Guide to vegan Surrey
Check out this AMAZING guest post from a reader with the same name as me. No, not FGV. His name is Sean M. and he has kindly put together a wonderful guide to vegan eating in Surrey.
Sean has indicated this is only part one of his vegan exploration of Surrey, so watch out for the second instalment later in the year.
Take it away, Sean!
Vegan Surrey (part one)
So, making good on my promise to Sean aka Fat Gay Vegan, here’s part one of my article about vegan friendly establishments in the beautifully leafy yet agonisingly conservative county of Surrey. As Surrey is big, I’m only covering the east of the area today, but as you might imagine, it’s slim pickings.
About me: I’m a single, vegan bloke living in Surrey. My veggie and vegan friends don’t live here, and my cooking skills are woefully basic. I would gladly eat out more often if there was a wider variety of nearby vegan options that save me the trudge into London or Brighton. I don’t mind that my vegan & veggie mates aren’t local, and I can happily sit in restaurants solo and eat until I am completely disgusted by my gluttony.
Criteria and miserable yellow veggie burgers
I could have featured numerous greasy spoon cafes and pubs that offer the token miserable yellow veggie burger (you know the one!), often served up by waiting staff that roll their eyes when you ask any questions about their menu. But that’s not the same as an establishment that has gone out of its way to acknowledge, cater for, and welcome vegans. So those spots haven’t made the cut, and there’s no need for that nasty yellow misery burger to be on ANY menu in 2015 (right, Rykas Biker Cafe?).
What also doesn’t make the cut are so called ‘vegan friendly’ cafes or restaurants that sell vegan cakes but not savoury dishes. I’ve been let down a few times – rushing across town with a rumbling stomach in anticipation of feasting somewhere new, and it turns out they can’t sell me anything other than some tiny pink cupcakes. Now, I’m sure the hashtag generation love their cupcakes, but I am hungry, 38 years old, unapologetically impatient, and I want proper vegan food damnit. In short, you have to have at least one purposefully vegan savoury dish on your menu to get mentioned here.
I have been to every establishment mentioned and sampled their food myself, so none of this is me blindly linking you to things I found on Google, I promise. And as well as stuffing my fat face, I was also observing these establishment’s attitudes. I am infinitely more forgiving of slightly awkward tasting ‘experimental’ dishes than I am of shitty attitude towards vegans from restaurants. So with that, I give you three of the best:
Organico is a health / alternative food shop right in the middle of Epsom town centre, a stone’s throw from the famous clocktower. The rear end of the shop stock lots of fresh produce, and their large fridge area has all sorts of items including vegan cheeses and items from vegan manufacturers you may not find in chain stores like Holland & Barrett. In the middle of the shop is the counter, which doubles as a workstation for grilling and heating savoury dishes, as well as a display of the sweet and savoury delights on offer. They pride themselves on their coffee and smoothies, and have an arsenal of drink making facilities.
But the finishing touch is the cosy cafe area at the front of the shop that spills out onto the pedestrianised area near the clock tower and is in a prime ‘people watching’ location. I am a regular customer, as I have fallen hopelessly in love with their spinach gozleme dish. It’s cheap, vegan, ready in two minutes, and absolutely delicious.
Organico’s vegan cupcake game is also strong, and they have soya milk as well as an assortment of other eats, snacks and drinks. More info – as well as a drool-inducing set of photos showcasing their sweet and savoury delights – can be found on their Facebook page.
The Brook, Wallington
Technically Wallington hasn’t been part of Surrey since 1965, so I am breaking the rules here, but humour me, because love knows no boundaries, right? And this review is a bit of a love letter.
I first stumbled across The Brook in Autumn 2014 after their website boasted “we also try to cater for special dietary requirements and are constantly experimenting with new vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free choices”. Mention the v-word on your website, and you have my full attention. Taking them at their promise, I got in the car and scooted on over there. The first thing I noticed about the place was the wall decorated with dozens of 7” record sleeves. Slayer! Minor Threat! Murphy’s Law! Mudhoney! Fuck yeah, these were my people! I felt like I’d walked into a secret room in my own house.
The vegan dish of the day was a fantastic savoury hotpot. The weather had just turned so it was the perfect thing for a chilly Saturday afternoon. I devoured it in minutes, RAVED to the staff about it, and went back for more the following weekend (and the weekend after). It seemed to be their only purposefully vegan dish and so I was distraught when I went back in early 2015 to find it had been 86’d. On future visits I did my best to pester staff for news of new vegan options until I became really annoying.
