Southend doesn’t have the glamour of other chi-chi seaside resorts like your Whitstables and your Southwolds, but I take to it more, with its massive theme park “Adventure Island“, absurdly long pier ending in a lifeboat station and great views, and lots of arcades.
It’s not fancy, it’s about good salty seaside fun with enough confidence in its old-world charms to attract beach fans. It’s an hour from London and the journey is a good one too, out into the Thames Estuary past the RSPB reserve at Purfleet and via the mysterious world of Canvey Island. Wild places leading to this rough jewel on the coast.
Much as I love Southend, it’s never served us well as vegans…or so I thought until I discovered Bobby Jo’s, a diner with a menu including a full suite of dedicated vegan options.
Bobby Jo’s is a lovely retro place where each booth is named after a 50s icon and the colour scheme is baby blue and pink. It rises above the glut of London’s faux-vintage diners by being staffed by boys who look like they actually come from the 50s, and a seaside setting just down from the legendary Kursaal where it’s easy to imagine greasers putting a coin in the jukebox, tapping their fingers on chrome, and readying for a parade along the sea roads. It opened just a few years back but it feels like true vintage.
What really lifts above the diner norm, however, is the vegan menu of burgers, hotdogs, chilli, “chicken” burger and full breakfast, to be followed (if stomach space permits) by sundaes made with fresh fruit and Swedish glace. Should you desire, vegan milkshakes are on offer too.
I don’t know of any other 50s-style diner in the UK which offers as extensive a vegan range as this. I’m not sure why so improbable a location would be the one to do it but I won’t question is too deeply. All restaurants should have vegan options advertised and I wish it wasn’t exceptional when they do. I’m excited when I’m at a vegan-exclusive restaurant and can eat anything, but I’d prefer veganism was mainstream and understandable, as it is across lots of the USA. So we should celebrate and encourage a “normal” place like Bobby Jo’s that’s made the choice to be vegan-friendly as a matter of course even though it also caters to meat-eaters.
So how was it? Well I love the aesthetic of 50s diners and I was in dreamland that for once I could actually eat something in one that I knew was vegan, and act like the Vegan Fonz, clicking my fingers to make someone with a quiff bring me a sundae. The food itself was pretty good – a burger that was 99% definitely from a Fry’s packet with a slice of “cheese” on too, in a small sesame bun, accompanied by curly fries, and accessorised by one’s own choice of ketchup and mustard.
I won’t pretend it was a leap forward on vegan cuisine, being something you could whip up for dinner quickly yourself, but I don’t care. It was great trashy fast food in a place where you’d never normally expect to be able to participate in the vintage milieu.
Having said that, the Raspberry Sundae for pudding WAS different class, tasty berries topped with lots of glace. Sundaes can go wrong a surprisingly large numbers of times but this was a simple delight with every mouthful. Plus, just being able to have a good pudding in a place that’s not 100% vegan is an irregular delight to me.
Bobby Jo’s is good value, tasty, and very friendly. We need to fill this nation with Bobby Jo’s, so vegans, get yourself to Southend and into a booth.