2020 Hindsight: Vegging in

At the end of 2019 we tried to predict the food trends of 2020 but our attempts at culinary soothsaying were as spot-on as the 1894 Times article which predicted that, by 1944, every street in London would be buried under 9 feet of horse dung.

So sourdough and banana bread trended and the word “unprecedented” was uttered in the media even more than “strong and stable” was in 2019. It is not unprecedented of course. In the Spanish ‘flu pandemic of 1918, the same storyline with failures to act, anti-mask wearing, deadlier second wave, third wave and politicking, played out with savage consequences. It was the most deadly disease in human history, killing three times as many as WW1 yet somehow didn’t end up in the school curriculum or the public consciousness,

Throughout this Eton mess we’ve run a gamut of emotions from anxiety to rage, despair to hope. In strictest confinement we became like hospital patients, mealtimes taking on a new importance as the main events that punctuated the day and sustained minds, as well as bodies. Being in the crosshairs of the virus, we kept shopping to a minimum and raised our existing no food-waste game to Bear Grylls expedition level. It really is possible to produce some commendable food from scraps and M. Notleafy got stuck in with OO grade flour and fresh yeast from Roath’s Green & Jenks, plus dough making encouragement from those bois y pizza, Ffwrnes.

Cooking at home is one thing, but eating food made and presented by more experienced and talented cooks is another thing entirely. Not only did we yearn for our favourites, we wanted to keep them in business as much as possible, even if it meant doing the washing up. More important than that, whether full meal or shared Biscoff Dirty Bun, we found building things to look forward to into our weeks morale-boosting, affirming that life was being lived, rather than on hold.

So what masterpieces could us veggies commission from our favourite food artists when most restaurants were struggling to work out how to survive, especially those who swiftly and pragmatically reduced the breadth of their menus? The reassuring answer is that there were, and are, plenty of vendors offering first-rate vegetarian food which can be delivered or picked up. We’re fortunate in having a budget for dining out, it is a long way from limitless and was cramped by furlough but we made sure to use it to the full on a rota basis, helped by now-cancelled event refunds and some very keen pricing . Here’s a roll call of last year’s delights, all of them great, mostly local but some from further away.

Our first takeaway in March was an old favourite. Vegetarian Food Studio offer a huge range of dishes including the pillars of Gujarati, Southern Indian and Indo Chinese cuisine. They also sell sweets good enough to impress M. NotLeafy’s work colleagues when they were over from Karnatka. We got enough dishes to give us very different meals over three nights, the finale spiked with their infamous Atom Bombs, a fried potato ball rippled through with a formidable chilli paste.

Mr Croquewich have much more to their repertoire than just stupendous grilled cheese sandwiches. Having to grill their sandwiches ourselves made us appreciate the chef’s skills all the more, while their burgers, wicked fries and hearty veggie dishes, rich with mushrooms, cheese and leeks, left us slumped on the sofa, sated and content – several times. Their dishes’ three day shelf life also meant pleasures could be spread.

Outside of main meals, our daily bread was brought to us weekly by Pettigrew Bakeries. In the early days, many an anxious time was spent trying to phone in an order for their legendary mustard cheese swirls before they disappeared faster than a party manifesto promise. They also kept us in bread, cakes and even groceries such as oat milk and halloumi. They adapted to the new normal quickly, their website gained an ordering system and our auto-redial phone app was thankfully retired.

We’re fans of Keralan Karavan (whose dates, by chance, always seem to clash with our careful meal-planning or other orders) and missed tasting their take on Southern Indian street food. Finally landing a suitable delivery day, we couldn’t fail to be cheered by a rich, earthy mushroom dish with bright chana dal, multi-flavoured and textured rice and those trademark rainbow papad.

In May, the quietly brilliant Grady Atkins started Chez Vous and we have now twice unpacked a box containing five gorgeous courses. There’s a certain stress about trying to present the food with the panache it deserves but, best Îles flottantes ever.

Leyli Joon’s home delivery gave us the opportunity to try their celeriac shawarma, a hugely appealing kebab like main course  that came with enough accompaniments to feed Persias armies and spanned the entire spectrum of colour and flavours. Later in the year their BabHausMex arrived on the scene and we were thrilled by the Al Pastor tacos, especially the salsa roja.

Tafwyl is a festival held annually in celebration of Welsh language, arts and culture in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, a great venue on a sunny June day with the impressive backdrop of the unique gothic revival manor house . Man cannot live by bread alone but neither can you enjoy music and culture without some food and drink, so we always make a beeline for regulars The Bearded Taco – a food truck run by lovely Welsh/Californian partners Sian and Jake. For veggies they offer the avo-cwtch, chunks of avocado, quickly deep fried in a gin & tonic tempura style batter and tortillas with luscious homemade salsas. This year a virtual festival meant we had to get our culture online, but as compensation, we could get the food delivered. The parcels are mexican chilli-choc brownies. Gwych!

Memories of our February outing to a Matsudai Ramen pop-up were brought back to life with the arrival of their frozen miso ramen kits. Our vegan version only lasted 24 hours in the freezer. Minimal preparation needed, with only corn, spring onion, chilli oil and a carrot fish (yeah, we know, but it was the only cutter we could lay our hands on) added before slurping began. Soy eggs by Mme. NotLeafy, production and editing by M. NotLeafy. Excellence in broth by James.

