Last updated: August 2016
Whenever I go to a different city, be it for work or play, I tend to research possible veggie eateries via sites such as HappyCow so that I don’t have to live off manky WH Smith packet sandwiches (other packet sandwiches are available). So here’s my guide to my favourite veggie, vegan and vegetarian-friendly places around the UK. I’ve tried to opt for one per location but as you’ll see I have lots of favourites in my first stop. I’ll also add to this as I visit more places so do check in on it again.
Home to more vegetarian pubs than anywhere else in the UK (yes, you can like tofu and Tennent’s), the veggie scene is deservedly well-known. My favourite has to be Mono, the vegan cafe-cum-record shop-cum-gig space which has been cardigan-wearing, beard scratchingly hip since before Scotland had even heard of hipsters. A regular winner at the UK VegFest Awards, the menu at Mono is inventive and protein-packed, with delights such as to-fish ‘n’ chips (battered tofu – dreamy), Vietnamese pho and a classic sietan (wheat gluten) burger, as well as the meanest tofu cheesecake I’ve ever tasted, all washed down with organic and craft drinks. And the fact you can have a gander in a record shop after is win-win. If this isn’t enough to float your soy-based boat, then check out sister places Stereo (great tapas), 13th Note (great gigs) or The 78 (great gramaphone).
Average cost: 2 courses: £8-11, 3 courses: £13-16
Edinburgh was voted top city for UK vegans in December 2015 so it should definitely be on the hitlist of any vegan travellers. The city is home to classy dining with David Bann, a favourite amongst vegetarians across the city and new kids on the block Moon & Hare specialising in gluten-free, raw and vegan foods. However, I’ve opted for a more simple highlight: The Baked Potato Shop, an almost hidden gem in the centre of town – until the Edinburgh Festival, that is, when queues snake down Cockburn Street quicker than tourists will ask you for directions to the castle. The first rule of baked potato club is, never order a large baked potato. Even if you are ravenous, it will end you. Medium and large tatties are actually two potatoes. Instead save space to load up on toppings, all of which are vegetarian or vegan, including mouth-watering salads such as quinoa and beetroot, spicy sweetcorn, chickpea and mushroom, or hot options like chilli, curry or beans, or just standard cheese and coleslaw. If you don’t want to carb up, the salads can be sold in a box. And there are also haggis samosas (extra win) and vegan cakes to tempt you further!
Average cost: potatoes: £4-6, sides/cakes: £1-3
Visiting Belfast on Day 8 of my vegan challenge in May 2015 put the fear of god into the friend I was visiting. “What can you eat? What should I buy? How will we cope?” she text, despite the fact that she used to be a vegetarian and members of her extended family are vegan. In the end, all was ok – Tesco in Northern Ireland stocks their free-from range – and the main time we ate out was at the wonderful Molly’s Yard which serves meat and vegetarian options. The service was impeccable, made all the better by the brilliant cocktails, and with a separate vegetarian menu with various vegan or vegan–option dishes, I had no bother ordering at all. I opted for the pea shoot and broad bean salad, without the parmesan, and the artichoke and fine bean barigoule (a stew–like soup for the less informed). The puy lentil dish looked delicious but I wanted to try something different and I always enjoy eating artichokes out as I don’t cook them at home.
Average cost: 2 courses: £16-21, 3 courses: £21-26
This quaint military town on the Scotland-England border is the last place you’d expect to find a hippy café with a vintage shop in the upstairs of a guitar shop! But Café Kazmiranda’s friendly owners have created a brilliant community with a range of regular gigs and events – made even better by BYOB. This place is not specifically vegetarian but has many veggie options on the simple, fresh menu including dishes like soup, quiche, tagine and pitta pizzas. They also have a cracking array of homemade cakes and herbal teas. When I visited, they made us fresh ginger, lemon, honey and turmeric tea. Perfect on a cold winter’s day.
Average cost: lunch: £4-6, cake: £2-4
Scrumpy Willow and the Singing Kettle is a must-visit if you’re heading to the home of PJ & Duncan (Ant & Dec to younger readers). This boutique café would be easy to miss amongst Cash Convertors and the charity shops of Clayton Street. Whilst not 100% veggie/vegan, at least two nights a week are dedicated to such menus and the choices at other times is brilliant. The vegan breakfast is a hippy dream come true, featuring puy lentils, potato cakes, spinach and homemade beans. Meze, curries and chilli all feature on the main menu, alongside delicious vegan-friendly cakes and deserts, including another swoonful vegan cheesecake! I’d recommend sitting upstairs, as it’s a bit more spacious and atmospheric. On a Friday night, live music makes it an all-round winning combo.
Average cost: 2 courses: £14–17; 3 course: £19–24
Photo credit: eltpics
Well-established El Piano had been on my ‘hit’ list since reading about it in Vegan Life Magazine so when I was stranded in York overnight following a typical bank holiday train travel disaster, it was not all doom and gloom. These guys have been creating simple but delicious vegan scran since 1997 so they do it well. Whilst the menu is broad, nothing is too fancy or complicated and the cookbook on display on the tables illustrate just how simple the recipes are, with very few ingredients per dish. Typically you choose from a main, fritters and salad but you can also order several smaller dishes to share, although we did share via the main courses. The food is fresh, the service is friendly and the atmosphere is buzzing – and this was on a Monday night. The highlight was probably the corn fritters or the carrot patties but everything was sublime. I’m already planning a trip back!
