You only need to head to the supermarket or flick through a food magazine to realise that vegan food is, most certainly, a thing. Though historically excluding all animal and fish products from diets was noted as a fringe trend as early as the 1930s, the endorsement of consumer companies and big food businesses in the last 10 years or so, has resulted in Waitrose reporting that a third of Britons now have meat-reduced diets, while one in eight people are now vegetarian or vegan.
But attitudes about what it means to be vegetarian or vegan are changing, too, with some people taking an increasingly pragmatic approach. There was a time when choosing a plant-based diet was about taking an ethical stand based on unwavering principles. For many, this distinction between vegetarians and meat-eaters still exists – but for others, the lines have blurred. Not only does one Briton in five identify as ‘flexitarian’, but half of all those who say they’re vegetarian or vegan also eat meat ‘at weekends’, ‘occasionally’ or ‘on special occasions’.
You cannot deny that vegan food has become extraordinarily popular. In 2018, the Vegan Society approved 9,590 new products as vegan while Iceland launched its No Bull frozen range; Magnum released two pea-protein ice creams; Hellman’s started selling vegan mayo; Pizza Express introduced a new vegan pizza, while every major British supermarket announced or expanded a vegan range. This was all before Greggs released its headline-making sausage roll in January this year.
Long before the supermarkets and food brands were taking notice like M&S launching its own 60-dish vegan range Plant Kitchen this year, independent restaurants and cafes were starting to pop up, helmed by people who were just not seeing the kind of food they prefer to eat in the growing casual dining scene and wanted to do things a little differently. The squeezing of the high-street food chains, which saw the likes of Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Jamie’s Italian go down the swanny, is proof that both foodies and small food business owners are demanding a slice of the plant-based pie as diners look for more unusual dishes or cuisines that align with their ethical beliefs.
Leeds has been ahead of the curve in this respect. With much-loved former stalwarts like Gujarati restaurant Hansa’s leading the way, city centre cafes like Global Tribe Café and Roots and Fruits became havens for determined diners. Now the scene is growing, with city centre’s Cantina, the self-named first completely vegan restaurant in Leeds selling jackfruit burgers and kebabs – jackfruit being the bulbous, spikey green plant from India now being used as a meat alternative. The newly opened JJ’S Vish and Chips in Burley has even reworked the classic fish and chips using battered banana blossom instead, while those who aren’t ready to give up the dairy just yet can still snaffle the fish shop-style halloumi and chips. Or how about trying its completely vegan scampi instead?
Knave’s Kitchen, a laid-back eatery at the Oporto bar on Call Lane, has been wildly popular since opening last year too. Capitalising further on the trend for vegan ‘dirty’ or ‘junk’ food, it specialises in naughty but nice morsels such as the ‘O.B.B.’, the onion bhaji burger and the ‘2 Mill Hill’ wrap packed with grilled seitan, hummus, pickled cucumber, iceberg lettuce, and its own smoked chilli sauce.
Restaurant chains have been quick to jump on the vegan bandwagon too, newcomer to Victoria arcade The Ivy, and popular haunt Cosy Club for example, have dedicated vegetarian and vegan menus, while Trinity Kitchen faves like Vietnamese Pho and Indian street food sellers Rola Wala have more vegan choices than any other.
“There’s no denying that many people are actively cutting down on their meat consumption!” – Matt Healy
These days it is not enough to just have one ‘veggie option’ on a menu…in order to survive in the ever-evolving, fast-moving Leeds food scene, you have to diversify and welcome customers who might not have spent their hard-earned cash at your establishment before. Leeds-based high-profile chef Matt Healy, who shot to fame on TV’s Masterchef: The Professionals, took this on board, extending his widening restaurant empire in the city by opening the vegan-friendly Grön Kafé in Oakwood.
Born from a love of healthy living, fine food and good coffee, Grön offers balanced breakfasts, brunches and late afternoon pick-me-ups nestled among a parade of independent retailers on Roundhay Road. Matt said: “There’s no denying that many people are actively cutting down on their meat consumption, and we want to prove that vegetarian and vegan dishes serve up just as much flavour. We’ve created an all-day menu of options to tickle every tastebud and set you up for the day.”
But it’s not just savoury food that’s getting a revamp. Desserts, sweet bakes and even challahs are ripe for reinvention and places like Temple Coffee and Donuts off Kirkstall Road are so popular that they run out of fresh vegan doughnuts almost daily, so get there fast to try the constantly rotating menu of unique flavour creations. Likewise, That Old Chestnut on the Buslingthorpe Estate off Meanwood Road makes irresistible vegan cakes and baked goods and can be ordered online for pick up or found in North Leeds eateries such as Opposite Café in Chapel Allerton. Wedding and special occasion cakes remain popular as are the Shabbat challahs which taste fantastic, but the moist banana and chocolate cake would be JLife’s choice!