But it didn’t matter really. You see, the word vegan on its website is only a tiny piece of The Brook’s charm, which you will understand as soon as you set foot in there. It is a small cafe with a tiny food prep area, so every option needs rigorous thought before making it onto the menu. I’d been spoiled on my first three visits by that amazing hotpot dish, and general awesomeness of the place. They promise to try and ‘vegan-ify’ anything on their menu, and there’s almost always vegan cake & soya milk. So while it was their promise of vegan food that dragged me in there in the first place, it was the colourful, community minded and independent vibe that keeps me going back just to chill, eat cake or just soak up the art, music, and other creative endeavours going on under the same roof. Hell I even joined their pop up cinema club as a another excuse to go back more often.
So why is The Brook on my list of vegan spots? On one of my recent visits, owner Thea asked if I’d like to test a new vegan dish they were trialling – vegan pulled pork. Now, I’ve been vegan for 18 years and I don’t really remember what real pork tastes like, but MY GOODNESS, what Thea served me was probably the nicest vegan food I have ever eaten. If the cafe wasn’t full of people I would have absolutely licked the plate clean. They’ve mentioned the trial on their Facebook page and I saw a comment from a fellow tester saying, “Tried it last night and Thea has nailed it”.
I’m not sure when the vegan pulled pork dish hits the menu properly, or whether it’s permanent or just a winter special, so do check with them before trudging down to Wallington for it. But even if it’s not on that day, The Brook as a general hangout / meeting spot / coffee shop / licensed bar / recording studio / art gallery / pop up cinema / open mic venue is absolutely worth the trip anyway. And don’t forget, there’s always cake!
See their website.
Village Pizza, Ewell
This is a pizza take-away based at a busy junction between Epsom and Ewell with a generous selection of colourful and delicious vegan pizzas on its menu and full Vegan Society approval. On top of that, the staff are most attentive, above and beyond the requirements of any take away. They welcome feedback and opinions, menu suggestions and any other comments that might help them develop or expand their vegan options. They understand the value of having a dialogue with you, and love to offer recommendations.
I normally find myself in there when I simply haven’t had time to think about food, am on my way back from somewhere, and know that I’ll be heading home to empty cupboards. I tend to go for their biggest pizza, eat half that night, and the other half for lunch the next day. My personal fave is the Kentucky Supreme, and they say that the general consensus is that the Hickory is their most popular. Aside from the vegan chicken ones, there are vegan pepperoni ones and vegan garlic sausage ones. So it’s all good.
Village Pizza is part of a small chain so check their website here as there may be a branch near you! You may recall Sean FGV raving about their Twickenham branch a few years back. Revisit that write up for an in-depth feature on a couple of their best vegan pizzas.
Other shout outs
A few more spots worthy of mentions include The Pilot’s Hub at Redhill Aerodrome. This is a fantastic and authentic airport themed restaurant which offers a couple of vegan friendly dishes, serves soya milk, and gives you a ringside seat to planes and helicopters coming and going. It’s a bit off the beaten track and definitely something to be saved for a special occasion rather than a quick stop off as there’s lots to see. I’ve been twice, and I’m keen to go back but I want drag someone along with me (maybe that’s you? Get in touch!).
I’m breaking my geography rule again by mentioning Veginstead, but what are ya gonna do? This is a vegan market stall on Surrey Street Market, Croydon, from Weds – Sat, 8.30-3pm. They have savoury and sweet dishes, and are very friendly and happy to recommend things. They had an unfortunate incident this Summer where a car drove through their stall, but they are back up and running now and would be happy to see you.
I made an impromptu trip to the Harvest Hope Festival in Oxted last weekend, as I saw a Twitter post saying it was basically a vegan event. There was various stalls there, including traditional Filipino food and a home made vegan food stall called The Fat Carrot. One of the singers performing was Jack Dean who has many vegan and animal rights themed songs.
And since I’ve pretty much only talked about food I just wanna give a shout out to the Worcester Park Vegans (R.I.P). This was a social group started a couple of years back that also did some casual campaigning for veganism. I went to one of their monthly meets and they were a happy, friendly bunch, but unfortunately the group has imploded in rather dramatic fashion since then. I have a feeling a new group may spring up from its ashes, so I will keep my ears open and report back next time.
So that’s a quick glimpse of Vegan Surrey. I need your input for part two, which I will try and write at the end of 2015. As stated the food establishments mentioned this time are all at the east end of the county. I know there’s more out there, so please tip me off about other places worthy of a mention. I will try and get to every single one to experience it myself before giving it a write up. I do love a good road trip and fact finding mission.
Leave your Surrey suggestions for Sean M. in the comments below!