Veggie Update #4: Veggie on Vacation!

My spouse Rom and I have been 95% vegetarian (although not vegan) since June 1. We made it through a 4-day Toronto vacation in June, and faced temptation again this month with a week in the UK. I suspected that London would be veg-friendly, like all big cities, but I wasn’t sure how we’d fare in the smaller towns where we visited relatives.

Here is a glimpse at some of our choices.

We took an overnight flight from Canada to the UK, departing at 11 pm and arriving at 8:30 am (both local times). Weirdly, two complimentary meals were served on board: a dinner after take-off, and a breakfast before landing. The dinner options were beef, chicken and pasta – and the pasta turned out to be fettucine alfredo. I didn’t notice or taste any bacon or ham in it. The cold breakfast was a cinnamon bun, yogurt and juice. So far, so good.

When we arrived, we were not able to check into our hotel yet, so we had another late breakfast at the airport. I was surprised that the chain restaurant there, Giraffe, had a vegetarian option for the Full English Breakfast – not only could you order it with veggie sausages, but they were made with real vegetables and not soy. For grain eaters, you could also order muesli or oatmeal.

Full English Breakfast, minus the meat, Photo credit: ebay.co.uk@weadmire

Later in the day, in London, we made a pilgrimage to the Hard Rock Cafe to see their memorabilia. They had the same menu as the other Hard Rock Cafes we visited. There are 3 vegetarian choices: a veggie burger, nachos, or macaroni and cheese. We both ordered veggie burgers. The server warned us that they tasted very meat-like and we proceeded anyway. The huge burger had roasted summer squash and a portabella cap on top! We agreed it was overkill. They could have easily just served the vegetables on the bun and skipped the burger. It occurred to me for the first time that maybe I don’t want the taste of meat any more.

The next few mornings, we had breakfast at our hotel. You could choose a hot buffet or continental buffet. We went for the continental because we would be eating out 3 meals a day and didn’t want to load up on fried foods in the morning! So we filled up on toast, granola, cereal or oatmeal, and there was lots of fresh fruit, yogurt and jam.

Our first lunch in London was a real winner. We were on a break between seeing the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert. Just a block away, we ate at Le Pain Quotidien on Exhibition Road. They are a chain that focuses on quiches and open-faced sandwiches, as well as high-end bakery treats. I had a lovely vegetable tart with squash and cheese, and Rom had a frittata. More than half of their menu was vegetarian. I was pleased!

Our meal at Le Pain Quotidien, Exhibition Road

That night we were rushing out to see Wicked (the musical) so we just had pasties at the train station. These are hand-held “meat pies.” I thought for sure we wouldn’t find any vegetarian fast food other than salads from Prêt a Manger, or maybe egg or cheese sandwiches from Costa. Lo and behold, West Cornwall Pasty Co. offers at least 4 veggie options: wheatmeal vegetable, cheese and onion, cheese and mushroom, or cheese and tomato. I went for the wheatmeal veggie pasty and I found it quite good! Besides, where else but the UK can you get fast food with turnips in it! I would say swedes, but North American folks would be confounded by why Scandinavian people are put in pasties 🙂

West Cornwall Pasty Co. makes these. Photo credit: fwi.co.uk

The next day we made an early start and just had lattes and muffins at Costa for breakfast. Mid-morning, we succumbed to one of those wonderful Patisserie Valerie shops, and I had a delicious lemon tart. We shopped around Covent Garden, and for lunch, we ate at Food for Thought, which is supposed to be London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. It is a little hole-in-the-wall spot; even their website tells you: “Whilst the access down a steep flight of stairs to the service counter and the cramped conditions of the basement restaurant may not be to everyone’s liking, for others they are part of Food For Thought’s quirky charm.”

I loved my meal, which one of the few veggie meals I had in London that did not involve pastry! The menu choices change daily, but that day’s board advertised a vegetable stew, a rice-and-beans dish, two kinds of quiche, a stir fry, a soup, three salads, and loads of dessert choices. I had the Andalusian Aubergine stew which may have used a recipe like this, but had new potatoes and mushrooms, and no beans.

I ordered the combo with a taste of 3 salads: a green salad, a bean salad, and a pasta salad. Needless to say, it was way more food than needed, but so good! The only negative was that the seating area was no place to linger, so we moved on quickly.

Food for Thought, Neal Street, Photo credit: urbanpath.com

That night we got caught in a rain storm and got so wet we had to go back to our hotel early, so we ate dinner there. It was one from the Chef and Brewer chain. They had typical pub fare. When I first visited the UK in 2008, I was amazed to find that almost all pubs, no matter how small the town, are really “gastro-pubs” with sophisticated menus. Where I live, pub food is always greasy and served with French fries – things like chicken wings with BBQ sauce, breaded chicken strips, hamburgers and onion rings. In the UK, yes, you can still get fish and chips or pork pies. But here is what I ordered: “a roasted vegetable, pesto and three-cheese filo tart, served with rosemary roasted new potatoes and a mozzarella and semi-dried tomato salad.” Even the traditional dishes at pubs can appear very upscale: “FISH PIE: organic Shetland salmon, smoked haddock and king prawns in a creamy white sauce, topped with mature cheddar mash and served with seasonal vegetables.” In my experience, just about every pub offers this kind of menu, in addition to all the steaks, hamburgers and meat pies. So, no problem there.

