Review: Fortuity Food Pop-Up Restaurant

Some months ago, a friend shared with me a link to an event that I couldn’t have dreamed of happening in my area until fairly recently. Fortuity Foods, a pop-up restaurant at The Kings Arms in Wheatley, was bringing Oxford vegans a fully plant-based, three course menu. I booked a table as soon as the date was announced, and after much poring over the menu and Googling of the fancy foodie words it contained, I met with a friend at the pub this weekend for our first fine dining experience. Please feel free to click on the photos to see them at full size!

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img_6319We were presented with a platter of bread from Modern Baker while we waited for our first course, served with a homemade vegan butter which was fantastic – I’d love to steal the recipe for this. For starters, Valentina went for the seitan medallions, and I chose the spinach tortellini. When they arrived, both meals looked very professional, neat, and pretty on the plate. Valentina’s seitan came on a bed of sweetcorn and a chilli jam, which I tried a bite of and it tasted wonderful, with a nice balance of heat and sweetness. We both felt this salsa was actually the star of the dish, as the seitan could have done with a little bitimg_6330 more seasoning. My tortellini filled with mushroom however was incredibly flavoursome, and came served with a tomato consomme. I don’t really understand how a consomme is made but from what I can tell from watching Masterchef, this one was pretty good; it was quite clear and packed with flavour too. The ‘spring vegetables’ were in fact some carrot and celery chopped into the tiniest of pieces, which added some texture and freshness to the dish. This course was a really good start to the meal, I only wished there was more of it!

img_6332Our main course arrived fairly promptly, though sadly we had to wait a good few minutes until we could tuck in because our cutlery had been taken away after the first course and not replaced. The waiter was very apologetic when he realised though, and we both appreciated this was their first time running a (sold out) pop-up restaurant so it would’ve been hard to keep on top of absolutely everything. My main course was the chickpea ballotine served on a bed of crushed peas and a cauliflower mousse. It also came with a small smudge of black sauce which I have to admit I still have no idea what it was. The taste of the whole dish overall though was delicious. The vegetables were seasoned beautifully, the refreshing flavours of which were really complemented by the ballotine. img_6334Again, the dish was pretty small and I could have happily eaten two portions of this without it scraping the sides. With it being fine dining though, I had expected that to be the case. Valentina’s dish was a bit more substantial because of the dauphinoise, which tasted nice, and the layers looked amazing, though sadly there was one layer of potato which was a bit thicker than the others and therefore slightly underdone. The green vegetables accompanying the dish tasted really good and probably stole the show on this plate.

 

img_6338We deliberated slightly over whether to get a third course or not, both of us being on budgets, but I’m definitely glad I persuaded myself. My chocolate torte more than made up for any hunger I was still feeling after the small savoury courses – I actually couldn’t finish it all because it was so rich and decadent. So. Much. Chocolate! There was a layer of chocolate and nut brittle inside, as well as the thick dark chocolate ganache, and an avocado and pistachio mousse. Unfortunately I didn’t really taste much pistachio in there, perhaps because the chocolate was so intense, though I could taste the avocado, and I can’t quite make my mind up on how I feel about that in a dessert. I peered over at the cheese board on someone else’s table and that looked fantastic, there was a £3 supplement for this, but having seen it, perhaps next time I’d be tempted to try it. img_6340Valentina was a little less impressed with her dessert which was a cherry and cashew mille-feuille. It looked very attractive on the plate, but the layers of what would usually be puff pastry looked overdone so they were a bit more like a biscuit and difficult to cut into with just a spoon. I didn’t take up Valentina’s offer to try a taste because I was simply too full from my own dessert, but she mentioned the cashew cream was a bit bland, though the cherry compote was tasty. I think the dish had a lot of potential and I was really torn between which dessert to order as they’d both sounded fantastic on the menu, so probably with a bit more refinement this would have been amazing.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend that local vegans attend a Fortuity Foods pop-up, if and when they hold their next event. It’s a chance to try vegan fine dining at a very reasonable price, and certainly something different from anything I’ve experienced before. We could tell that this was their first event as there were bits here and there that could have been improved, but the love and care that was taken over creating the menu and preparing the food was unmistakable. I had a really interesting and enjoyable evening, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s on their next menu!

