Now in its sixth year, the Veganuary campaign boasts its greatest participation yet with an estimated 300,000 people taking part in 2019.
The movement which encourages people to go plant based for the first month of the year has already encouraged thousands to go perma-vegan. This includes celebrities such as Shappi Khorsandi and Robbie Williams, adding to the 3.5 million vegans currently stalking the UK in search of a decent falafel.
Rising to the challenge of feeding the vegan masses, restaurant chain Bill’s has launched a new Veganuary set menu running until the end of February. Keeping the post-Christmas squeeze in mind, the menu is £12.95 for 2 courses or £15.95 for 3. There will also be three vegan specials not on the set menu throughout January. Naturally Pop Culture Beast felt the need to check it out.
As it was the menu launch night we were treated to canapes, including melt in the mouth vegan beef wellington and cauliflower tempura served with harissa sauce. The piquancy of the cauliflower within the crisp coating made these beyond moreish. We also sampled a tasty sausage roll which has yet to be lambasted by Piers Morgan, made of celeriac, apple and vegan duck.
We sampled the aforementioned vegan duck as a salad; the warm mock meat consisting of shredded seitan. This Japanese inspired dish was sprinkled with chilli and toasted sesame seeds and the duck had a rich umami flavour from its miso marinade.
I opted for the butternut squash, lentil and coconut soup which had a sweet underlying heat and was nicely finished off with toasted seeds.
Gastro cuisine doesn’t typically lend itself to veganism, so I rarely find myself in a Bill’s type establishment. The newly furnished Brewer Street branch had a Victoriana bistro feel; plenty of plush sofas, stone topped tables and wood panelling. The low lighting and general buzz of city hoi polloi made for a cheery but relaxed atmosphere. Especially when enjoyed with a couple of the night’s signature Clover Tea Club cocktails.
Of the 3 available vegan mains, I selected the aubergine, lentil and chickpea dahl which didn’t disappoint in the spice stakes. This was more like a stew than a dahl, infused with smokiness from the aubergines and served with flatbread. Those who like their meals unfettered and their ingredients freshly ploughed will appreciate the dish’s earthiness.
My fellow diner went for the more pub grub ‘moving mountain’ burger, served with rosemary fries and topped with vegan mayo and melted cheese. I suspect Violife. There was a serious succulence to the patty which I had assumed was textured gluten, but was actually beetroot and mushroom. The highest endorsement for this burger was my friend said she would order it again, and this is a woman who really likes her beef.
As a vegan, when a suitable pudding crosses my path I consider it my duty to try it. Mentally noting not to stuff my face with canapes before a three course dinner again, I ordered the coconut ice cream. At the risk of sounding utterly spoilt, this dish has sort of become the token vegan pud, closely followed by sorbet, circa 2015. This doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a pleasure to have a dessert option. This particular version was saved from mediocrity by thick slices of toasted coconut and a sweet mango coulis offsetting the creaminess.
My dining companion chose the chocolate fondant served with vanilla ice cream. This was so gloriously gooey it was like a warm chocolate mousse with just a hint of crumbliness.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Bill’s Veganuary offerings as the food was of a uniformly high quality. It managed to avoid both the puritanical food trap (mung beans as far as the eye can see) and an over reliance on mock meats. A fantastic balance in my book. Let’s hope restaurant founder Bill Collison decides to keep the menu packed with tasty plant based options for vegans and omnivores alike to enjoy.