Epicentre – Paignton

Another foodie story from our trip to the ‘English Riviera’ to celebrate our anniversary! I’m doing these all in the wrong order and I’m not entirely sure why – we actually ate at The Orange Tree on Saturday night, Epicentre at Saturday lunchtime and TJ’s on Friday night. But I’ve done them in the opposite order…

So, Epicentre is a vegetarian cafe/bookshop/art centre/music venue in the centre of Paignton. Jack of all trades! I found the cafe while searching for veggie places to eat in Paignton – whenever we travel somewhere I always try and find somewhere that does good vegetarian food so that Benji can sample some exciting new stuff πŸ™‚ Their menu was extensive and varied and they are the only veggie cafe in Torbay so it was pretty much a definite!

We rocked up to the cafe about noon on the Saturday after a morning spent shopping and exploring the pier. When we walked in I was a little apprehensive…the cafe was tiny and there was a big group of about 15 people sat in the middle talking and laughing and singing really loudly. There was one guy sat with a laptop and a coffee and all the other tables were occupied but no-one was eating. Hmmm. No one greeted us or acknowledged our presence…it was pretty awkward. In an attempt to assess the situation and decide what we wanted to do we squeezed through the crowd towards the back of the cafe, where there were a number of bookshelves groaning under the weight of hundreds of books and magazines. We held a brief, intense, whispered conversation where I essentially said I would like to leave and Ben said he wanted to stay and give it a try. He won. Our whispering must have been louder than we thought because a guy came up to us with a questioning look on his face – we assumed he was the owner. I asked him if they were serving food and he said they were and told us to find a seat…he then realised there were none and asked a teenage boy if he wouldn’t mind moving. I’m pretty sure he did mind but he moved nonetheless and we sat down at a table by the window with a nice view of the high street outside. Phew! I really hate to give anywhere a bad review and the food at Epicentre was amazing as you’ll see, I just think they need to work on their first impressions!

I grabbed a couple of menus and we poured over them, trying to decide what to order from the vast selection. We got drinks first – Ben chose freshly squeezed orange juice and I was in the mood for an exciting drink (I almost always order Diet Coke…dulllll) so chose an iced mocha. I got a whole pint of it! The lady who served us was lovely and I love that she asked if I wanted dairy, soy or almond milk. I panicked at this unexpected decision requirement and got dairy although on reflection I should have got soy as it is both delicious and lower in calories. Next time!

After much deliberation we placed our orders. The menu at Epicentre consists of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, soups and salads as well as a ‘Mexi Cali’ section which has burritos, quesadillas and nachos! It’s really cool because with all the options you have a choice of which protein to add – tofu, soy burger, bean burger, tofu burger or veggie hotdog! They even have a vegetarian cheesesteak sandwich with wheat steak. Ay-may-zing. After we’d ordered we had about a 15 minute wait in which we could smell our cooking lunch wafting over from the out-of-sight kitchen and making us extremely hungry.

When our lunch was bought out, I was absolutely blown away! I ordered the ‘pesto burger’ with the tofu patty but souped it up with multiple toppings and add-ons because I’m greedy. I really wanted pesto to be a component of my lunch having not had it in ages but I also wanted avocado, cheese and onions which weren’t included with the pesto burger. Possibly because they don’t go? Anyway. The guy was really accommodating and said it was no problem to add on all the greedyboy extras. And curly fries, obviously, we always get curly fries if they are an option. Ben even said ‘Look! Curly fries are the same price as normal fries!’ This is a very rare occurrence and an opportunity not to be missed.

So I think the photos of my burger speak for themselves:

I have to say I was slightly intimated by the sheer height of the burger and the obvious difficulty I would have in picking it up. Β This was not a lady-like meal – by the end I was covered in ketchup, cheese and avocado and the less said about the crumbs in my hair the better. As you would expect by the appearance of the food in the photos, my burger was delicious. The tofu patty in particular was in fact a bit of a life-changer – I had never thought to use tofu in this way. I asked the guy how he made it and he said it was crumbled tofu, garlic, seasoning, liquid amino and a bunch of other stuff I can’t rememeber and wish I’d written down. I’ll definately be trying to recreate these though as it was seriously the nicest vegetarian burger I’ve ever had. The rest of the ingredients – fresh, juicy tomato slices, caramelised onions, rocket, carrot ribbons and what seemed like an entire avocado were all packed into the ciabatta bun and complimented the patty perfectly. But, the star ingredient was the pesto! I don’t know if it was home-made – it definately tasted like it and judging by the freshness and quality of the other ingredients I would guess that it was. Strong and pungent with a course texture it was spread liberally on both halves of the bun, ensuring a pesto-y taste to every mouthful. My only complaint would be that the ciabatta bun was not toasted and got a little difficult to eat towards the end. But that’s mainly because I’m a wuss and need to man up when it comes to supersized lunch portions.

