June 23, 2024

11 of the UK’s best vegan experiences, from fine dining to festival favourites

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK). 

Demand for plant-based food has soared in the UK in the past few years, thanks in part to the popularity of movements and campaigns like Veganuary. With the latter came a blossoming of the country’s vegan dining scene, which now spans from fine dining to street food. While some establishments focus on lifting vegetables to stardom, others use meat substitutes to entice non-vegans. The biggest change, though, is the diversity of cuisines available — you can now just about eat your way around the world, whether you’re after flavours from Asia, Europe or the Americas. For those contemplating a dietary switch, here’s a selection of fully vegan restaurants around the country to get you started.

While it’s difficult to imagine French cuisine without an abundance of butter, Alexis Gauthier has achieved the near-impossible at his fine-dining Soho restaurant, which became fully vegan in 2021. Each pretty dish here is served with the same delicate flourish, whether it’s the avocado and beetroot canape that kicks things off, the parsnips poached in red wine that make a memorable main or the pear and dark chocolate that’s a highlight of the dessert menu. 

For vegans who still crave the taste and texture of meat, The Queen Inn delivers in abundance. Working with alternative-meat brands such as Redefine Meat and Juicy Marbles, this Welsh steakhouse serves up plant-based versions of flank and fillet steaks that are designed to look and taste like the real thing. The rest of the menu is a checklist of pub classics, from fish and chips and beef burger to a Sunday roast — all meat-free, of course. 

3. Koocha, Bristol

Colour and spice collide on the menu at Bristol’s Koocha, which takes its inspiration from Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine with the liberal use of saffron, pomegranate and pistachio. Choose from mezze plates designed to be shared — like maple- and za’atar-glazed carrots with parsnip hummus, and whipped ‘feta’ with cucumber — or go large with options such as a delicately spiced seitan doner served on a traditional flatbread with a tzatziki dip. 

You’ll find flavours from around China on the menu at Tofu Vegan, which has three branches in London. As you might expect from the name, tofu appears in many forms here, whether it’s sizzled in a black bean sauce or lightly fried and dusted with salt and Sichuan pepper. Meanwhile, other dishes are based on a variety of mushrooms or texture-rich vegetables like lotus roots and edamame beans. Diners can also expect vegan versions of traditionally meaty dishes such as Peking duck and dim sum. 

Started as a pop-during during lockdown by siblings Jordan and Chyna Johnson, Jam Delish now has a permanent home in Islington, with Nathan Collymore — an alumnus of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant — as its head chef. Caribbean classics like jerk chicken and curry goat have been given a vegan makeover, while there are also fresh takes on more typical vegan flavours, such as olives dressed in a fragrant blend of garlic, ginger, chilli and lime zest, and grilled aubergine served with hot pepper sauce, sour tamarind and a mellow coconut yoghurt.

Have a quick scan of Novapizza’s menu and you’ll probably find yourself double-checking it’s actually all vegan — expect words such as mozzarella, chicken and pepperoni. But while its dishes’ names and descriptions are decidedly unvegan — like spaghetonne carbonara, a traditional Roman recipe with homemade bacon, scrambled eggs and black pepper — everything at this Edinburgh stalwart is indeed plant-based. 

Having launched as a vegetarian restaurant in Soho in 1988, Mildreds can now be found in five locations across the capital, each serving a 100% plant-based menu. The menu has always been eclectic, drawing on flavours from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, meaning there’s something for every palate. For example, you can go classic British with Cumberland sausage and mustard mash or push the boat out with kiri hodi, a Sri Lankan coconut curry with sweet potato and green beans, lifted with a pineapple pickle and mint mango chutney. 

Organic, gluten-free and plant-based are the three pillars of Dane & Port, a casual Bournemouth cafe that also does takeaways. Breakfast and lunch here are light and healthy, with options like scrambled tofu and seasonal salads, while dinner has a Portuguese flair, with petiscos (similar to tapas) as the focus. What’s different is that there’s no formal menu — the options change each day depending on what’s fresh, so every meal is a journey of discovery. 

With its roots in Kyoto, Itadakizen also has outposts in Paris and London. Lunch here is simple — think curry or ramen, plus a handful of sides like gyoza — and offers great value, while dinner comes in the form of a moreish selection of Japanese tapas dishes. Highlights include dengaku (miso-glazed aubergine) and karaage (deep-fried tofu with a savoury dipping sauce). 

A cosy spot serving luscious chocolate cakes alongside oat milk lattes, Norwich’s Tofurei might not look especially unusual, but it was set up to showcase the products of a micro soya dairy. The small team makes their own fresh tofu, including a plain and a maple-smoked option, which go on the menu in items like a soysage roll, tofu pasties and tofu noodle soup. It also has a small shop, where you can buy T-shirts or tofu to take home. 

This Brighton restaurant is a go-to spot for grab-and-go healthy food in the city. The burritos — resembling uncut sushi rolls — are the star attractions, with fillings that include tofu with hoisin sauce in the style of crispy duck, and beetroot and basil in a nutty satay sauce. If you need another reason to visit Happy Maki, the restaurant donates a portion of its profits to several charities. 

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