It was lunchtime in Soho on a grey weekend, and a sumptuous shimmering buffet caught the eye of myself and good friend I. We had just emerged from spending more time in a bead shop than is ever wise, and this buffet truly looked like the buffet of dreams. We peered through the window, which was cunningly frosted so passers by could only see the food, not the interior.
“Look at those prawns!” I said.
“Ooo – dumplings!” Said I.
(You’ll have to guess which of us said what).
It was a fiver to eat all that we wanted, a bargain for such wonderful looking food. So in we went, not pausing at all until we were seated and looking at a drinks menu. A rather large list of herbal tea gazed back at us, and we quickly chose our poison, feeling nice and healthy. Then we raced to the food, plates in hand.
I happily started with the prawn salad. “Are they prawns?” My friend asked. “They look sort of funny.”
“Of course they are prawns!” I said, ladling on noodles. “Are you having some of that beef?”
Finally, with an impressive plateful of food before us, we headed back to our table. I took a happy bite of prawn. And then a more thoughtful second bite.
“What’s it like?” asked I, taking a bite of steak.
“Um…not quite prawn,” I replied, considering. “More like a shaped crab stick.” I put it to one side, not quite sure if it was perhaps off. “How’s the steak?”
I was chewing thoughtfully. “Not quite steak. What’s that you’ve got there – chicken?”
“Yup,” I said confidently. “Has to be.” I took a mouthful. “Or perhaps some sort of dumpling masquerading as chicken.”
“Hm.” I investigated the contents of her dumpling. She lowered her voice dramatically. “I think we are in a vegetarian restaurant. None of this meat tastes right.”
I prodded my ‘lamb’ thoughtfully. “You’re right. It all tastes like some sort of reconstructed sausage.” I think back to the disastrous night years ago when I was hung-over yet all there was in the shared flat was someone else’s tin of fake sausages. Never, ever again. I put down my chop sticks.
“No wonder the waiter said ‘vegetables’ in that tone of voice when I asked what was in the dumplings,” I mused.
We both decided there was something a bit wrong with eating things that were pretending to be meat, and that we’d much rather embrace vegetarianism and eat nice vegetables. But, surprisingly, this was the one thing this place didn’t have. Nearly every plate, bar the salad, had fake meat lurking in it, painted to look like whatever bit of animal it was representing. Why? Why not just have nice vegetable dishes?
We decided we couldn’t go wrong with noodles (except we could, it had been cooked in some sort of nut oil and tasted reminiscent of the smell you get when you encounter goats). We also noticed that every dish was labelled ‘veg-lamb’ or ‘veg-chicken’.
Oh it was all coming clear now, as we threaded our way back to our seat. It was then we noticed the clientele for the first time, since previous to this we had been blind-sided with hunger. Nearly every table had a solitary white skinny cycle courier with dreaded hair, chowing down as much fake beef as he could fit on his plate. We weren’t just in a veggie restaurant. We had gone vegan.
The clue, possibly was in the restaurant name as we poured out of the door, laughing like drains. Let’s just say it was something like ‘We Love Veggie Vegans!’ If only we had looked up…
This has probably put my budding vegetarianism back by about five years. It just tasted awful – a bit like having a giant swig of soya milk thinking it will taste the same as milk because it is white, or biting into marmite thinking it is brown so should taste like nutella chocolate. It’s being taken unawares that puts me off.
And Three’s days as my broadband provider are numbered. Not impressed!