May 2019: This is a totally new feature, so everything counts as a highlight – although several venues deserve an extra-special mention. Temple of Hackney’s vegan ‘chicken shop’ was among the first to worship seitan, while Fitzrovia’s Kalifornia Kitchen is a newbie with a good line in ‘bleeding’ burgers. In between, check out Chik’n (a casual offshoot of Chick ‘n’ Sours), Rudy’s Dirty Vegan Diner (fast vegan junk food and fake meat in Camden), What the Pitta (soy-based doners), Young Vegans (a twisted pie and mash shop) and Cookdaily – serving Asian comfort bowls in its new Hackney home.
Okay, you’ve committed to plant-based food but still hanker after the look, texture and taste of real meat. What to do? Luckily, there are plenty of ‘fake’ or ‘mock’ alternatives around these days, and we’ve put together a hit list of the best vegan-friendly places where you can get your chops round some deliciously guilt-free ‘meaty’ treats – not just burgers, but Asian stir-fries, curries, doners, pies, deli sandwiches and even fish and chips. Most genuine ‘fakes’ are based on plant proteins, especially the all-conquering seitan (wheat gluten) – although lots of clever new ideas are starting to arrive. The future’s bright if you’re a convert.
The best restaurants in London to eat fake meat
Run as a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative, this ethical vegan-only café and bookshop in Hackney is a top spot for budget plant-based food. There’s an ever-changing line-up of hip salad plates, but also check out the fake meat offerings – mostly derived from seitan. Burgers and steaks are the big hitters, but also get stuck into BC’s deli sandwich made with ‘turkey’ seitan and their take on chicken caesar featuring homemade ‘chicken-style’ pieces.
Not your average chicken shop, this loud and colourful Baker Street spot is the first fast-casual offshoot of Chick ‘n’ Sours. You won’t find anything like CS’s epic KFC (Korean fried chicken) here, but there are plenty of decent offerings including juicy, generous and ‘meaty’ burgers made with ‘veggie chik’n’ rather than real chook – try the ‘Straight Up’ with lettuce, pickles and buttermilk/herb mayo. There’s a branch in Soho, too.
Having forsaken his Shoreditch shipping container for jolly premises under an arch close to Netil Market, Laotian-born chef/owner King Cook is continuing with his mission – serving bowls of vegan rainbow goodness crammed full of vegetables, tofu or fake chicken. If mock meat is your thing, try the jerk combo on brown rice, the chick’n and mushroom pie or the noodle stir-fry topped with mock ‘char siu’ crumbles. Think of it as affordably priced comfort food with mild Asian flavours.
Decked out in pink with a neon spiral staircase and foliage-lined walls, this Fitzrovia vegan eatery is all about ‘spreading the love’ – we’d expect nothing less from Instagram pro Loui Blake. They serve jackfruit tacos, but the best thing on the menu is the burger, which uses the trademarked Moving Mountains patty – a combo of fatty coconut oil, plant proteins, mushrooms and beetroot (for that characteristic ‘bleeding’ look), plus a booster of vitamin B12. Try it with a heap of fries laced with smoked paprika and thyme.
The London outpost of an international chain that focuses on vegan dishes inspired by pan-Asian cuisine, Loving Hut in Archway professes to use organic vegetables, non-GMO products and locally sourced ingredients where possible. Much of the menu has a familiar ring, but with a mock-meat twist – ‘veggie’ BBQ spare ribs, ‘veggie’ drumsticks with sweet-and-sour sauce, crispy aromatic ‘veggie’ duck and even pimped-up ‘prawns’ that have never seen the sea.
The guys behind this X-rated homage to red-blooded dude food know their audience and have savvily included some plant-based options among their Dead Hippie patties and chilli dogs. There isn’t much ‘fake meat’ as such, but don’t miss the Satan Fingers – a bounteous pile of battered mock chicken strips (seitan) slathered in chilli sauce and served with a side of garlic dip. Also visit Meat Liquor’s other branches across town for a similar fix.
Forget leaden brown food and stone-age bread, Mildred’s is all about creative meat-free cookery – an idea it’s been peddling in Soho for more than 30 years. There’s plenty to get the vegan juices flowing here, including a Bourbon Buffalo mock chicken burger spiked with ranch dressing and a tandoori chick’n riff served with black dhal and roti. No bookings, but you won’t mind queueing for good stuff like this. Branches in Camden, King’s Cross and Dalston.
Meat-free burgers, hot dogs, buffalo wings, mac ‘n’ cheese and fast carbs galore are all on show at this US-style vegan junk-food outfit at Camden’s Stables Market. The Dirty Burger is a decent munch involving a seitan patty, fake bacon and cashew cheese, although our fave is Rudy’s Reuben – a mighty vegan version of the classic stateside über sandwich. Their seitan pastrami is impressive when coupled with tangy pickles, onion, creamy cheese and Russian dressing.
Fish and chips go vegan at this much-loved chippy from the Sutton family, but full marks to the owners for not going down the predictable seitan or tofu route. Instead, they’ve devised some highly original alternatives to cod, haddock and suchlike in the shape of battered banana blossom – a light, floral flavour that’s getting vegans all excited. Suttons do wondrous things with Japanese potato starch and shiitake mushrooms, too. Sure, it doesn’t taste like the real thing, but the results are genuinely interesting.
Hatched from the same kooky vegan coop as the Hackney original, Temple of Camden also worships seitan and presents it in all manner of cute and clever ways. As a vegan ‘chicken shop’, it deals in bite-sized nuggets and more besides, although the real star is the Temple Deluxe burger seared to medium-rare and served with tangy sauce, facon (fake bacon, obvs) and thick-cut pickle. This branch has indoor seating on classroom-style plastic chairs.
London’s first vegan ‘chicken shop’ (yes, you heard right) was born out of Hackney’s Temple of Seitan street stall. It’s all about ‘meaty’ wheat gluten (aka seitan) here, whether you order peppery popcorn-style nuggets, battered strips or a burger. The twist wrap is also a blast – just add zingy red slaw or vegan mac ’n’ cheese with smoky facon cubes for a properly delicious feed. Blaring music, no indoor seating, no booze.
Cool enough for Hoxton, this hugely popular vegan diner donates all its profits to the animal rights organisation Surge – so you know the score. As expected, seitan provides the meaty protein for the ‘chicken’ fried wings with ranch mayo, the shredded stuff atop a Caesar salad and the breaded filling for a burger with pineapple salsa. Meanwhile, UD’s frankfurter-style hot dogs wrapped in streaky, chewy ‘bakon’ are tasty enough to convert the most ardent meat-eaters.
It was only a matter of time before kebabs got the vegan treatment, and this flagship branch of What the Pitta is custom-built for trend-conscious Camden. Nuggets of soya marinated in secret spices take the place of meaty lamb doner, and they come packed into thin, floury home-baked flatbread with crunchy salad, soya yoghurt, tzatziki and houmous. The whole thing looks and tastes almost healthy! WTP is also holed up in three Boxpark locations (Shoreditch, Croydon and Brighton).
A twenty-first century update of a pie and mash shop, but with a twist – everything here is flesh-free. Occupying a corner of Camden Market, Young Vegans feels like a street-food joint and its pies go way beyond the usual kale and lentils: try the katsu curry or the ‘all-day breakfast’ (scrambled tofu, seitan sausage etc, packed under pastry lid). Or, the steak and ale classic contains some of the meatiest ‘mock meat’ around, absurdly rich and succulent chunks of marinated seitan that would fool most carnivores.