Bwydiful, sadly not trading any more, did us proud with this pick-up of super-tasty veggie burgers. Bwydiful BBQ sauce from The Preservation Society was all we needed to grab from the cupboard. The stand-out Crispy Cajun’s deep-fried, spicy and succulent halloumi is equally deeply missed. We hope they return to the scene soon, they have a way with fast food that others can’t quite achieve.

The Nook’s carefully parcelled small plates lent themselves well to popping out of the boxes one by one and then being eaten all at once. Deviating from a grazing approach prevented any angsting over reheating issues and, more importantly, deciding which dish to eat first.

Relief chez NotLeafy was intense as Cocorico reopened, Their world-class* patisserie turned all our bites into smiles with their click & collect service and an expanding range for veggies and vegans, all flagged clearly on their website. Changed direction means the shop’s now closed but baking for on-site collection continues.

*Genuinely world beating, not the government sort.

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to eat Malaysian food locally and Superlicious Bakery & Waroeng Nona wowed us with these blue, lacy Roti Jala, a huge Gado-Gado and melon cake, all fresh as a mountain stream on a steaming hot day.

We’ve been eating well at the New York Deli since it first opened. A now even rarer visit to town gave the opportunity to bring back favourite California Hoagies. During its assembly (how do they manage to get all that in a roll?) we learned about the vegan bacon, pastrami and turkey they make in-store. Cue more excellent vegan and veggie options for collection or cycle delivery. The Dinky Hoagie deal proved a satisfying taster menu solution to Mme’s difficulty in choosing. Unfortunately the Deli is closed currently.

Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen, brought to our attention by local bloggers Jon of The Plate Licked Clean and Kavey of Kavey Eats, is a Reading-based restaurant where the chef-owners produce rich, warm and comforting Indian food of a very high quality. If you don’t believe us, just ask that food critic who declared Cardiff a restaurant desert. The courier’s computer system tried its best to ruin our meals by breaking down and failing to perform next-day delivery but, despite 42 hours in transit, they arrived at an amazing 4.4°C thanks to the excellent vac-packing and eco-friendly wool insulation Clay’s use. We won’t hesitate to order from them again (hint:as soon as the egg curry is back on and please keep the peas pattie) . We froze and revived two of the meals (snacks, main dish, rice and roti) with absolutely no loss of quality.

As November began, local Indian food from Purple Poppadum beckoned, especially as its delivery/takeaway menu offered a great value veggie meal package – to which we added a portion of chaat (both because we can’t resist them and to meet the delivery threshold). Our reward was precision cooking and spicing, as ever from Anand George‘s talented team. Those chutneys deserve special mention, shared between the poppadum shards and smaller starter dishes. We’ve never had chutneys so novel, varied and good.

Oasis Cardiff is a charity for refugees and asylum seekers, its support centre being one of the biggest in the UK. In addition to providing clients with free food, cookery classes or volunteering opportunities, its kitchen generates revenue via a Home Supper Club and, last year, was used to train sixteen asylum seekers in hospitality and catering. In short, good food for a good cause. At a time when international travel’s been curtailed, they’ve taken us to new culinary places such as Sudan, Honduras and Iran. It’s not just about ‘get it and gobble’ either, each meal set us talking about people, places and culture and there’s inclusive recipe cards. Pictured here is Sudanese Gima in veggie guise with peanut and aubergine salads. The kitchen has a fine touch and excels at salsas and salads. We’re looking forward to hearing more of their upcoming collab with Kemi’s Pontcana and the next supper club offering.

Award-winning French chef Alexis Gauthier turned vegan in 2016 and is known for giving plant-based and omni menus permanent equal billing, so it’s no surprise Gauthier Soho‘s piqued our interest. With no London visits for the foreseeable, one upside of current circs was their launch of weekly vegan boxes. Each tasting menu feeds four people, though dishes can be fridge-stored for eating over three days, as we did. The price includes nationwide delivery and our eight courses (nine if you count the darkest of dark chocolate brownies) featured his excellent Faux Gras, a lentil-based paté that would please anybody. Nice to have the much neglected palm heart on our plates, especially with a delicious agridulce red onion and mint dressing.

As you can see, we have had plenty of choice and indeed there were many more vendors offering vegetarian food that we wanted to use but either didn’t get round to it or weren’t comfortable with their delivery platform. That’s not to say all is rosy, however. After last year’s short notice on-off openings, the third lockdown is upon us and the situation for our indpendents is grim. All are up against the perils of uncertainty, ongoing fixed costs and the possibility of shortages caused by Brexit.

We will risk some more predictions though. We don’t expect the current administration to be able to procure and roll out dual-dose vaccines fast enough for a return to eating out close to normally until very late next year, so getting your favourite restaurant food will probably be via takeaway or delivery for some time to come. We also think that some ingredients may become scarce and chefs will have to adapt to that.

One thing we can predict confidently is that, without our custom, local independent busineses will not survive to be there when we need them. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or omnivore, shop local and, budget-permitting, make the effort to order in food rather than scoffing that jar of bolognese you got in for Brexit. Support food charities and the lovely independents who are real people and who are going the extra mile to produce food made with love for your appreciation, not to suit an accountant’s balance sheet.

Wishing us all a happy and healthy New Year
Team NotLeafy

2 Comments Add yours

  1. kavitafavelle says:

    We have really missed eating out with you in person, though glad we had that one meal when lockdown 1 was first lifted… but glad to read about all the good eating you’ve been enjoying. Like you, we feel these help us to feel we aren’t missing out on EVERYTHING good during this pandemic era!

    Like

    1. teamnotleafy says:

      Lookimg forward to making plans to eat out together again xxx

      Like

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