Average cost: 1 course: £11.95, 2 courses: £15, 3 courses: £20
I absolutely love Manchester. It reminds me of Glasgow – renowned for it’s epic music scene, friendly people and an excessive amount of rain! My absolute favourite place is Unicorn vegan supermarket which is heaven for any veggie or vegan. Visit the deli counter to get bits for lunches or picnics. Otherwise, 8th Day Café is a favourite amongst students and locals. Quick at counter service makes it a good place for lunch or a quick dinner – but it has to be early as it shuts at 7pm. The salad bar is really good value and the range is always interesting, including loads of vegan options. In winter I like to go for the daily stew or curry, but my absolute favourite is the breakfasts. The vegan one with tofu is so dreamy!
Average cost: 1 course: £4 – 6, 2 courses: £10 – 14
Sheffield has one of the highest concentrations of dreadlocked, psy-trance loving residents in the UK (a fact verified by the Institute of Studies) making it a haven for vegetarians. Blue Moon Café is probably the most popular veggie hangout in town where you can find liberal pensioners rubbing shoulders with wannabe anarchists. It’s counter-service, with an ever-changing menu but dishes usually include pies, curries, soups and stews, as well as lots of lovely local beers and ciders. Lots of people head in just for tea and cake, or in the evening for gigs and events.
Average cost: 2 courses: £8–15, 3 courses: £11–18
I first stumbled across Yaffle Cafe on a mad dash from a meeting to the train station. It’s almost hidden away upstairs from Sound Bites health food shop. The menu is simple and ridiculously cheap. I went for a vegan sausage and cheese toastie on gluten-free bread and vegan tiffin, as these were easy dishes to take away. I had a really nice chat with the guy working there about various veggie/vegan places across the UK – he’d heard that Glasgow is great for veg-heads! On my second visit I had enough time to sit in, so enjoyed the chilled vibes of the cafe, complete with book library and board games – including Veganopoly! This time I went for the nut roast – very filling with delicious onion gravy. It’s amazing what dishes he can knock up in a tiny wee kitchen! There’s a social change library as well as lots of notices on the wall for anything from comedy to yoga. And they’re so lovely at Yaffle they regularly provide free meals to people on low or no incomes.
Average cost: meal: £3-6, cake: £1-3 (cash only)
I’d previously only ever eaten in big chains before in Birmingham, so finding out that Chinese Café Soya was just a stone’s throw from where I was staying last year was very exciting. The menu has all the tofu and mock meat options. I didn’t even know where to start! Or that so many meats could be mocked. I can’t resist vegetable gyoza dumplings and they didn’t disappoint. I also tried the mock duck pancakes as all meat-eaters I know rave about the real thing so I thought I should try them. The ‘duck’ was really crisp and tasty but I don’t think it would fool a meatatarian. Noodle soups seemed to be the most popular dish amongst the rest of the clientele – largely Chinese, which was a good sign – as well as loads of fresh fruit juices. Added fun points for the kitsch décor – no shortage of waving cats.
Average cost: 2 courses: £11-18, 3 courses: £15-26 (cash only)
Photo credit: Mark Hogan
I’ve been lucky to check out loads of vegan-friendly places in Cardiff through working there for half the week and have a whole post on it. but the creme de la creme has to be MILGI which does upmarket but not pretentious vegetarian and vegan food in a really welcoming setting. Most of the menu is vegan so there’s loads to choose from and the portions and generous. It’s tough to have not chosen the only 100% vegan place, Anna-Loka, but that certainly comes in a close second and stands out anyway for having a different vibe and style of menu to MILGI.
London is home to vegetarian institutions like Vanilla Black and Mildred’s, the latter of which I’ve probably been to more times than any other vegetarian restaurant. But my biggest recommendation is the lesser-known Itadaki Zen, a vegan Japanese gem tucked away near King’s Cross Station. Set meals are mainly how it’s done here, and one of their aims is to show new vegetarians how to have a filling and nutritious meal. They use ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to see on a Japanese menu, such as lentils, barley, bulgar wheat and linseed. Sides, including various tofu dishes, kimchee and fresh spring rolls, are equally delicious. I really enjoyed how the menu explains why different ingredients had been used and what health benefits they have.
Average cost: set menus: £12–30, deserts: £3–4
Brighton is undoubtedly a mecca for vegetarians across the UK. It takes ethical living so seriously you can even get Vegetarian Shoes here. The jewel in the crown has to be Terre à Terre, where vegetarianism is celebrated. The dishes have all been designed to demonstrate just how goddamn delicious veggie food is. I’m not normally one for posh presentation, but the food is so beautiful that it’ll make you blush. Dishes are inspired from flavours around the world: steamed buns, tandoori rosti and cardamom fried rice to name but a few. And the fact they serve four types of chips is an instant point-scorer (chips are a food group in my native Scotland). If you can’t make it down to Brighton, I highly recommend their cookbook, even just to drool over.
Average cost: 2 courses: £21-24, 3 courses: £30–35
Photo credit: missy