Briefly, amid life being wearingly kiboshed by the pandemic, healthy living was gleefully forgotten. Sales of booze and fags rocketed, meal kits were all boxes of happily-fattening pasta and veganism — pious, virtuous, on occasion a little po-faced — was quietly put to one side. But now going plant-based is back, only it’s more fun than ever.
Over in Crouch End, there’s chatter already about Ready Burger, a vegan burger joint that opened its doors a couple of weeks back and is looking to duke it out with Impossible, Moving Mountains, Beyond and the like. Their patty is made entirely to their specifications with a blend of plant and crop proteins and was dreamt up by COO Adam Clark. “There are lots of options out there but many either compromise on taste, texture or price,” he says. “We refuse to compromise on any of those things.” In other words, it sounds to me, he thinks the existing lot are a bit crap.
What’s rather good about Clark and his Ready Burger is that it doesn’t seem to be taking itself seriously at all: the yellow-and-black branding, the brown grease-paper bags and even the prices (you can get a burger for £1.99) appear gloriously, unashamedly ripped straight from the McDonald’s playbook. There’s no Big Mac, but there is a Big Ready and yes, it looks identical. They’ve been just legally savvy enough (I hope) to lunge out of reach of the Golden Arches’ legal heavies — the comparison is mine, not theirs — but the sheer cojones of building a business on the idea of “McDonald’s, but make it vegan?” is pleasingly fun. A second restaurant will open later in the month on Finchley Road, and they’re in talks to launch — and crowd-funding for — two others.
Ready Burger is hardly the only one at it, even if it is the cheekiest. At Fenwick, the terrace has recently been taken over by Alexis Gauthier’s sprawling 123V, which may just serve the most convincing beef-free burger in the city; it’s built it around the market-leading Beyond patty but adds its own spice mix and a blend of vegan cheese and mustard to create a facsimile of LA’s Fatburger. “We call it one of our ‘gateway drug dishes’ — something a non-vegan can easily get into,” the restaurant’s manager James Lewis jokes. “Before moving on to harder, more dangerous plant-based lifestyle choices.”
At 123V, these include vegan sushi, where soy and pea proteins are magicked into fish-free tuna and salmon.
Rejecting Beyond and most of its competition — which all make burgers with a processed blend of starch, oil, pea, rice and bean proteins (healthy? don’t be so sure) — Neil Rankin, who made his name as a barbecue-obsessed meat-head, launched Simplicity foods.
In April, his fermented mushroom and miso barley-based burgers were hoisted onto the menu at every ShakeShack in the country, while today news broke on standard.co.uk/reveller of Mark Emms and Tom Kerridge’s new Bad Vegan. The great British pub bloke is opening up in one of the shipping containers that make up Camden’s Buck Street Market and, with carnivores now an endangered set, Kerridge says he’ll offer some non-vegan sides to “remain inclusive”. Not such a bad vegan after all, then.