The past 12 months have been more vegan inspired than ever; in fact, 2018 was the year of the vegan. Last year saw sales of meat-free food increase by a staggering 987%, with everyone from Beyonce to Benedict Cumberbatch getting in on the action. Like it or not, plant based (read: vegan) food is here to stay. But saving the planet doesn’t have to mean sacrificing culinary pleasure, or indeed saving your own body; while in days gone by the first casualty of a meat-free diet was fast food, today’s veggies and vegans have plenty of options that hit both those salty and sugary sweet spots. Both authors being vegetarians who’ve struggled to commit entirely to veganism, who better to give the verdict on vegan junk food?
Boxpark Shoreditch: If you’ve ever been to a container park before, you’ll feel like you already know this place pretty well – the usual blend of hipster brunch joints and edgy chip shops are all here. Things are kept nice and simple upstairs: communal bench seating and plenty of natural light give it a relaxed, airy feel. Points for having a well-stocked bar, which would be great on a summer afternoon; we went in the pissing rain instead.
Biff’s Jack Shack (BJS) gets its name from jackfruit, a large fruit native to India. Neither of us had tried jackfruit in any of its guises before. BJS managed to create an entire menu from it, with the classic jackfruit-as-pulled-pork fare joined by innovative jackfruit burgers, wings, and chilli.
Our introduction to jackfruit came in the form of buffalo ‘wings’, complete with blue ‘cheese’ dip. Immediately, it’s clear why jackfruit lends itself so easily to pulled pork; its stringy, fibrous texture is unlike any other vegetable. BJS have a really good stab at working the jackfruit into something chicken-esque, and while it’s unlikely to fool a regular at KFC, the wings work well enough to be enjoyable in their own right, complete with sugar cane ‘bones’. The chefs seem to really know their star ingredient, with an extra crispy breadcrumb coating guarding against jackfruit’s tendency to go a bit mushy. Our only criticisms would be of the accompaniments; the buffalo sauce is a little on the sharp side, even for those who usually douse their chips in vinegar, and the blue ‘cheese’ doesn’t have enough in the tank to stand up to it. Maybe try one of the other wings…
What do you want in a burger? As far as we’re concerned, a burger’s function is essentially to satisfy that desire for something solid, something heavy, that fills a hole when you’re absolutely famished or to fill your stomach before a solid night out. It doesn’t have to be meat, or even meaty – a satisfying bite and some decent relish is all we ask for.
On all counts, the Big Jack burger passes with flying colours. The Big Jack is BJS’s entry-level offering, and at £7.50 straddles fast food and gourmet burger pricing. This is no stodgy Big Mac, though; everything – from the wholesome seeded bun, to the genuinely fresh and crisp lettuce, to the burger sauce that you’d swear is the non-vegan original – everything suggests quality. The jackfruit patty itself offers plenty of texture and substance, although you’d be hard pressed to pin down its flavour in amongst everything else. Trying it by itself (sans bun, salad, sauce), the patty’s subtle herby flavour is a welcome surprise, and it’s something of a shame that it’s overwhelmed by everything else.
If strong flavours are your jam, though, you may prefer the creatively-named Samuel Hell Jackson burger. There’s a lot going on in here, not least the punchy jalapeno peppers – this one’s not for korma fans. That being said, there’s plenty to enjoy if you’re a certified spice aficionado, and the pricing is still reasonable at £9.
And so to our side of choice: dirty fries, complete with vegan aioli and maple cured ‘bacon’ jam. The latter split the authors – too sweet for one of us, bang on for the other. If you’re into that whole sweet BBQ sauce thing then you’ll probably love it. We were unanimous, though, in our feelings towards the aioli: this is the most impressive part of the whole meal. As non-vegans, we are no strangers to the garlicy mayonnaise and it is indistinguishable from the egg-based original.
The verdict? Vegan junk food is just as good as your meaty alternative if done right. Stay tuned for further instalments!