Eating Vegan Food Outside the Home – A Brave Adventure

By Hazel Bannerman

So true to my word at the end of January (see my musings on Veganuary), I have attempted to add one vegan meal a week into my diet.

This has been done with varying success over the last month…it counts if you accidentally make a vegan chilli with Chinese chillies rather than regular so then cover it in cheese right? One thing that certainly had not happened however was me eating vegan (or even veggie) when I went out. I had adamantly avoided it, for two reasons. The first: steak. End of, that’s it, no further justification needed; just: steak. The second was that I’ve tried being a vegetarian and eating out…I did it for 10 years in fact, and it sucked. Apparently the commercial culinary world had only discovered one veggie dish, the mushroom risotto. There’s only so much fungus and rice one person can eat.

This memory had haunted me, and ensured I avoided even glancing at the vegetarian options in restaurants. It was at this point that my vegan flatmate told me to pull myself together, and that we were going to sample a vegetarian restaurant in Exeter. Reluctantly I agreed on the condition that I could review the experience and pass judgement.

We headed off to Herbies, a family run vegetarian restaurant that’s existed for over 30 years.

The restaurant was rather quaint and homely, with pot plants and fairy lights for decoration. The menus were presented in pleasing folders (pet peeve of mine is the unprofessional paper menu), and the specials and wine lists were displayed on blackboards around the room. It was a small restaurant, rather intimate, and generally very charming. This put me at ease right away, with the only thing I didn’t like being the choice of table…but you can’t judge a place by a table alone.

So on to the food.

To start with we shared some mixed olives, vine leaves stuffed with rice and flavoured with dill, and a white bean and pistachio pate served with flatbread. The first thing worthy of note was the gorgeous slates on which two of the dishes were served – a lovely touch in my view.

Starters of stuffed vine leaves, mixed olives, and pate
Starters of stuffed vine leaves, mixed olives, and pate

The mixed olives were exactly what you would expect; it was a bowl full of mixed olives, would be pretty hard to mess that one up.

I’d never tried a vegan pate before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I must admit it was delightful – just wanted a few more slithers of flatbread so I could enjoy the whole bowl. My only criticism would be that the salad that accompanied the vine leaves and pate had been dressed in just olive oil and lemon juice, with the olive oil being somewhat overpowering. Personally I prefer my salad dressings to be a little more complex and less oily.

For the mains, I chose the ‘Jackfruit, Beet and Bean Burger’, while my friends had the ‘Buddha bowl’, and the ‘Super Green Salad’.

To my friends’ food first. I sampled both their dishes, and the super green salad would have to be my favourite – the pesto drizzled over it was absolutely incredible. The ‘Buddha Bowl’ certainly wasn’t bad but I felt there was perhaps a little too much lemon juice, which drowned out some of the other flavours. However with both dishes we all agreed there was one rather unfortunate let down. There just seemed to be an overall lack of seasoning… even a basic salt and peppering, which we felt was rather important with dishes that depend entirely on fresh vegetables.

Mains of a green salad, 'Buddha bowl' and bean burger
Mains of a green salad, 'Buddha bowl' and bean burger

My bean burger I must say was absolutely delightful. The tomato relish in particularly was scrumptious and the bean burger was one of the best I think I’ve ever tasted. The potato wedges and coleslaw could have (like my friends meals) done with a little seasoning however, and the burger bun could have been a little less doughy in texture. It was the slight blandness to the veg that I thought somewhat let the mains down unfortunately.

Finally, dessert. Here I opted for a vegan chocolate and orange torte with a vegan pouring cream to accompany. My friends chose a vegan sticky toffee pudding with a vegan ice cream. I have to say that I’m not much of a dessert person normally, but this was a divine ending to the meal. The flavour of the torte was wonderful (I am a real sucker for chocolate orange), and the crumb base was just the right texture and thickness.

Vegan sticky toffee pudding and ice cream
Vegan sticky toffee pudding and ice cream

I think that overall I would well recommend Herbies – just make sure there’s salt on the table. The place was lovely and charming, and the waitress was very attentive (although it is only her on a Tuesday so she was run slightly off her feet). Everything was beautifully presented, and generally very tasty. The food has certainly reassured me about heading out for a vegan or vegetarian meal. Granted this was a restaurant specialising in vegetarian food, but overall it seems that availability of and variation in vegan and vegetarian food has changed dramatically in just the last decade alone.

From now on I will be giving a lot more consideration to the meat-free options on the menu, and I certainly will have no more qualms about going to a meat-free restaurant.

Hazel Bannerman

Hazel is a History undergraduate who delights in fine dining on a budget, she also enjoys classic comfort cuisines.

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