Review: The Pickled Walnut


I finally got to try the food at Syrian restaurant The Pickled Walnut on Cowley Road for a friend’s birthday, with it having been on my list of places to visit for quite a while. He kindly opted to go there as it had seemingly lots of veggie options, although I think it probably wouldn’t have been his usual first choice! Happily, the food was fantastic, and everyone seemed to really enjoy their meals (although my boyfriend, Jamie, said he actually preferred my vegan option to his meat dish – score!).

Shortly after we’d been seated on some interesting squashy stools round the table, our drinks orders were taken. I went for an apple juice, which I ended up being charged £1 more for than was listed on the menu. I didn’t mind because when it came, it was freshly squeezed, and tasted quite different from the standard juice that comes out of a carton at an incredibly high mark-up at restaurants usually. The waitresses were attentive at topping up a bottle of tap water for the table, and getting more drinks if anyone wanted any.

img_6284Jamie and I shared two starters, both of which were heavenly. Jamie went for falafel as he’s not super adventurous, and I chose the mutubal, which was described as burnt aubergine with tahini. I ignorantly expected it to be chunks of grilled aubergine with some tahini dip on the side, but when it came it was actually just a dip blended to a similar consistency to houmous. Both starters were a very reasonable size. We were completely won over by the smoky dip, Jamie tried a little bit at first but ended up definitely eating his fair share, it was so tasty. The falafels were some of the best I’ve had too. There were so many other vegan options that I’d love to try next time! You could easily go here for a tapas type meal selecting just from the starters.

img_6286All five of the vegetarian main courses on the menu are vegan. There was also a veggie kebab mixed grill on the other main courses section, which without the halloumi would be totally fine as well. Someone else in our party ordered this, it looked amazing, and she said it tasted great too. I took a really long time to decide what I wanted to order for my main course, but ended up going for the fasoulia: french beans with a tomato sauce and a side of rice, which the waitress recommended over the bulgar wheat for this particular dish. It arrived as a big bowl full of tomato sauce with a huge mound of green beans and pomodorino tomatoes, with a separate bowl, also decent sized, for the rice. I ended up leaving about a third of it because there was just too much food! It’s a simple dish, but done really well. The sauce was amazingly rich, sweet and garlicky, and everything was cooked nicely. This is the sort of meal I’d never really think to cook at home but I’d happily eat like this every night! I’m really keen to go back and try some of the other dishes as they sound similarly delicious. We weren’t offered a dessert menu, so I think they really focus on the savoury dishes here, which was fine by me – I probably would’ve made myself feel ill if I’d tried to eat any more.

My meal came to around £17 for the two courses with a drink, so if you’re on a student budget, this might be a place to come for a special occasion, and I think the food and atmosphere makes it well-suited for this. Our waitress was brilliant, when I asked to begin with if any of the vegetarian mains were dairy-free, she responded straight away ‘they’re all vegan so you don’t need to worry about that’, and she was happy to make recommendations to our table about what was good on the menu, as well as alternatives when they didn’t have a couple of the items available. She didn’t get annoyed when we took forever about ordering our mains and changing our minds, which is always nice! This feels like the perfect place to come for a summery evening meal, perhaps after graduation, but I’d recommend trying to find an excuse to visit at some point no matter what!

Review: The Tree Hotel

The Tree Hotel in Iffley village launched a vegan menu fairly recently, and since it’s been on my radar, I’ve been dying to find a time to try it out. As neither me or Jamie drive, it’s been a case of waiting until I had a day free to take a walk down there. Happily, this weekend a good friend from out of town came to visit, and as we both quite enjoy walking, we decided to walk to town via Iffley Lock, and stop at The Tree Hotel for a meal on the way.

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Despite having lived in Oxford for nearly six years, this was my first time venturing into Iffley village, and it’s so cute! I wouldn’t have expected this quiet rural village to have been a couple of steps away from the busy Iffley Road. When we entered the pub, no one was there to seat us and it wasn’t super clear where to go, so we peered through a couple of doorways before someone noticed us and showed us through to the bar. We asked for a table for two, and were asked ‘are either of you vegan?’ before being given the menus, which I thought was great, because quite often they just provide the vegan menu on request rather than actively encouraging people to choose from it. The pub has a nice beer garden, and as it was so sunny and warm, we decided to get a table outside. We believed there was a wedding party staying at the hotel, as we’d seen a couple of ladies dressed up and the car park was full, but there was only one table occupied in the restaurant, and a couple of people having a drink outside. With it being lunchtime on one of the rare summery days we have here, Carolina and I were surprised at just how quiet it was, as this place clearly has a lot of potential and we felt like it should have been really busy with people getting food or just enjoying the sunshine with a drink.

