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 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: Las Iguanas


This is the sad tale of how I visited Las Iguanas twice in a week and ordered the same thing because I didn’t feel I had time to properly enjoy my meal the first time.

I went to see John Mayer at the O2 Arena last week with a friend and we’d planned to get dinner beforehand. The O2 arena has a plethora of chain restaurants, no doubt all owned by the same small handful of companies, but many of which do have quite a decent vegan offering – good to know you definitely won’t go hungry if you’re attending an event here. We decided on Las Iguanas, and by the time we sat down the support act was well underway and there was about an hour until JM was supposed to start his set.

I’d had a look at the menu in advance and it looked really good, but was pretty disappointed once we’d been seated to be presented with their ‘event day’ reduced set menu at around £17 for two courses (I ended up paying about £26 including one drink and tip). Lots of the delicious sounding vegan options that I’d seen online weren’t available, but we had committed and didn’t really have time to change our minds at this point. They couldn’t provide me with the separate vegan menu but were happy to talk through all the suitable options on this one, as well as any swaps they could make.

I ended up ordering the nachos without cheese or sour cream, and the portobello mushroom fajitas. The portion of nachos was huge – probably enough food alone to have kept me going to be honest. They tasted fine, but with the lack of non-vegan toppings they were a bit dry and could’ve done with some extra salsa or guacamole to compensate. I was really happy when the fajitas arrived to see that they’d done exactly that with my main, replacing two of the little accompanying pots with extra vegan fillings. The meal came with four flour tortillas and a huge dish full of mushrooms, onions, and peppers. The mushroom mixture was one of the nicest things I’ve eaten in a chain restaurant, I only wish I hadn’t filled myself up with all the nachos. Worse still, John Mayer was due on stage in 20 minutes and our main course had only just come out. My friend had ordered the fajitas too so we were panic filling our wraps as fast as possible – not the most enjoyable experience! I left a lot of my veg and two of my wraps as I just didn’t have time to eat them, which was pretty devastating knowing how much I was paying for them.

img_5488In the end, John Mayer was 15 minutes late coming on stage, and after getting through the long queue at the airport-style security at the O2, we just managed to get to our seats as the event started. But back to the food; I went to London the following week for a conference with work, and decided I wanted to give those fajitas another go (because they’ve been haunting my dreams obviously) when I was in less of a hurried situation. This time I went to the Royal Festival Hall restaurant, and while the service wasn’t bad at all on the first visit, this time it was something else. It’s certainly something to do with the fact I was dining alone, but my food came out within five minutes of me ordering. When the waitress brought out my fajitas, she warned me probably unnecessarily that they were still very hot. The fat was still spitting furiously, the veggies had obviously been tipped straight off a frying pan and brought out to me in a matter of seconds, and it was nice to receive quite such a freshly cooked meal.

This is probably not a first date meal. There is so much raw garlic and barely cooked onion in this dish that you can taste it the next day. I would feel bad about ordering this out with my boyfriend if he didn’t order something similar (although that’s not to say I wouldn’t order it regardless). There is not really a dignified way to eat a fajita like this either, my face and hands got covered in food, and eventually I resorted to using a knife and fork because it was just going everywhere. Don’t let this put you off though, it’s a really enjoyable, tasty plate of food. Whatever those mushrooms are seasoned in, I want the recipe!

Las Iguanas offer two desserts suitable for vegans: a mango sorbet (if I were ever to have to resort to ordering a sorbet, at least this is probably the flavour I’d go for), and a set coconut pudding called a tembleque, served with mixed berries and a mango coulis. On my second visit, I ordered the latter to takeaway, as I was feeling far too full to eat it there and then, but was determined to try it. I’m sure had they been putting it on a plate it would’ve looked much prettier than in the photo I’ve taken, and to give them credit, they were happy to hunt around for a takeaway pot and paper bag for me as it was not a request they typically received. I couldn’t work out what this dish was made of, but I’ve since found the exact recipe on their website. This dish is a really nice, light way to finish off a meal like this, with the coconutty pudding mixed with the tartness of the berries, it’s a good palette cleanser and not too sickly sweet.

