In a county famed for its healthy lifestyle – it’s no surprise there is a profusion of eateries dedicated to the art of veganism – Abby Driver goes in search of the perfect menu…
Veganism – a way of living which excludes all animal foods and products – is big news right now. One of the fastest growing movements, the number of vegans in the UK has risen by 360 per centin the last 10 years. Its popularity is in part spurred on by campaigns like Veganuary, which encourages people to go vegan for January; this year almost 60,000 people took part in the challenge with 67 per cent deciding to stay vegan. And even down here in Cornwall, where trends tend to trickle down dreckly, there is evidence of a growing taste for all things vegan.
A growing demand
Dawn and Paul White opened The Cornish Vegan (thecornishvegan.com) in Truro last year after being pleasantly surprised by the number of vegans in the county. ‘The vegan scene across Cornwall, the UK and wider world as a whole is definitely growing year on year. When we opened The Cornish Vegan, we were just the second 100 per cent vegan restaurant in Cornwall, the first being Wildebeest in Falmouth,’ says Dawn. ‘There are several other pop-up vegan places, and more vegan eateries opening all the time. Not to mention the number of pubs, chains and other places that are offering vegan menus. It’s fantastic and such an exciting time to be vegan!’
Sam Grady runs two vegan food businesses: Good2Go (good2gocornwall.co.uk) and The Cornish Vegan Pasty Company (thecornishveganpastycompany.co.uk). ‘One of the biggest barriers to veganism I encounter is food: “what do you eat?” or “Isn’t it expensive?” or “what about cheese?” etc. Both of the companies allow us to demonstrate that vegan food is delicious, and very accessible. At least half of our customers at Good2Go aren’t vegan, but they want something delicious, fresh and nutritious,’ says Sam.
In the five years that Sam has been a vegan she has noticed a huge wave of change. ‘When I went vegan I didn’t know any other vegans in Cornwall. Since then a number of vegan cafes have opened, with more in the pipeline, there are frequent vegan events, the vegan options at non-vegan eateries have improved considerably in size and quality; and there is a great community of vegans in Cornwall.’
Chef and vegetarian of 25-years Stephen Hartley decided to open Begin V (facebook.com/BeginV), a vegetarian and vegan café in Bodmin, after being impressed by the popularity of vegan cakes on a trip to Bangkok. ‘I decided I could make them so much better, so I started researching vegan cakes,’ and having tried several varieties, I can confirm they are very good indeed.
Despite being a vegetarian café, Stephen tells me, since opening, Begin V is like a macrocosm for a study of how veganism is growing in England. ‘I decided to have both vegetarian and vegan to give everyone a choice, but actually a lot of vegetarians are making the move over to being vegans, myself included. From the first week I knew that all the cakes had to be vegan.’
Part of the growing demand and awareness of veganism is thanks to social media. ‘The local Cornwall Vegans Facebook group is around 1400 members strong and everyone is so supportive of each other,’ says Dawn. Joannie Muskett is one of the organisers behind the Cornwall Vegan Festival which took place in April and she can certainly vouch for this too. She told me they were delighted with the turnout, which attracted many visitors who were not already vegan or vegetarian. ‘We enjoyed around a 120 per cent increase in attendees. We believe this is due to the overall rise in awareness of veganism in Cornwall and the UK, and not least in part, to the popularity of the Cornwall Vegans group and outreach work,’ she says.
If you’re a meat eater, you might well be wondering if you’ll be missing out. But according to the cafes and restaurants I spoke to, most meat eaters have been pleasantly surprised. ‘I have had a few customers that are meat eaters and have found that they welcome this café with open arms. I have had some people that have never thought that food could taste that good with no animal products,’ says Stephen from Begin V.
Dawn from The Cornish Vegan tells me they get quite a lot of meat eaters, often those visiting with their vegan friends and family. ‘It’s quite funny to see, actually, as they tend to arrive very hesitant and concerned as to what they might eat. Then once they try the food, they love it. Some have even been shocked to see how much some of our meat substitutes – sausages, roast beef and fried chicken – taste like the real thing. One meat eating family recently came in with their vegan mother and declared our fried chickin to be even better than real chicken.’