IMG_5837Obviously I’d already had a decent look at the menu online before we got there, and all of the starters sounded delicious, but I was intrigued by the teriyaki tofu so went for that. I expected it to come on skewers for some reason but when it arrived it was an attractive plate of stir fried tofu and finely diced onion and herbs with a side salad. The dish was a really generous size and the marinade was spot on, I’d love to steal the recipe. I almost preferred the flavour of the onion mixture to the tofu because you got such an intense teriyaki flavour from it.

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Carolina, who isn’t vegan herself, liked the sound of a couple of things on the vegan menu too, so we decided to share two main courses, which I was really pleased about as I’m notoriously bad at deciding on one dish to eat, and it meant I got to try more of their selection. We went for the vegan shepherd’s pie served with sweet potato fries, and a curry. I believe the shepherd’s pie was supposed to be served with salad and they didn’t put any on the plate, which ordinarily I might have questioned, but between my starter and the curry, I felt like we had enough salad that it wasn’t worth worrying about too much. On the plus side, I guess it also meant there was room for more sweet potato fries on the plate. I feel like I review a sweet potato chip in every post I write, and never have anything bad to say! Anyway these were lovely and crispy, and had just the right amount of salt. The shepherd’s pie itself was really tasty. The mashed potato was so creamy, enough so that I found myself thinking ‘I really hope this is vegan’, because I’ve never managed to get it like that at home. The filling was made with a vegan mince substitute and a handful of the veggies you’d expect – peas, carrot etc. It was more tomato-y than I would expect a shepherd’s pie to be, as opposed to being a gravy based sauce, but it was so nicely seasoned and really enjoyable. Vegan pub food can be hard to come by and this really hit the spot.

IMG_5840There were two curry options on the menu, a malabar tofu curry (which I have to admit I just Googled because I’d never heard of it before, and turns out it’s usually a seafood dish) and a vegetable green Thai curry, both served with jasmine rice. We ordered the latter, but following my search, I’m wondering whether we were served the former, as the photos of a malabar curry look much more similar to what we were served. I wasn’t expecting there to be any tofu in it because it wasn’t mentioned on the menu description of the curry we chose, so I did think it was lucky we both liked tofu otherwise we’d have been pretty disappointed when it came. This was the first time Carolina had properly tried tofu as well so it was even luckier that she didn’t mind it really. So I ended up eating so much tofu over the course of this meal, far more than I usually would in one go. But having said all this, the curry was really wonderful and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The sauce was such a beautiful flavour; it was sweet, rich, and creamy, and still came with plenty of vegetables in, including carrots, green beans, peppers, and aubergine. So whichever curry it was, I recommend it. The salad was a nice addition as well, helping you feel slightly better about the nutritional content of an otherwise clearly very indulgent meal!

IMG_5847For dessert, I was slightly torn between the chocolate tart with strawberries, and the apple pie and custard, which was notoriously my favourite as a child (when we’d have it for pudding after a big Sunday roast, I would somehow manage to go for seconds, thirds… basically as many helpings as I could get my hand on). However, as it was such a nice warm day I thought the fruit would be a bit more refreshing, so I went for the chocolate option. We decided that the pudding took longer to come out than the main course, I’m guessing because they heated the tart up properly in the oven. I was slightly disappointed that the ‘fresh strawberries’ mention on the menu in plural ended up being literally one small strawberry chopped into three slices, considering that was what swayed me to order the dish. The tart was fairly small – sorry the perspective of my photo doesn’t really show the size of the whole dessert – but you definitely wouldn’t have needed anything larger, as it was incredibly rich and sticky molten chocolate. This chocolate reminded me more of the milk chocolate desserts I’d had before I was vegan, and again I found myself questioning whether it was really dairy free (typical vegan paranoia I think). The pastry case was a little chewy but the flavour of the whole thing was wonderful. I managed to get quite a lot of chocolate on my face. Clearly I was enjoying the dessert enough not to worry – loved it.

