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Veganuary: Pizza Express, vegan style

I love food – I am definitely in the “live to eat” rather than the “eat to live” camp – and going out for a meal is a real treat for me. Or at least it was, until I went vegan.

Now going out for a meal is going to be a totally different experience: there are loads of restaurants and cafes that I won’t be able to go to at all any more, and those that do cater to vegans are likely to only have one option on the menu. It is just one more aspect of veganism that I hadn’t really thought about before…

 

What is it like eating out as a vegan?

Well, the first issue is obviously finding somewhere that has at least one vegan option on the menu. A close family member is a vegetarian, so I am very familiar with the issue of there only being one vegetarian option on the menu in lots of eating establishments. That single non-meat or non-fish option generally contains goats cheese. So what do vegans do? I suspect they simply don’t eat out as often as everyone else.

The good news is that more and more restaurants are recognising the growing demand for vegan food and are starting to cater to the non-meat, non-fish and non-dairy demands of vegans. I saw an advert for a vegan burger in Leon on Twitter yesterday.

The Love Burger from LEON
The Love Burger from LEON

McDonald’s are apparently getting in on the act too and will soon be selling vegan meals. And then there’s Pizza Express’ new vegan pizza. Which brings me onto today’s vegan experience: Pizza Express, vegan style.

 

Vegan Pizza Express – a review

I’ve been to Pizza Express a lot in my lifetime and my order tends to go like this: dough balls with loads of delicious garlic butter, Fiorentina pizza (the one with spinach and an egg on top) and a latte with a chocolate dessert. In other words, three non-vegan courses.

Today, I was looking forward to eating pizza and to simply being fed – trying new recipes and eating super healthy meals is great fun, but sometimes it is nice to have someone put a delicious, hot pizza in front of you for you to simply eat, without any hassle.

I wanted dough balls but presumed they were off the menu but, by great coincidence, our waitress was very vegan-friendly, having tried out veganism herself last month. She said that you can get vegan dough balls – i.e. dough balls with a sun-dried tomato, tapenade-style dip. Wohoo! They were promptly ordered and devoured. I was a little jealous of everyone else smearing garlic butter on their dough balls but mine were still a treat.

There are only two vegan pizzas on the menu and one of them wasn’t included in the meal deal we had a voucher for – choosing what to eat has never been so easy! The vegan pizza comes with artichoke, mushroom, olives and red onion, as well as a vegan mozzarella-style cheese substitute. Admittedly, I would never normally order a pizza containing artichoke, and I tend to steer clear of mushrooms and red onions too, but the pizza was actually pretty nice. Definitely better than no pizza at all. The fake mozzarella didn’t have the consistency or taste of actual mozzarella, but it was creamy and melt-in-the-mouthy. I have no idea what it is made from but it worked.

The Vegan Giardiniera pizza from Pizza Express
The Vegan Giardiniera pizza from Pizza Express

All in all it was a pretty good pizza.

I rounded off the meal with a soy-milk latte. Also reasonable. I didn’t fancy the vegan dessert – carrot cake – and wasn’t really hungry by that point anyway.

 

A few hours later and I am trying to summarise my thoughts…

I am glad that I still have the option of eating out at Pizza Express and it is great that they are making the effort to cater to the growing vegan population. I did find it hard not being able to order my usual faves and even harder watching everyone else enjoy the garlic butter, the Fiorentina pizza and chocolate sundaes for dessert. Especially when my 3-year-old offered me some of his ice cream and chocolate sauce. Great willpower was once again shown.

The experience has reinforced my belief that it is possible to be vegan and to remain vegan, but that it is going to require some big sacrifices and a lot of willpower.

I’m not sure I like the idea of never being able to order a Fiorentina pizza again, or of going to a restaurant and only being able to order one thing from the menu. As for the notion that almost all desserts are now off limits, well, it makes me feel quite sad. I get so much pleasure from eating out. Am I really willing and able to give that up?!

I can do it for January. Beyond that, I am not so sure…

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