothing more than a tasty amalgamation of soya pieces served in a delicious, pineapple sauce.
Once, in a rare moment of rebellion, I even ordered at one such veggie restaurant a dish with the somewhat unappetising name of “Pork Belly”. Not the ideal choice for a vegan normally, but happy in the knowledge that I was going to be pigging out on nothing more harmful than a large piece of wheat gluten and vegetables, I was more than happy to make a pig of myself.
Now, many people are divided as to whether or not vegans and vegetarians should even be eating mock meat in the first place. Give up eating meat for mock meat: isn’t that just a mockery? But, I, for one, find such places are good venues to take meat-eating friends; those who are transitioning from meat-eating to vegetarianism/veganism and those who say “But I could never give up eating meat,” as well as being a tasty place for vegans and vegetarians to eat anyway. Surely, if there is a delicious, acceptable substitute out there, then people will have to agree that, yes, they can give up eating meat, be healthy and save many animals’ lives in the process.
I have to admit, though, that even I had to draw the line at some of the too-realistic looking prawns on offer at some of the vegan buffets. It was in vain that the owners assured me that they were made of nothing other than wheat, seaweed, spices and colouring. But still, some associations are just a bit too strong. Shellfish of me, perhaps, but still ….
In any case, the beauty of the Chinese vegan buffets was that they offered such a huge variety that even if people really didn’t want to eat mock meats, they could still more than amply compensate by tucking into a whole range of vegetable dishes such as fried aubergine slices, spicy curries, broccoli dishes, assorted salads and of course, oodles of noodles.
So then, imagine my disappointment on learning that some of these esteemed vegan buffet places have now started to introduce meat into their buffets.
Real meat and not just pieces of soya dressed up and labelled for the occasion.
Meat made from real animals. It just doesn’t bear thinking about. As if there weren’t enough buffet places offering meat all over London anyway.
And, of all the vegan buffets which have started to adopt this unfortunate practice, it was with particular sadness that I learned that the Thai buffet in Golders Green, have now also decided to go down the “Let them eat meat” route.
The Thai buffet has been located in Golders Green, with its large Jewish population, for many years and, until now, has been a safe eating venue where Jews, vegetarians and vegans alike could happily eat, safe in the knowledge that all the food on offer was pure, vegan and wholesome and compliant with any dietary and religious restrictions.
So, imagine the confusion of diners now going in there, thinking they are choosing a fake meat option and then finding out that the “sweet and sour chicken” they have chosen is actually sweet and sour chicken. Made from a real chicken.
Yes, they have put up a label saying Meat section, and say they are keeping the meat dishes well away from the dishes in the Vegetarian section but, still, if you’re in a rush, and are used to the old ways, well, you can imagine the unfortunate results that could ensue.
Certainly, the thought of meat being served in a vegan buffet just makes me lose my appetite and the owners the future custom of myself and many other like-minded people.
And then, there’s the whole issue of possible cross-contamination in the kitchen, and the fact that going in there means supporting and paying for an establishment that uses meat. Why, it all rather leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Guys, this is the thin end of the veg. Meat is creeping in where it shouldn’t be doing so and I, for one, am not happy about it at all.
In the meantime, though, if you would like to visit some places in London which offer a fully vegan buffet (as well as a la carte), then I would recommend the chain of Loving Hut* restaurants, which are located in London in Mornington Crescent, Archway and Edgware and also in Brighton and Norwich. This chain is always vegan and is also international. I myself have been fortunate enough to dine out at some of their branches in Malaga, Spain; Malaysia and Florida in the US. The food is always excellent, has a huge variety and meat is never, ever on the menu.
Other Chinese vegan buffet places In London which are still 100% vegan at the time of writing include the Qing* in Camden Town and Jai* in Old Compton Street.
And, if Chinese and Thai buffet places are not quite to your taste, then may I recommend the delicious healthy buffets on offer at two particular favourite vegan restaurants of mine:
222* Vegetarian Vegan restaurant in West Kensington offers a wonderful selection of dishes in their lunch-time buffet such as carrot tart and aubergine moussaka.
Vitao* in Wardour Street serves a tasty and mainly organic vegan buffet as well as many raw options http://www.vitao.co.uk
So, as I say, I do like words. So I will be having words with the owners of the Thai buffet place in Golders Green, very polite words indeed.
For it is my belief that if we act now, we can persuade them to change back to being 100% vegan. I do hope so, otherwise I’ll just have to eat my words.
*For places offering a vegan buffet in London.
Loving Hut: Morning Crescent, Brighton, Norwich: http://www.lovinghut.co.uk
Loving Hut: Archway: http://archway.lovinghut.co.uk
Loving Hut: Edgware: http://edgware.lovinghut.co.uk/
Qing 6 Kentish Town Road, Camden London NW1 9NX
Jai, 33 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1D 5JU.
Vitao Restaurant, 74 Wardour St London, Greater London W1F 0TE
020 0207 734 8986 http://www.vitao.co.uk
222 Veggie Vegan Restaurant
222 North End Road, West Kensington
London W14 9NU
020 7381 2322
Lunch buffet 12:00 – 15:30
For more vegan and vegetarian places to eat in London, visit Vegan London at www.veganlondon.co.uk
For the book ,Vegetarian London – new edition coming out soon – and other books featuring vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the UK and abroad, please visit Vegetarian Guides at: http://www.vegetarianguides.co.uk
For more information on veganism, visit the Vegan Society at :www.vegansociety.com