Ben’s burger looked a little less impressive but that is only because he quite sensibly didn’t add 57 additional toppings to his.

He went for the ‘Western burger’ – a Fry’s patty drenched in BBQ sauce with caramelised onions. He actually wanted to get the tofu burger but forgot to specify when he ordered so he just got the regular one, bless him! He absolutely loved his though and preferred it to mine so it all worked out well. I tried a bite of it and I was really impressed with the rich, smokey sauce. Yum!

So both our burgers were delicious. But, the real highlight of the meal came from a surprising source….

A condiment!

We asked for ketchup with our curly fries, natch, and recieved this exciting bottle of organic goodness! It was the most flavourful, intensely tomato flavour we’d had since the infamous tomato flatbread at Disney’s California Grill. I had no idea ketchup could taste this incredible having been very loyal to Heinz from an early age. We’ve decided we will be tracking down this wonder product ourselves so we can dip curly fries in it to our hearts content.

Our bill at Epicentre came toΒ Β£17. Not a cheap lunch but a small price to pay for delicious, freshly cooked vegetarian food and the feeling that you are supporting an independent cafe. The group that was in there when we arrived left about 40 minutes later, leaving the place nice and quiet. We think it was a walking group or something that meets in the cafe due to it’s central location. Just something to bear in mind if you visit Epicentre on a Saturday lunchtime! Overall though we had a wonderful experience here and we will definitely be back if we are in the local area again.

InSpiral Vegan Cafe, Gloucester Arms and general London eating

We were in London recently for the weekend to see an amazing folk band called Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall (for a fabulous review of our evening check out my boyfriend Ben’s post on his music blog, BamRambling!) I booked tickets as a surprise for Ben (what a good girlfriend!) and arranged for us to stay with our good friend Sam on the Saturday night. We had National Express tickets early on Saturday and late on Sunday so we had lots of time to kill which was mostly spent eating.

My favourite place we ate at was a vegan cafe in Camden called InSpiral. It’s a small, busy place with a big counter brimming with vegan and raw treats and a few tables with lovely views of Camden Lock.

It wasn’t too busy when we got there and I was able to spend a few minutes agonising over the array of choices – they all looked so good!

In the end neither of us could resist the amazing looking vegan lasagna which came with a choice of three sides. I got an apple juice and Ben got an orange juice and we got a little table for 2 over by the window.

The portions here are HUGE! Our food came on very smart black rectangular plates which had plenty of room for the delicious side dishes that were generously spooned on next to our lasanga. I chose to have the channa masala, root vegetables and curly kale, all of which were really good. The root veggies were roasted and covered in a sweet nut and herb mixture which was incredible! I chose the channa masala in a moment of panic as I felt I couldn’t get potato wedges as I already had root vegetables (schoolboy error) but they turned out to be my favourite part!

The lasagna itself though. Oh my goodness. It was roasted vegetables in a rich tomato sauce with the most amazing cashew nut ‘cheesy’ bechemal sauce. I could have drunk a glass of it, it was that good. We also opted to have vegan pesto on the top of the lasagna which just took it above and beyond! I felt so virtuous eating this lunch knowing that everything was meat and dairy free and so fresh and wholesome. I managed to eat all the lasagna but was very upset that I had to leave some of the side dishes. Tears were nearly shed.

The juices we ordered were made fresh and I was slightly alarmed when my apple juice came out all frothy and bitty…but it was delicious! I will never again judge a juice by it’s frothyness.

Tragically we were too full for dessert and although I had plans to sample some of the raw chocolate truffles and vegan ice-cream, I never got the chance. We will be back though! InSpiral is not a cheap lunch option (especially compared to the rows and rows of Chinese, Indian, Mexican etc food stalls in Camden Market) and our lunch came to Β£30ish but we couldn’t pass up the chance to try some authentic vegan food and are really glad we visited.

