Whether it’s for personal health, for the environment, or for the animals, there has been a surge of interest in plant-based eating in recent years.
Across Hertfordshire vegan restaurants are popping up serving impressive dishes full of colour and freshness as well as “fast food” and “naughty” treats.
Here are a few of them.
Veg Heads in Hertford opened in 2020 and owner Matt Prior, 32, says they’ve seen a massive increase in sales in the last six months.
“Thanks to our being here we’ve created a demand, we’re now looking to expand,” he says.
While living abroad in Thailand Matt went vegetarian because he lived next to a pig slaughterhouse, which he says opened his eyes.
He explained: “I was vegetarian, thinking it was enough, but when I came back to England I realized there’s a hell of a lot more to it than just not eating meat. I started thinking about dairy and eggs and animal testing. It grew fast and I’ve been vegan now for three and a half years.
“A rude awakening, but it was needed.”
Matt said he thinks the difference between veganism and plant-based is that the former is a whole lifestyle whereas the latter is predominantly about food.
He explained: “With all the documentaries coming out, people turn on that cognitive dissonance as soon as something profound and possibly life changing comes along to make them think and it’s easier not to think, but with food, that’s the entrance to anyone’s heart, studies say we talk about food 30 times a day.
“A lot of people aren’t inclined to quit meat because of animals, they are more sold on the long term nutritional health benefits of a plant-based diet, that’s the difference between veganism and plant-based.”
On his menu, Matt recommends Vegheads’ popular ‘dirty’ vegan burger made from soya and seitan and their chicken style food such as the Korean fried chicken burger, also their hand-made chips.
Over in Letchworth, Vutie Beets is run by Harry Williams and his business partner Paul Cranwell.
Harry, 27, bought Vutie Beets in 2019 and says that in the past year their social following has rocketed.
Harry has been vegan since 2016 and said his passion was food before veganism, but he then married the two together.
He explained: “I used to work out in the gym a lot and then slowly I started to read about plant-based athletes, it was a gradual journey of cutting out meat and dairy.
“Every time I felt better so I went vegan for one year and just carried on and have never looked back.”
Harry added: “One of our main values is community, we want to give back as much as possible – we do a 5k run and a 20k bike ride on Sundays and anyone who takes part gets half price off their drinks when they come back.
On his menu, Harry recommends Vutie Beets’ jerk bowl and the black bean quesadilla.
St Albans is home to Plantopia, which was opened in 2020 by Nabil Gregory, 33, with his co-owner Alessandro Corti, 29, who both run the business from their own home.
They take working from home to a new level, with all the preparation and cooking happening in their kitchen and a spare room converted into a store room, though Nabil says everything has been separated between work and their own lives.
Plantopia is a little different in that it only offers kerbside collection and deliveries, so is a perfect option for a picnic in the park or a Saturday night movie takeaway.
Alessandro, a chef from Italy, and Nabil decided to set up the restaurant from home because there was nothing vegan around so they saw a gap in the market and have received fantastic feedback so far.
Nabil said: “It’s healthier for yourself and healthier for the world in terms of sustainability, it uses fewer resources than meat and with a little bit of research, you see there’s no other option.”
Nabil recommends Plantopia’s burgers, which are always a top seller, and the newly introduced sticky Korean burger, as well as the Roman pastas made by Alessandro, and their chilli con ‘carne’.
Watford’s Mood Café opened in 2019 and is run by husband and wife Mo and Hari Priya. Both Hare Krishnas, they grew up vegetarian so going vegan was easy for them and while spending weekends in Shoreditch and Brick Lane, Mo says the good vegan food and atmosphere there inspired them to bring some of that to Watford.
Mo added: “We often say Queens Road is like the Shoreditch of Watford, it is quirky and a little leftfield, so it was a perfect fit.”
They serve vegan deserts, which are made in house, as well as burgers, curry and sushi rolls.
Chia Naturally Healthy in Hitchin is owned by Lucy Fisher, 34, who opened the restaurant with her husband in 2015 as a small venture, but then had to expand soon after as their popularity instantly soared.
Lucy went vegan in 2014 and said “when you first go vegan you want to shout it from the rooftops because you have all this information on why it’s such a great lifestyle, however there is also a lot of anger as well because you think ‘why does no one know this, why is no one doing this’.
“I just felt amazing, my digestive system, my energy, my skin, everything, it felt like ‘oh, this is how I’m supposed to feel’, my husband also finds it’s the best way of eating for himself as well.”
On the growing vegan scene in Herts, Lucy said “I’ve seen it before my own eyes in the last six years, it has grown massively.
“It’s been so satisfying to see people being open to it, I thought it would be a really young market, but actually the majority has been the older generation.
“I get people asking us to open up our restaurant in their towns all the time, if I didn’t have a nine-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, believe me I’d be all over the place.
“I’ve got to know that I did everything I could to make sure my children have a world that they want to grow up in, I don’t think we’re too far away from having a vegan world and hopefully when our children are older it won’t be this alternative diet, it’ll just be standard.”
Lucy urges people to try vegan cafes in general and recommends saying ‘I’m new to this, tell me what I can have’. She says people will be so excited to help you – “loads of people who come to us aren’t vegan – everyone’s welcome”.
On the menu, Lucy recommends Chia Naturally Healthy’s nachos and protein pancakes.