The Summer is apparently coming to the close, or so the weather seems to be telling us. So despite it only just being August Bank Holiday Weekend, I’m tying up some loose ends of the Summer. This is the CBMT review of the Summer…or, more accurately, an attempt to combine lots of posts that should have been separate ones into one giant one.
BEST VEGAN BEERFEST OF THE SUMMER
This blog made its debut after Fat Gay Vegan launched his Vegan Beer Festival at the Gallery Cafe, so returning for the 2nd one was a birthday party for CBMT, except that I haven’t written enough to justify any kind of celebration.
However a vegan beer festival is itself a cause for joy, and we gathered in a packed Gall Caf garden to drink, eat barbecue, and listen to karaoke.
Last year’s beer festival had blazing heat and a lovely sense of adventure. It was always going to be hard for this year’s to live up to that great day, with the temperature at a cooler 20’c and the event essentially being the same as last time. I had a great time and some excellent beer, and it wasn’t too busy, and that’s all you can ask for isn’t it? I thought the Barbecue was disappointing this year (a very rare moment of average food from the Gall Cafe, I don’t know why) and I wasn’t into the pre-karaoke music, but that’s OK, others seemed to enjoy it.
To the beers themselves, the overall winner was Stroud’s collaboration with Asaparagasm – a worthy winner, it was tasty and a good ale for those who don’t think they like ale. I also liked Stroud’s Big Cat beer, and as with last year, I love the cut of the Brass Castle jib, both taste and attitude of those who sell it. Proper Yorkshire Ale, I have a place in my heart for them.
So, well done again to FGV and his co-organiser Messy Cook, the Beer Fest is a real anchor in London’s vegan year, and long may it continue. Albeit with better barbeque please.
It never surprises me that everywhere in the world has some kind of vegan scene, or at least a dining scene that is unknowingly vegan-friendly. Going to Malta, I’d had the usual warnings that as an island with an ancient and traditional history it’d be all fish and meat round those parts.
But of course it wasn’t. Mediterranean cuisine might be well into its fish but it’s also substantially into its oil, tomatoes, olives and capers. The classic Maltese beach snack involves a load of their unique and lovely Tomato Paste which Jamie Oliver bangs on about plus a complicated mix of herbs, capers, olives, all on crusty bread. Restaurants will generally have pasta plus oil and garlic on offer and it’s complex enough in its flavours to satisfy.
And even better, there are ice-cream places which do vegan ice-cream, including our local one in Xlendi on the idyllic smaller Maltese island of Gozo, Gelateria Granola, which did this vanilla vegan ice:
That tip, like lots of my finds in Malta, came from the excellent Vegan Malta Map – a new local organisation who were very helpful in advance of my holiday out there. We need these local tips for the places that Happy Cow doesn’t always go. It was surprising that Happy Cow was so light on Malta info, but I suppose when a place has a reputation of not being vegan-friendly, vegans don’t go there and don’t add their tips to HC, so the whole thing perpetuates.
Despite my finding it an amenable and beauriful place, Vegans in Malta do have it quite hard culturally – it’s a gentle place but it’s also one where songbirds are traditionally caught and eaten as they migrate, and the main island is densely built-up and populated which doesn’t allow a lot of room for nature. Seems things are improving though, especially in the mysterious capital of Valetta where we went twice to Soul Food, which is mainly vegetarian but apparently the only place that openly advertises vegan options anywhere in Malta. They do amazing wrap things with burgers enclosed in them:
The staff are friendly and the place is bright and airy. They do great juices too. We were told a cake was vegan when it wasn’t, which was a bit annoying, but the man who did it was very nice, so he’s forgiven.
One night we also went to Tate in Vittoriosa, an epic journey of two buses on Malta’s packed roads and good-but-erratic public transport system. It’s the only 100% vegetarian restaurant in Malta, but it doesn’t advertise itself as such. The reviews were mixed, and sometimes bad, but we had a gigantic bowl of fresh vegetable pasta and had no complaints. It was a cute place right by the water. Shame they don’t scream about their vegetarian status more, but they don’t have to if they don’t want.
We discovered right at the end of the trip that the ubiquitous Pea Pastizzis available from street stalls were vegan too, but the only time we got to try one was in our hotel for breakfast – like all of the food available for breakfast there, it tasted like it was baked a few months ago and then frozen. Maybe we can try the real thing another time.
So Malta – great for snorkelling, good for vegans if you know where to look. I’m a fan.
VEGAN TREATS IN CORNWALL
We took a trip to Cornwall too, and we were driven around by a generous friend, so we got to try lots of different places.
The highlight from a vegan view was Wildebeest, Falmouth’s 100% vegan cafe-bar. Falmouth is just the kind of place you’d expect to be vegan-friendly, with a large art-student population, a history of creativity, and a closeness to natural elements. It’s still surprising when you find a totally-vegan cafe anywhere though, and Wildebeest was a real joy. My driving friend Fraser posed outside:
It’s a cafe with instant friendliness on its face and a giant menu of delightful-sounding things.
I had a pot of hummous plus sourdough bread (obvs, it was sourdough, it’s the law). That sounds unadventurous, but this was no normal hummous, it was all garlicky and oniony and delicious. Plus a big green juice too.
We’d chosen the lighter option so we could go for pudding too. That’s what you do at Lunch, isn’t it? And this is the kind of establishment where you know the puddings will be good, and the main course is a mere hurdle to jump before you get to the main characters in this piece, the puds. We shared a brownie with cream and a raspberry cheesecake with ice cream:
These were top puddings, homemade by the friendly Wildebeest lady. This is a great vegan cafe and one that should be an essential one to tick off for any vegans traveling round the UK.
They have a fun blackboard too, on which my status was confirmed:
We also had an incredible 3-course vegan dinner in The Gurnard’s Head which they whipped up for us on request. It’s in a wild location near where we stayed, a few miles from St Ives, and it’s visible from miles away due to its bright yellow building. I can’t remember what we had, which makes me a terrible blogger, but I know it was nice. Cornwall is full of these high-end gourmet pubs, and you might think they couldn’t cope with vegan requests, but hey, they can.
AVEBURY – A BARROW OF LAUGHS
Then we went to Avebury, which is a great ancient place of chalk mounds and long barrows, and where tourists and druids roam free. We stayed in Avebury Lodge, a vegetarian B&B in the stone circle (it’s a very big circle, split by roads, in case you’re wondering how that works) which did us a decent if unspectacular vegan breakfast. Relying on public transport, we ate exclusively in Avebury’s two eating places – lunch in the National Trust’s supposedly-vegetarian cafe (it serves ham sandwiches….hmmm) where the best thing is the giant vegan flapjack, and dinner in the Red Lion Pub which was nice enough but had half the menu missing every night, sometimes including the only vegan options. Chips and Salads a-go-go. But it’s worth it for a spectacular location inside the thousands-of-years-old magical stones. I’m not into Hocus Pocus, but you do feel something in those stones and mounds.
BACK IN LONDON
All you need to know is that the Gallery Cafe – my favourite, as you know – has a Diner Night every week where they do things like this mountain of hotdog, jalapenos, fake cheese and chilli. Oh yes!
And the London Vegan World is going wild over a new Vegan Bar and Restaurant opening next week in Wood Green. Will it be nice though, that’s the question? I want more all-vegan places (though by the way, reading the blurb, it’s 100% vegetarian, not vegan, unless I read that wrong?) but I’ll reserve judgement til the food and drink is in my mouth. And will Wood Green attract big crowds? I like Wood Green, and it’s quite near me, but not everyone will want the schlep there. But good news, regardless.