For Dawn, this is seriously high praise. ‘We love it when we can please meat eaters, as hopefully it will encourage them to try more vegan food and see for themselves that vegan food can be just as good as what they call “normal” food.’
Something for everyone
But vegan food isn’t limited to 100 per cent vegan or vegetarian establishments; restaurants with meat on the menu are increasingly keen to expand their veggie offerings to keep all customers happy.
Take The Stable (stablepizza.com) – this popular pizza joint now offers a vegan menu alongside the original menu. I asked Andy Briggs, co-founder and head executive chef, why they decided to do this. ‘It was out of necessity. Before we even did the vegan menu we’d get people coming in and we’d try and make them something but obviously we didn’t have a cheese for them. So you’d make them a pizza and it would just look so awful and I felt so sorry for these guys. So this is why I created the menu.’
And the reaction has been beyond anything they’d imagined. ‘We didn’t realise just how popular it was, but it just went ballistic.’ More than anything, they realised just how grateful vegans were to have options available at a non-vegan restaurants. I certainly was when I visited the Fistral Beach branch earlier in the year. I was equal parts shocked and delighted with the choice: four different pizzas, two salads and even a side of vegan garlic bread! I opted for The Hazel Nutter and it was easily the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had. But more to the point, it was wonderful to be able to visit a “normal” restaurant where everyone was catered for and happy with their meal.
The Cornish Vegan, as the name suggests, is a fantastic option for a 100 per cent vegan menu and it’s the place to head if you’re after some serious comfort food. ‘Seeing as Paul and I have spent most of our lives as meat eaters, there are a lot of foods we grew up with that we miss and that we’ve replicated in vegan form. So our menu tends to include such things as burgers, sausages, fried ‘chickin’ sandwiches, pulled BBQ jackfruit sandwiches, along with an assortment of salads and soups. We also serve a lot of southern-style dishes from my part of the world, such as gumbo, black bean soup, and our new chickin biscuit, which is fried chickin on a buttered scone. It’s delicious and everyone who has tried it loves it, meat-eaters included!’ says Dawn.
Wildebeest (wildebeestcafe.com) in Falmouth which offered a 100 per cent vegan menu with a global influence and although closed on 8 May, is up for sale if you fancy trying your hand at a vegan business. On my last visit I enjoyed miso soup, followed by a mex mix including refried beans, cashew cheese and handmade tortillas and finished with a warm chocolate brownie and ice cream.
You’ll also find a 100 per cent vegan menu at Little Lotus Kitchen in Truro, a new organic deli and café serving up a range of nourishing meals including salads and homemade burgers. And if you’re in Perranporth, time it right and head to Good2Go, a 100 per cent vegan food truck serving up tasty treats like falafel, salads, hot dogs, nachos and ice cream.
For a vegan-friendly vegetarian café, put Begin V on your To Eat List. The homemade cake is a must try and the Reuben Sandwich is seriously unforgettable. I had it twice in one week once. Archie Browns (archiebrowns.co.uk) is a health food shop and vegetarian café in Truro and Penzance with a very vegan friendly menu and The Bean Inn (thebeaninn.co.uk) near St Ives is an institution not to be missed.
If you’re dining out with diehard meat-eaters, there are plenty of non-veggie restaurants that cater to vegans. For the best pizza this side of Italy, get a table at The Stable at either Falmouth or Fistral Beach.
For the best burgers of your life it has to be St Ives’ Blas Burgerworks (blasburgerworks.co.uk). Despite their meat-heavy menu there are three vegan burgers on the menu and they even have tempeh as an extra! w
More and more restaurants, cafés and pubs are starting to notice the increase in vegans and adapting their menus accordingly.
To find out more about veganism and places serving delicious vegan food visit cornwallvegans.uk