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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Review: Brunch at GAF

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Going out for a proper brunch was a new experience for me. I love to cook and enjoy taking the time on a weekend to create something like waffles or pancakes at home, which I just don’t have the time to make during the week. I’m also a big fan of having (at least) three meals a day. Who are these crazy people who are choosing to forego a precious meal?! So I may have snuck in a small breakfast before going to meet my friend Lucy in East Oxford at 11.30 which, let’s face it, is almost lunch time anyway…

I’d thought about going to GAF since it opened, but was a little put off by a couple of reviews I’d read which suggested the place tries to be a bit upmarket and subsequently the portion sizes are quite small. However, the menu certainly looked pretty vegan friendly, so we decided to meet there. Lucy arrived before me and got us a table at the back; it was pretty busy when we arrived, and only seemed to get busier while we ate. The staff were very friendly and attentive. Our drinks order was taken as soon as I sat down, and literally seconds later, a second waitress came to ask if we’d like any drinks, and we explained we’d just ordered. When we finished our meal, the exact same thing happened again! It was kind of funny, but you can’t really fault them for making sure we had everything we needed 🙂

“Clearly it’s really important to them that we stay hydrated” – Lucy

I really liked the sound of a few things on their menu, particularly the porridge, smashed avocado on toast, and the GAF breakfast. Ultimately I decided that it would be a bit much to dedicate a whole blog post to reviewing a bowl of oatmeal, however nice that oatmeal might be, and I was feeling something hearty so I went for the vegan GAF breakfast, at £9. It was labelled ‘vegetarian with a vegan alternative’ on the menu, as it came with an egg. I suggested to Lucy (rather hopefully) that maybe they would put a bit of avocado on my plate instead. Alas, when I ordered the breakfast, the waitress confirmed my suspicions: “so you want the vegan breakfast – with no egg, yes?” Ah, that well-known ‘vegan alternative’ of paying the same price for less food on the plate.

img_4065When the food arrived, the initial sight of lots of white space on my plate kind of played up to my assumptions that this was the sort of place where you pay a lot for a little, but actually it was a really nice amount of food. Let’s actually get to it: I loved it. I will definitely go back here again, the food was delicious and well worth spending a little more than I usually would for lunch. The juicy field mushroom and diced tomatoes were cooked exactly how I would have them. There was a mound of rocket on top of the dish which wasn’t mentioned on the menu description, which was a welcome addition for me, but I know not everyone is a fan of its strong flavour. I didn’t miss the greasy hash brown that usually comes with an English breakfast at all and only wished there could’ve been a few more of the gorgeous caramelised sweet potato chunks this came with, but that’s just me being greedy I think. I could really tell that the smokey baked beans were homemade, and the flavour pulled the dish together. I saved the compote which came with the toast, incredibly sweet and aromatic (kind of reminded me of a Christmas candle…), for once I was done with everything else, and it was actually a very nice way to finish off the meal, kind of like having a pudding!

I would recommend GAF for a great vegan brunch. The menu is labelled really clearly and caters for different diets, making it a good choice for those with vegans, veggies, and meat-eaters in their group (sadly they had steak on the brunch menu, which seems bizarre to me). The cafe is open for dinner too and Lucy mentioned that they change up their evening menu every month or so as they like to use seasonal produce, so I definitely plan on paying another visit in the near future! Watch this space…

Event: Oxford Vegan Festival

A beautifully sunny 25th of March saw Oxford’s first ever vegan festival, organised by Farplace Animal Rescue and held at the Kassam Stadium Conference Centre. I had no idea what to expect in terms of size and popularity of this event, but when we arrived to a reasonable sized queue at the building entrance, one question entered my mind – where have all you Oxford vegans been hiding?!
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I love vegan festivals because they feel like a safe haven where you don’t have to worry about triple checking an ingredients list, or feeling awkward about asking what’s in something. I came along with three non-vegan friends and I think everyone ended up really enjoying themselves, which was great! We spent longer at the festival than I expected us to, definitely getting our money’s worth of free samples and indulging in plenty of goodies. We did a lap of the stalls before deciding what to get for lunch (it took me forever, far more choice than I’m used to!)

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After deliberating over pizzas, burgers, flatbreads, fish and chips, and mac ‘n’ cheese, I finally landed on a seitan pie and mash from Young Vegans, served up with crispy onions and a rocket salad. This was my first time trying seitan and I absolutely loved this meal. It was meaty, filling comfort food at its best, and super reasonable at only £6. They’re regulars at Tottenham Green Market, and I might pay them another visit if I’m ever in the area! I also picked up a slice of battenberg (very sorry I don’t remember the name of the vendor who was selling this but I would love to be reminded so please do comment if you know!), and a mint chocolate brownie from Eat Dark Matters, as well as a curry pie from Mr Nice Pies to heat up for my boyfriend’s dinner when he got home from his day working; I’m nice like that ;). All in all it was a delicious day of over-eating and spending time in good company, which is pretty much a perfect Saturday in my book!

It was nice to see some familiar faces that I’ve come across at other festivals, but especially great to find out about local vegan businesses that I’d not yet discovered and to have a chat with the people working hard to try and make the thing they care about a success. I felt a bit sorry for the vendors who were in the downstairs foyer because business definitely seemed to be slower for them, most of the stalls and the seating area were upstairs which meant that once people had gone up there they didn’t really go back down until they were on their way out. However, we did our bit by purchasing an amazing banana soda bread loaf from Global Fusion Vegan Creole Bakery which went down a treat for breakfast this morning.

Farplace organise vegan festivals all around the country and I’d thoroughly recommend checking one out if you can, it’s such a fun day out and a great advocate for veganism, showcasing all the best things about being vegan in a really positive, inclusive way. Here’s to Oxford Vegan Festival 2018!

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