Top 5: Vegan Lunches in LondonBy Laura Hemmington
For new and long standing vegans alike, lunch out can often conjure up a sense of worry. It’s an undefined meal that usually translates into grabbing a sandwich, pasta dish, salad or soup, which can all be tricky for vegans. Until very recently, vegan lunch choices in cafes have been misunderstood, mislabelled or just not given any consideration at all. When I became a vegan in 2012 I remember having an anxious first week trying to find anything I could eat in central London. Either the options just weren’t available, or the ones that were – such as the delicious mezze and wraps at Lebanese chain Yalla Yalla – weren’t being marketed as vegan, so it didn’t occur to me to pop in for lunch. But all that’s changing in a major way. Not only are there a number of fantastic dedicated vegan eateries in London, but many of the chains we probably all walk past several times a day (Pret, Le Pain Quotidien and Pho to name a few) are cottoning on to the benefits of understanding plant-based diets and offering them up as equal contenders on the menu.
Here are some of my favourite places in London to find a vegan lunch, whether you’re looking for somewhere to power-up your weekday afternoon with something nutritious, a hearty Sunday lunch or an absolutely delicious burger.
Why: Planet Organic, the self-styled ‘one-stop shop full of all the right choices’, ticks all the boxes for a great go-to lunch spot. As a certified organic grocery store, you can be sure that everything you choose will be of the highest quality, free from anything artificial and sourced sustainably. Get something pre-made to take away from the counter or the extensive refrigerated shelves, enjoy a fresh smoothie, juice or coffee from one of the dedicated bars or take a seat in the cafe area. While you’re there, stock up on your vegan store-cupboard essentials like nutritional yeast, tempeh, 1kg tubs of peanut butter or a handful of raw chocolate bars.
What to order: Choose either a small, medium or large box to be filled for you at the serving counter. My absolute favourite combination includes tofu stir fry, potatoes and all the salads: broccoli, celery and orange and tofu with tomatoes. There are also curry, lentil and pasta dishes to choose from, all labelled clearly for vegan options.
If you’re in a hurry: Grab a raw Vietnamese Roll from the packaged range by London vegan favourite, Saf.
Planet Organic has branches across London
Why: Wild Food Cafe offers an incredible menu of raw-centric meals that will convince any sceptic of the benefits and downright deliciousness of eating raw. One of the most popular dishes is the Ayurvedic Super Salad, a fabulous pile of superfood heavyweights including hijiki seaweed, avocado and activated seeds. If you’re in the mood for something more familiar, choose from their other favourites like the Wild Falafel or Wild Burger.
What to order: I’m head over heels in love with the Wild Pizza Special. The crisp base created from squash, toppings of raw and cultured vegetables and the basil pesto all have an impressively intense flavour, which accompanied by courgette zoodles and salty capers make this a real treat.
Don’t miss: The Raw Chocolate and Berry Tart. It’s a slice of pure, chocolatey, nutritious cake heaven.
Wild Food Cafe is at 14 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DP
Why: The Gallery Cafe is something of an institution on the London vegan scene. Run by the charity St Margaret’s House Settlement, which provides support to community organisations in Tower Hamlets, this is the place for your Saturday hangover fry-up, Sunday lunch or weekday take-out. The cafe has super-friendly and knowledgeable staff and the menu covers everyone’s favourites. Choices include a falafel wrap, two vegan burgers and a choice of three seasonal specials every day.
What to order: For a lighter lunch, order the falafel wrap as a salad with the soy yoghurt and mint dressing. Crisp, aromatic and filling, this is a best-seller.
Top Tip: Arrive after 3pm to enjoy one of the best vegan pizzas in London, made with your own choice of toppings. Arrive hungry: the pizza is often larger than your head.
The Gallery Cafe is at 21 Old Ford Rd London E2 9PL
Why: A relative newcomer on the lunch landscape, Koshari Street has brought an Egyptian staple to the capital. Koshari, served in handy take-out containers, is a healthy and wholesome mix of lentils, pasta and rice, topped with chickpeas, crispy onions and tomato sauce – the spice level of which is up to you, including a ‘mad’ option for heat-lovers. A pot of this will keep you up and running right into the evening.
What to order: If you haven’t tried it before, the Koshari Pot is a must. The different textures, flavours and aromas packed into one container make this a really unique and nutritious lunch option. Choose from small, regular or large (if you’re famished!) and be brave with the hot sauce. Pair with a fresh serving of Tabbouleh to take off the heat.
Top tip: If you’re out and about at the weekend, Koshari Street now has stalls at Southbank and Borough markets.
Koshari Street is at 56 Saint Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4EA
Why: Where else can you tuck into a vegan burger doused in Deptford Death Sauce and listen to an unapologetically rock playlist? Owned by the guys next door at tattoo parlour Kids Love Ink, The Waiting Room is a real hidden gem south of the river, serving up faultless (not to mention strong) coffee, sandwiches, hot dogs, bagels and, of course, burgers; and all at under £5.
What to order: My personal favourite, The Fonz. I have yet to find a better vegan burger in London – juicy, firm and flavoursome tofu patty, plentiful garnish, vegan cheese and barbecue sauce, all of which are just about contained in a seeded bun. This is definitely not a demure, first date lunch. You will get sauce on your face, and you will enjoy it.
Don’t miss: The delicious array of vegan cupcakes and brownies, and the free book exchange.
The Waiting Room is at 142 Deptford High Street, SE8 3PQ