Article by Rachael Phillips
It’s that time of year again. Veganuary has rolled around, and we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people around the world pledging to cut animal produce out of their diets – be it for the environment, for health reasons or even just as a personal challenge.
But veganism is more than just a New Year fad, and indeed more and more people are also seeing the value in giving it a try long-term. Last year, the number of vegans in the UK increased by 40 percent, and experts seem confident that is only going to continue going up.
As momentum grows, it’s only natural that society evolves alongside it, and that’s where things get interesting. Alongside solely plant-based menus aimed at devout vegans, a new trend is emerging. Enter the ‘kind-of-vegan’ restaurant.
A ‘kind-of-vegan’ restaurant caters to meat eaters, vegans and flexitarians alike, and offers predominantly plant-based fare with the odd meat or dairy dish, too. One such example is Soho restaurant, Tendril, which offers a plant-first menu that stops just short of calling itself fully vegan, whilst Walthamstow eatery Slow Burn promises a vegetable focus, rather than fully signing any plant-based pledge.
It’s basically a hybrid way of restaurants offering predominantly a vegan menu whilst still using the occasional animal product – not dissimilar to Ottolenghi’s Rovi or Doughlas McMaster’s Silo, the idea is to make fresh, local vegetables the star of the show rather than to completely restrict anything else.
“First of all, it’s no secret nowadays that we should eat less meat,” says Chavdar Todorov, Head Chef at Slow Burn, as he discusses the appeal of his ‘kind-of-vegan’ restaurant. “Mainly [that’s] because of the impact the meat industry has on our planet.
“But I also believe in all-inclusivity. I just like the concept of being as all-inclusive as possible as a restaurant. No matter if you are vegan, vegetarian or meat eater, everyone can be satisfied with their meal.”
With an ever-changing menu, you can expect Slow Burn to serve vegan dishes like smoked sweet potato with Jerusalem artichoke ‘cream’, cavolo nero pesto and curry oil, but also offer the likes of parsnip, smoked garlic and parmesan agnolotti for those who don’t mind a bit of cheese.
Interestingly, Chavdar says that even those visitors who usually eat meat and dairy often opt for the plant-based option on his restaurant’s menu.
“I’d like to think it’s because people are increasingly seeking a more healthy and balanced diet,” he says. “Our menus often have more vegan than meat dishes so naturally, they are more popular, but [they really do] get an excellent response [from non vegan visitors].”
READ MORE: Your guide to going green this Veganuary
It’s a similar story at Tendril Kitchen, fronted by chef Rashim Sachdeva (The Fat Duck, Almeida and Chiltern Firehouse). Tendril Kitchen doesn’t include fake meat substitutes like many plant-based eateries, but instead takes vegetables and grains and turns them into something that customers are lining up to try.
Sachdeva used Veganuary as his starting point and as a personal challenge to reduce his own meat consumption, but that 31 day experience led him to look at how he could create a mostly vegan menu that would excite and enthuse diners whatever diet they followed.
Whilst the majority of dishes on Tendril’s menu are vegan, you can find a subtle (nv) next to any dish that isn’t. Previously that has featured alongside the likes of brie and truffled mascarpone on sourdough toast – a treat for any omnivorous guest (or kind-of-vegan) who may be visiting.
It’s worth noting that whilst the kind-of-vegan restaurant might sound pretty neat, it hasn’t always won over the high-street. Camden saw the opening of a restaurant named Bad Vegan back in 2021, but it didn’t hit the ground running.
The brainchild of Tom Kerridge and Mark Emms, the restaurant was offering up predominantly vegan food with non-vegan sides and toppings, in order to give customers the best of both worlds.
Their menu contained dishes such as The Taternator – a crunchy potato finger wrapped in soft tortilla, with a choice of three vegan options and one non-vegan filling – and whilst the eatery had good intentions to push the world gently towards more plant-based fare, something stopped it making the longterm impact it hoped.
