Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
The concept of completely vegan fast food pretty much didn’t exist just shy of a decade ago, but now every chain in the country is vying for a piece of the pie.
Yep, a world which was once dominated by independent burger joints and street food vendors has now truly made it mainstream.
First, McDonald’s brought out its long awaited McPlant, and then, just a few months later, Burger King whipped out its trump card.
‘Sod one solitary burger,’ they said. ‘We’ll raise you a whole restaurant’.
Jokes aside, this new venture from Burger King has actually been years in the making, and is a worldwide first.
Burger King’s fully vegan restaurant lives in its flagship branch at London’s Leicester Square, and is open as a temporary pop-up from 14th March until 10th April.
In collaboration with The Vegetarian Butcher, the menu features a selection of the meat-free options they already had on offer, as well as several newbies, like the Plant-based Bakon Double Cheeeze XL, Plant-based Katsu Chilli Whopper and Vegan Chilli Cheeze Bites.
Naturally, vegans and excited flexitarians alike are hoping a permanent branch will follow, though there is no official word on what comes after Sunday.
At very least, it’s likely the big dogs at BK HQ are watching very carefully, to see which products appear to be big hitters amongst their plant-based customer base.
So, to give them a helping hand, we decided to sample every single item at Burger King’s vegan pop-up, to give our verdict. (Well, almost everything, because the menu is so extensive that our pals at BK actually forgot a few of the items – *sob* nugget burger, we will never know your beauty).
To make things as fair as possible, we invited along a vegan, two veggies and a meat eating member of the team – and yes, six burgers later, we did have to be rolled home.
Don’t thank us, it’s all in a day’s work…
Here’s our verdict:
Plant-based Whopper / Plant-based Katsu Whopper
Let’s start with the Whopper, because that’s what Burger King is known best for. Would a vegan alternative live up to expectations?
This got a big fat, unanimous tick from us. The soya beef patty fills a purpose, texture-wise, and also comes with a smoky, flame-grilled flavour, which makes the whole thing feel ‘meatier’. It’s also a great vehicle for everything else they’ve chucked in – a healthy lick of vegan mayo, pickles, lettuce and tomato.
Our only criticism? The bun. It’s dry (this is a recurring theme, but in this case is remedied by the generous lashings of sauce.)
The Katsu Chilli Whopper was more of a crowd divider. Essentially the same thing but with lashings of Katsu chilli sauce on top, and a pickled slaw instead of the usual salad, some of the Twisted team thought it was inspired, whilst others were a little harder to convince.
“Am I the only one who thinks it just tastes like five spice?,” questioned Twisted Green Brand Lead, Mia, whilst Twisted Director Harry found the whole thing a little too sweet.
We see their point, but this is Burger King, not Roka.
Overall, if you’re after the most convincing alternative on the menu, we’d still suggest going for one of these two.
Vegan Royale / Vegan Katsu Royale
Next up, Burger King’s answer to a vegan chicken burger. Again, there was a Katsu and an original version to get our gobs around, here.
The original Vegan Royale was a decent imitation of the real deal. In fact, it’s probably the most realistic chicken imitation on the high street.
It was a little bland, but only in the same way we’d imagine the OG Chicken Royale to be. There was vegan mayo, and there was salad…but there could have been more on both counts. Still, if we came in drunk at one in the morning we’d quite happily scoff it, nonetheless.
The Katsu Chicken Royale is where it gets more exciting. Even if you weren’t convinced about the Katsu Whopper, make sure you give this bad boy a try. No, it may not be the most sophisticated of Katsu flavourings, but the thicker chicken ‘meat’ has a much more subdued flavour which perfectly lends itself to a dollop of punchy, fruity spiced curry sauce and slaw.
The fact it’s breaded also adds to the overall vibe, as that’s what you’d expect from meat or veg in a traditional Katsu curry. Delightful.
Plant-based Cheezeburger/ Plant-based Bakon Cheezeburger
Whoppers and Royales in the belly, by this point we were lagging, but we kept going in the interest of journalism.
Time for Cheeseburgers (or Cheezeburgers, we should say. Don’t you hate it when vegan food is spelt weirdly, for no reason at all?).
The Cheezeburger also came in two varieties, one with ‘bakon’ and one without. In this case, make sure you opt in. Too often vegan rashers can taste of plastic, but this was thick and smoky, with a realistic texture. A win from us.
The burger patties themselves were a little plain and thin, here, in comparison to the sauced up Whopper, but they weren’t unpleasant in taste.
As for the cheese? We felt it could have been melted, but it was nice within a mouthful. Not quite the same as OG burger cheese, but gooey and overall satisfying.
Depending how hungry you are, you can also choose between a double or a single patty. You can’t say they don’t spoil us for choice.
The biggest issue we had with these burgers was the buns (again). They remained dry and crumbly, and this time, there wasn’t enough sauce to save them.
The Vegan Nuggets were one of our faves of the day – a welcome respite between dense mouthfuls of burger.
They were light, battered and ‘chickeny’ in texture, although, like the Chicken Royale, they did lack a bit of flavour that the beefier meat substitutes managed to nail.
Not to worry, though, that’s what ketchup is for, right?
Plant-based Onion Rings
These tasted like onion rings, unsurprisingly. Nice and crispy, sure, with a generous blanket of batter around each.
As with fries, onion rings were always one of the meat-free items on Burger King’s menu, although we’ll concede it may be the first time some vegans have been able to try them, because they’re not fried alongside meat.
Enjoy them, plant-based friends. They’re certainly a pleasant addition to any meal.
Vegan Chilli Cheeze Bites
Sod the ‘cheeze’ in your burgers, why not just layer these on top of the patties? These pass the ooze test and then some, and if you’ve ever tried the original Burger King Chilli Cheese Bites, they taste impressively similar.
The Chilli Cheeze Bites are breaded, and filled with green chilli and a melty vegan cheese alternative, which pops out of the centre rather satisfyingly as you bite down.
They’re ridiculously moreish…so much so that we even debated splitting the last one between us.
So, there you have it. The Burger King vegan menu (at least, almost all of it.) As we mentioned there were a couple of items we didn’t get to snag, but they were just variations of the meat and dairy alternatives above – and honestly, our stomachs couldn’t have taken any more food, anyway.
Overall, we think Burger King smashed the vast majority of its menu, and our whole group said we’d return in a heart-beat if the powers that be decided to keep the pop-up going long-term.
A few more squeezes of mayo and a moist batch of buns would have boosted some of the dishes on the menu from a seven out of 10 to near perfection.
But if you’re in the area, we heartily suggest you give the Vegan Burger King a go. After all, it’s about time that such a big burger chain is sitting up and taking notice of what the public wants.
You have until April 10th to visit Burger King’s plant-based pop-up.