I think the fact that I visited twice in the space of a week should tell you all you need to know about whether the food at Las Iguanas is any good or not. I had a great experience both times I visited. The Oxford branch of Las Iguanas is on Park End Street, in the city centre. While I didn’t go to this particular restaurant, I’d expect the food and experience to be similar. If you’re on a budget, I’d suggest visiting before 6.30 on a weekday when they have an early evening deal on, or checking their website for a money off voucher, because it certainly isn’t cheap for standard chain restaurant food. They also have a happy hour with 2 for 1 cocktails, so it would be a great option for a birthday meal or something similar, given the variety of food to suit most tastes.

Review: Feast Without The Beast at The Fir Tree

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When I saw a page shared on a vegan Facebook group about a new Sunday lunch menu at the Fir Tree on Iffley Road, I was more than a bit excited – quickly sharing the link with my only vegan friend in Oxford, we arranged to eat there on the weekend. Feast Without The Beast only launched last weekend so there isn’t much online to tell you what you can expect from the food yet, but the menu looked promising, and this is the only place in Oxford with a fully vegan offering, so it was definitely high on my list of places to check out.

When I arrived, I felt a bit awkward about having called in advance to book a table because we were literally the only ones there. That can be a bit off-putting, but I’m sure it’s just because this is a brand new concept and not many people have heard about it yet – so vegan friends of Oxford, please head to the Fir Tree sometime soon and show them that the market is here!

Untitled designYou can really tell that a lot of thought and care has gone into putting together this menu, I could have easily ordered any of the dishes. The chef brought the food out to our table himself and seemed really keen that we enjoy our meal. Valentina ordered the moussaka, so I decided to go for the nut roast in the interest of testing out different things. This was, shock, the first nut roast I’ve ever eaten, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but I was happy that it wasn’t too dry thanks to the butternut squash, and its sweetness combined with the mixed nuts and seeds was really delicious. I might be more inclined to order a nut roast at other places now! The roast potatoes were perfectly crispy (why can’t I get mine to go like that..), and there was a decent variety of vegetables and trimmings along with it, including the thick gravy pulling everything together. I tried a bite of Valentina’s moussaka, which she said it reminded her of home, and that really summed up how I felt about my meal too, in the best way, because I think that’s exactly what you want from a Sunday dinner.

Untitled design (1)Although we were both feeling pretty full from our mains, we couldn’t say no to the opportunity to try a coveted vegan dessert that wasn’t a sorbet. Valentina had been dreaming about that tiramisu since I sent her the menu, and I’m never one to turn down a pudding, so I decided to order the snix, a millionaire’s shortbread style cake, which was served with fruit salad. It was sweet, coco-nutty, and very rich (literally dread to think how many calories I consumed over these two courses with all of those nuts), it felt like such an indulgent treat. Valentina said the tiramisu was deliciously creamy and although it wasn’t really like a traditional tiramisu, it was very tasty just the same.

Untitled design (2)Valentina mentioned that as she got to the pub a little early she thought she’d grab a coffee, but when she tried to order at the bar, they didn’t have any soy milk or even really seem to know what it was, which seemed a bit strange when they were serving an all-vegan menu. The yorkshire pudding also was a bit hard on top, but actually this was the first vegan one I’ve had cooked for me and it was still a pretty decent attempt (and far superior to anything I’ve come up with at home). So aside from these tiny things, it was a really lovely meal, and I only hope that more people go and show their support for the new menu.

If you’re a student missing mum’s roast dinner, or the thought of slaving away in the kitchen for two hours on a Sunday afternoon isn’t really your thing, I’d definitely recommend the Feast Without The Beast for a comforting and filling home-cooked meal. I’m sure I could bring my non-vegan boyfriend here and he’d love it too, and it’s the sort of place I might take my family if they were in Oxford for a visit. If you want to show sceptics that being vegan doesn’t just mean eating salad, this is the place to come.

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