Maybe it was the radical name or maybe it was simply the time it launched? But I’d hazard a guess that many diners don’t want to feel ‘naughty’ for eating meat or dairy.People want to make such choices without judgement, and that’s something today’s thriving kind-of-vegan eateries are grasping.
One thing worth noting is that Tendril Kitchen, Slow Burn and others like them champion the sustainability aspect of running a successful ‘kind-of-vegan’ restaurant as well as just the food being created – after all, this is also a huge motivator for many adopting a plant-based diet, even on a flexi basis.
And sustainability is important. Just stopping eating meat isn’t going to save the planet but key features such as using organic and local produce, reducing the venue’s carbon footprint and being more mindful about the environment both locally and globally all work together to have a positive effect.
Whilst we aren’t seeing bigger chains go ‘kind-of-vegan’ yet, we are seeing them edge their way closer. Be it through meat-free Monday menus, or commitments to reduce meat, the tide is slowly but surely changing on our high-streets. In 2021, Wagamama pledged to make 50 percent of its menu vegan, and Burger King has promised it’ll do the same by 2030.
Mexican joint Wahaca is also another chain playing to a shift in people’s eating habits with a 50 percent plant-based menu, and in doing so it’s also doing its bit for the planet.
Jenny Idle, Head of Food at the Mexican eatery said: “The vibrancy and diversity of Mexican cuisine incorporates a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and chillies – in fact, Mexico has around 50,000 different native plant species (compared to 2,000 in the UK).
“Reflecting this in Wahaca’s menu means that we have an abundance of plant-based dishes for our customers to choose from, with 50 percent of our street food menu now being meat-free”.
Their success in adding vegan dishes is further proof that there is an appetite for more plant-based dishes, and a sign that restaurants are seeing positive results as a result of leaning into ‘kind-of-vegan’ territory.
When asked whether she thought that more businesses, including chain restaurants would make the change and switch to semi-veganism, Idle added: “The demand for plant-based dishes isn’t going away any time soon, in fact we believe it’s only going to grow, so we’d be very surprised if other restaurants don’t begin to widen their plant-powered offerings.
“Many, of course, are doing so already, and it’s brilliant to see an ever-increasing choice of delicious and innovative menu choices for those of us that are either following a plant-based diet or looking to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy.”
The shift isn’t just happening in the restaurant world, it’s happening online, too. Just scroll through Instagram and you’ll see there are now copious creators who don’t proclaim to be vegan but offer plant-based recipes.
Take Jordan Billham, who runs @thenottychef. With recipes like vegan duck wraps, no-chicken shawarma and plant-based salmon on his feed, there’s clearly an appeal to his 536,000 followers, and we’d guess it’s that he’s showing the exciting, inventive and tasty side of vegan food, without any expectation of a full-time commitment.
Even creators who are vegan often steer clear of defining themselves as such, too.
Max La Manna, with 991,000 followers, previously told Twisted: “I think sometimes it’s a loaded word and it comes with a lot of baggage. I never want to be preachy. I think on a collective level we all should be eating more plant based meals, but my MO was never to make the world vegan, because that’s not going to happen.”
Even though their diets differ, his words echo Chavdar Todorov of Slow Burn – it’s all about having an approachable, kind-of-vegan appeal, and not shutting anybody off from the conversation.
After all, for many people, the thing that turns them off visiting a vegan only restaurant or following a vegan blogger is feeling as though they won’t belong there. The same way many vegans won’t visit a steakhouse because it’s just cuts of meat on offer, meat eaters can often feel pushed out of the vegan food space.
As a vegetarian myself, the one thing that put me off going fully vegan was the idea that I had to be perfect at it, and that would mean limited options when it came to eating out, or having to grab the only sorry looking hummus sandwich left on the shelf.
The kind-of-vegan movement offers an alternative. It’s a space for everyone to enjoy good, wholesome food without all of the labels.
Here’s hoping it’s just getting started…