Thomas Chalk embarks on our series to explore vegetarian and vegan eateries in and around Leeds.
The growth of interest in vegetarian and, particularly, vegan food is leading to more and more great places for vegetarians and vegans to eat in Leeds.
I’ve been vegetarian for thirty years, long enough to remember when the vegetarian option (singular) was vegetable lasagne. The lasagne was supplanted by mushroom risotto, which in turn gave way to goat’s cheese with beetroot or red onion marmalade. Woe betide a vegetarian who didn’t like goat’s cheese – it’s a side dish of chips or green salad for you. I’m exaggerating about the limitations, of course, but not much.
The last few years has seen an explosion of the number of vegans – the internet suggests that they now number in the millions, perhaps 7% of the population. Others follow Veganuary with varying degrees of commitment, or make active moves towards a more plant-based diet. Enquiries about vegan options are no longer guaranteed to be met with “Huh?” and “Do you eat fish?”.
There have of course been vegetarian eateries for years – Hansa’s and Roots and Fruits are two Leeds stalwarts that spring to mind – but it does feel that in recent years there has been a significant growth, not only in all-vegetarian places to eat, but also in the repertoire of non-vegetarian businesses.
For my first outing for Leeds Living, I went to Eat Your Greens. Opened a few months ago, this restaurant/bar/greengrocer does sell meat and fish dishes, but these are in the minority. Vegetables are the stars here. Of the nine main course plates on their current evening menu, five are vegan, and a sixth is vegetarian. Side dishes and puddings are all vegan.
I opted for a dish listed as ‘leek and oat tofu’, explained as including ‘fermented fava bean soup, leek, asparagus & silken oat tofu’. A mid-section of leek had been cooked to the silky sweetness that temporarily makes me wonder why I ever use onions, and sat proudly atop a pile of sliced courgettes (seemingly asparagus was off – I’ve had the dish before with asparagus and it was great, but courgettes work just as well), a little kale, and al dente cauliflower. A hefty dose of wheat grains gave the dish body. So far so good, but for me it was all about the fermented fava bean broth and the oat tofu. The broth had the same umami punch of its soybean cousin miso, hearty and restoring, and maybe if I ask nicely they’ll bring some more in a mug. The oat tofu was so silky it made me question why I ever use leek – barely set, melt in the mouth, spiked with salt and soaked up broth and much as I imagine the texture of pannacotta to be. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
My meat-eating friend was more than happy to stick to the vegan parts of the menu. Oat and lentil mejadra was a dish of lightly spiced oat groats (oats in wholegrain form) and puy lentils with crispy shallots and pickled chilli, which arrived with a sizeable blob of fruity, spiced chutney that perfectly balanced the earthiness of the grains and lentils.
We split a side dish from the day’s specials of leek and fennel fritters with chilli sauce. These were not bad, but in common with many dishes that use chick pea flour (onion bhajis, I’m looking at most of you), I found the slightly stodgy, cakey texture seemed undercooked and needing salt When I’ve cooked fritters with chick pea flour, even frying to near-burnt and salting to heart-stopping levels doesn’t seem to overcome this. Heat fiends would have found the sauce a little underpowered, perhaps, but it was in keeping with the mains – not show-off strong, but not the slightest bit bland.
The desserts of the day included oat pannacotta with fruit compote and ginger biscuits, and golden beetroot cake with candied beetroot and beetroot syrup. Normally, I will choose beetroot over just about anything (I also love goat’s cheese, fortunately), but I was still reeling with the joy of the oat tofu and so went for the pannacotta. Perhaps because it was served cold rather than warm, as the savoury version was, the texture was firmer, more set. Not bad at all, but not quite the divine luxury I was hoping for. A layer of perfectly sweet-sharp rhubarb was very welcome, as was the crushed ginger biscuit garnish and three whole ginger biscuits on the side. These biscuits had a texture more like honeycomb than the heavy-duty crunch of a shop-bought ginger nut, crisp and brittle and becoming pleasingly chewy as they were eaten. My friend tried (and shared) the beetroot cake, and I am forever grateful to her for this. It was moist, rich and dense but not heavy, and complemented by slices of slightly-sweetened beetroot, beetroot syrup, and cubes of what may have been candied beetroot but which tasted like the best blackberry jam ever.
With a couple of drinks, our bill came to a little over £35. They do a two for ten pounds offer on their vegan dishes on a Tuesday – nearly halving their already reasonable prices. Look out for me on a Tuesday – I’ll be the one swapping a tenner for two bowls of fermented fava bean broth and silken oat tofu.
Cover photograph Ugne Henriko.