I do a lot of restaurant reviews but when I was asked to visit Knave’s Kitchen I realised that, although I have visited vegetarian eateries, I had not written about a purely vegan establishment before.
I think that most of us have had vegan meals without realising it. When I need to crash diet to keep the old waistline in check, my salad of choice is raw cauliflower, beetroot, chopped chillies, pomegranate seeds and rocket, with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, sprinkled with a few pumpkin seeds for texture. By accident rather than design, this fully conforms with vegan standards. Being intrigued by what a fully vegan meal would be like, I went along. Knave’s Kitchen is situated in the newly refurbished Oporto in The Calls.
We were treated to a selection of the dishes and cocktails on offer and greeted with a gin and tonic. Good start. The menu is split into three sections: Seitan, Not Seitan and Sides. Seitan is an alternative to soya-based meat substitutes such as tofu, and is a dough made from high-protein wheat gluten, so if you have an intolerance to this then skip to the second part of the menu. The first dish with which we were presented was Seitan Buffalo Wings which are not on the menu at the moment, but it is hoped that they will be in the near future. They had a barbecue sauce added which was nicely piquant and sweet at the same time, giving the whole dish a lift. Seitan absorbs flavours better than does tofu and so with the three dishes made from the substance, I ended up playing ‘Spot the Difference’ between the vegan and carnivore versions.
The Buffalo Wings scored a seven. The second seitan dish was Fish Finger Wrap which, although quite tasty only managed a five. The Vegan Tartare Sauce accompanying them was a seven and again it was the sauce which gave the dish a lift rather than the seitan.
Finally, there was the ‘Mill Hill’ Special, the name of which intrigued me as we were in The Calls, but when it arrived all became clear. It is named after the famed post-pub destination, Mill Hill Kebab House and is a seitan donner in pitta with hummus, lettuce, pickles and extra chilli sauce. The seitan was sliced and shaped to look like Donner meat but was thicker with a spongier texture than the real thing. Once again, the extras came to the rescue with the chilli sauce which had a kick like a vegan mule. This definitely scored nine out of ten and, apart from the texture, was just about indistinguishable from the real thing. Although having difficulty in trying to resist the temptation to compare the vegan with the originals, I did try to judge each item on its own merits and they were all three very good.
Two of the three dishes on the Non Seitan dishes menu were made from tofu.
‘Waiter! What is this tofu stuff?’
‘It’s bean curd Sir.’
‘I don’t care what it’s been my good man, what is it now!’
I find tofu to be a bit bland and, although breaded in the Katsu Curry dish and served with Japanese curry sauce and toasted sesame seeds, the mildness of the curry sauce failed to give it much of a lift. It was on a bed of steamed rice. The second variant was Satay being crispy tofu, peanut sauce and sweet Thai pickles. Once again the tofu only seemed to be there for texture but the peanut sauce was excellent, being liberally laced with chopped peanuts rather than the smooth version usually associated with satay. The pickles were also very sharp and a counterpoint to the sauce. The final dish from this section was O.B.B. which stands for Onion Bhaji Burger which was served with cucumber ketchup, raita, iceberg lettuce and tomato. This was just as described, a couple of onion bhajis in a bun enhanced with the aforementioned extras. This should have been the star of the show but unfortunately, it was far too salty.
For dessert we were treated to another non-menu dish, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Tempura Balls with Blueberry Yogurt. These were excellent and a great combination of flavours, the sharpness of the blueberry cutting through the heaviness of the balls.
In addition to the food there was a selection of cocktails including a Pineapple Daiquiri made with pineapple rum, smoked salt and served with vegan bacon fries, a Riot Juice comprising Martell Brandy, cherry brandy and Buckfast and my favourite a Rhubarbara Streisand, not just because of the great name, but also because it was rhubarb gin, strawberry and Campari, which gave it a sweet and sour taste.
The heading on the menu reads 100% Vegan Junk Food and as such it did the job. I would really like to taste the results of the chef’s being able to create original vegan dishes rather than wannabe meat meals, as originality is invariably preferable to imitation. Should you be a vegan then give Knave’s Kitchen a try. It is very reasonably priced, with the most expensive item on the menu being £6.50 and nothing else over six quid. My omnivorous preference has not been changed though, which is just as well really as I need to be able to eat everything to do my job!
Editor’s note: It is National Vegetarian Week from 14 – 20 May, an opportunity for all carnivores to explore the mysteries of vegetarian and vegan food.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.