When paying for my dessert, I had a quick chat with the waiter and asked him whether many people came in and ordered off the vegan menu, and he told me it was really popular, which I was very happy to hear. There really aren’t many places locally that offer something like The Tree Hotel menu, which I’m sure is why it’s successful, and I only hope that other local places start to follow suit as the market is clearly there. I’m happy enough when there’s a single palatable vegan option on a menu when eating out at a pub, but to have been served such lovely food in a nice setting like this really felt like a treat. I’ll definitely be bringing my family here when they next come to visit, and would recommend a nice walk to Iffley to enjoy the food here any time. The last time I checked, they don’t offer the vegan meals on a Sunday sadly as they have a buffet/carvery on instead of the usual menu, but I’m sure it’s always worth calling ahead to see if they have anything suitable. My three courses came to £20, which is more than I’d usually spend on one meal out, but I was more than happy to pay it because I really felt that the quality of the food was worth it. I spotted a sign that they do 2 for 1 on main courses on Monday evenings, so I think I know when I’ll next head down – and maybe I’ll bump into a few fellow Oxford vegans there? ;P

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Vegan Eats on tour: Birmingham

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I recently took a trip to Birmingham with work; one of the nicer parts about my job is getting out of the office to meet our customers and authors, and it also means I get to visit some different parts of the UK and sample some of the vegan food they have to offer.

Thanks to the wonderful Happy Cow website (I really must download the app, this thing is a lifesaver when you’re in an area you don’t know very well), I was able to plan a couple of my must-try places in advance. On the first night, I visited Natural Healthy Foods on Suffolk Street, which opened earlier this year. As I approached the front door, I could already smell one of their hot dishes being cooked, and it smelled so good that it really made me excited about eating there.

IMG_5436[1]When you enter the store you find yourself in a vegan supermarket. This place is like heaven. You could pick up all your staple store-cupboard goods here, sweet treats, perishable items like cheese, as well as cleaning products and toiletries. I spent a little while having a browse before heading into the restaurant area. I loved the atmosphere here, the look and feel of the place is really welcoming and enticing. The food is all laid out on a bench to the side of the tills, with hot dishes on one side, and raw dishes on the other. You pay by weight, so you pick yourself a plate and take as much or as little as you like, also presumably helping to reduce food waste which is a huge bonus. I took quite a while surveying all the dishes and seeing what food was on offer, long enough for a friendly server to come over and ask me if I’d been before and if I knew how everything worked, which I appreciated. She introduced me to the different dishes, and advised on how spicy the ones marked ‘hot’ were. I decided to take the ‘little bit of everything’ approach. I’ve not really eaten much ‘raw’ food prepared like this before, so was interested to see what everything was like. I enjoyed some of the things I picked more than others – the leafy greens in a chinese style sauce was particularly delicious – but of course this will come down to personal preference, and you can be as adventurous here as you like. My large plate of wholesome food came to around £12, so if you have a bigger appetite obviously this could end up being a bit of an expensive option, but it worked out really well for me. There are also a handful of raw desserts on offer, but due to the budget I decided to just pick up some Ombar chocolate buttons (my new fave) to enjoy back in my hotel room.

IMG_5453[1]The next morning, I decided to go for a hearty breakfast at Cherry Reds. I came here a couple of times last year, for breakfast and dinner, and knew I wanted to visit again due to their wonderful food. A vegan fry up is always going to be a winner with me! The Cherry Reds vegan breakfast comes with fried tofu, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, veggie sausage, baked beans, hash browns, and piles of toast. I actually skipped lunch that day because I was so full from eating all this! It was super tasty, and dare I say it, practically healthy, because it’s mostly vegetables… right?

I ordered the vegan falafel burger on a previous visit which came with the most perfect sweet potato fries, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole meal. I’d also recommend looking in their cake cabinet at their vegan fare (spoilt for choice with a handful of options each time I’ve visited). Each time I’ve got food here, I’ve been on my own, and the chilled out and friendly atmosphere has made me feel welcome and not awkward at all. Being a cafe/bar, it gets quite lively in the evenings though, so it’s the perfect place for both a relaxed breakfast or a sociable evening out.

img_5463So you definitely won’t go hungry as a vegan in Birmingham. I also went out for a curry with my colleagues at Barajee, an Indian restaurant on Broad Street, right on the canal. The staff were really helpful when advising which meals could be veganised, and cooked a properly delicious veggie korahi using oil instead of ghee on request. Overall, I had a great vegan eating experience in the city, and Cherry Red’s and Natural Healthy Foods, both short walks from Birmingham New Street station, are definitely my top tips for visiting if you’re taking a trip.

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