Gatwick Manor Chef and Brewer Pub, Crawley, Photo credit: gatwickmanor.com

Moving out of London, and on to visiting with relatives was actually a little harder to negotiate. Our first day with family, we had breakfast and tea at home, and went out for a mid-day meal. Because we could order from a lunch menu, I had an omelette and salad.

The next day was more difficult – we went for a ride on the Bluebell Railway (an historic steam train) and didn’t have time for a sit-down meal at their restaurant. Their faster-food place only offered meat pies and sausage rolls. I am sorry to say I broke down and had candy for lunch. Luckily I was not setting an example for any children!

Horsted Keynes Railway Station at which I had a Mars Bar for lunch, Photo credit: bluebell-railway.co.uk

For dinner, we were served chicken and salad. It is part of our pact that we are vegetarians at home and when we choose the meals, but we will eat meat if served at someone else’s home. So we did. I could not have lasted the rest of the day with just the lettuce, cucumber and radishes! The toffee meringue did not go amiss either!

The next day I had a mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini at the shopping mall. For our last dinner in the UK, after much consideration, I decided to “treat” myself to fish and chips. It was the only non-vegetarian meal I had thought about. I was convinced it would be worth the guilt. Well, you know what? I am over it. I like chips. I liked the mushy peas. But the fish part was entirely optional and not worth the anticipation.

I learned a lot on this trip. It is entirely possible to eat vegetarian at restaurants in London and throughout the UK. However, in my case, this meant eating pastry and cheese every day and having a minimum of vegetables and grains! The continental breakfasts and home breakfasts helped to counterbalance all the unhealthy stuff we ate. I might have felt more virtuous if I had refused meat, but I didn’t feel it was worth it when visiting someone I see only once a year (or less). And finally, I am much more finished with meat, and fish, than I thought I was.

I don’t feel too deprived, though. I came home with a package of rhubarb custard candies and a package of milk chocolate Hobnobs!

Rhubarb and custard candy, yum! Photo credit: charlieschocolatefactory.com

11 comments

  1. I really should try and eat less meat than I already do…………not a huge meat eater anyway. Glad you got a variety of options to choose from. laughed when you made a comment about pastry. We British will put anything between pastry, we love our pies!!!!

    I saw rhubarb and custard candy in a store near us, but they wanted a lot of money for very few sweets, so I passed, but do think of me when you are eating them, also did youtry pear drops, same sort of thing but pear flavoured, equally as yummy!!

    Gill

  2. Wow, that sounds like an absolutely delicious vacation, even to carnivore me. Though we’ve even been trying out more meatless meals this year. Not easy to do when you’re married to a man who grew up on a beef farm.

  3. SarahN

    Hahaha love your reference to swedes! (it’s the start of the day here, so had to reread, but it did raise a smile!) Yay for the candy lunch – I mean you’re on holidays! Rock on!

    I still grapple with being vego – I worry I’ll get tired without iron. I worry guests will turn their noses up… And I do also try to limit grains. At least when I had a vego join us for Sunday roast, I had recipes on hand to whip up a lentil loaf (oh, and of course the ingredients in the pantry!)

    • I tried a lentil loaf a few months ago but it wasn’t great. I found some recipes for nut roasts that I would like to try (I have never had one before, so I don’t have any prejudices against them!) Before I became vegetarian, I pre-ordered a local free-range turkey for Christmas so I’ll need to decide what to do about that.

  4. It sounds like you had a delicious tour of the UK 🙂 I’m curious, do they have a lot of vegetarian food in restaurants and pubs in Canada? There is a veggie option at most places in Australia, but it’s not always tasty! Also, I’ve always been able to order vegetarian meals on flights – you might want to look into that next time you fly. It means you get your meal before everyone else too 🙂

    • Hi EOK! Yes, there is usually one veg option at every restaurant, but as you say, it is not usually very appealing, usually just a veggie burger (although the upscale places will do something like a pumpkin ravioli!) I didn’t pre-order meals on our UK flight because I didn’t expect them to serve dinner at 1 am. I enjoyed the food on our UK trip except that I missed eating actual vegetables, LOL!

  5. Sounds like you had a great holiday here – I didn’t realise you were coming or I would have invited you to drop by for a cuppa and a vegetarian meal!! I have been vegetarian for most of my life not ever liking meat and I have struggled over the years finding places to eat – some towns are better than others and generally it is getting easier although some restaurants will insist that fish is vegetarian! It is rare to find Nutloaf outside of a vegetarian restaurant mainly because chefs like quick dishes to cook so it is usual to find pasta, rissotto, mushroom stroganoff on the menu together with tarts that can be pre-prepared. My biggest gripe is that meat eaters get a large choice on the menu whereas veggies are sometimes limited to only one or two. I will post some of my tried and tested recipes for nut / lentil loaves when I have some time – I have a whole collection in my recipe book. If I cook both veggie and meat dishes for my friends coming over guess which goes first (yes the veggie dishes and I end up with left over meat I cannot eat!)

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