While we were in Camden we also visited Whole Foods – one of the UK branches of the huge American health food store. We tried to visit the one in Orlando while we were in Florida last year but it was a lot further away than we thought so we couldn’t which was very upsetting. I was excited to visit the Camden one but I had lowered my expectations considerably because lets face it, it’s Britain, not America. It was a nice shop, loads of awesome hard-to-find products and a fabulous hot and cold salad and soup bar. Although we didn’t need a meal (or even really a snack…) we couldn’t resist buying a couple of goodies and ended up with some items from the fridge.

I had a vegan spinach and tofu pancake.

The brand was ‘Lauras Idea’ and there were lots of similar items in the shop. The pancake was delicious – light and fluffy with a slightly toasted flavour. The filling was rich and indulgent with an intense creaminess from the silken tofu and a satisfying bite in the spinach from a sprinkle of nutmeg. I really wouldn’t have guessed this was vegan as the tofu confidently takes the place of what would normally be ricotta.

Ben chose a vegetable calzone. We were pretty sure it was meant to be heated up but he really fancied it so threw caution to the wind and ate it straight out of the fridge.

It was filled with a mixture of roasted vegetables in a rich tomato sauce. No complaints from Ben and it was gone pretty quickly!

The other eating experience from our London trip was a visit to the Gloucester Arms pub, about 10 minutes walk from the RAH. I was looking for somewhere to eat before the show that wasn’t eye-wateringly expensive (nigh-on impossible in that area!) and the Gloucester Arms seemed to have pretty bargainous food and drink prices.

The menu is very extensive and it seriously took us about 15 minutes to decide what to order as everything sounded amazing! Eventually though I selected the very item that had first piqued my interest when viewing the menu online – Vegetarian Fish and Chips! And the best part about it? The ‘vegetarian fish’ was IN FACT battered halloumi! Can you blame me for ordering!? I also couldn’t resist ordering a side of onion rings and for reasons known only to myself at the time, a pot of curry sauce. And the meal came with bread and butter anyway. So basically, I looked like a huge greedy beast with 5 plates of food around me. In my defence I was hideously hungover and after coming back from a near-death state in the early hours of the morning when I first woke up and enduring 2 hours on a coach then 5 hours walking round London, I think I deserved it.

The halloumi was perfectly amazing in the way only battered cheese products can be. The batter was extremely thick though and unfortunately (although not surprisingly given my side dishes) I was unable to finish it and had to make the tough decision to just eat the halloumi. The onion rings were also delicious and obviously you can’t go wrong with bread and real butter!

Ben got the same as me but Sam went for the burger and very kindly paused to let me take a photo.

Overall we all loved our meals at the Gloucester Arms and if I’m ever in that area again I will definitely be going back! The food in London was brilliant as ever and I never cease to be amazed by the huge range of choices everywhere you go. I love it!

Watercress Burgers

My boyfriend lives in Bishops Waltham (a little village about 10 minutes away from me in Hedge End) and every so often the Hampshire Farmers Market travels to BW to set up camp in the village square for a few hours on a Sunday. We always try and take a trip down to check out the market which always has a wide range of fresh and seasonal local produce. One Sunday in the summer we were quite taken with a stall that sold watercress burgers, falafal and sausages and once we’d tried a few samples we stocked up on their delicious produce! My boyfriend bought the watercress sausages and a pasty and I bought a couple of watercress and cheese scones. We toasted the scones and ate them for lunch with butter and they were amazing. Unfortunately, the sausages were only in date a couple more days after the market and we just didn’t get time to eat them so we had to throw them away! A very dark day indeed.

However, a couple of weeks ago we were buying some groceries in the Bishops Waltham Co-Op and we stumbled upon a selection of aforementioned watercress goods in the fridge! We bought a pack of four watercress burgers and more or less sprinted back home to try them.

Once we got back, I studied the packaging as Ben heated some oil in a pan. The company is called Cresson Creative and they have a lovely little website detailing the story of the company and how they started. I was excited to learn that the watercress used in all their products is grown in Alresford, a few miles away from us near Winchester! Doesn’t get much more local than that! They are Vegetarian Society approved and the ingredients form a motley crew of watercress, cheese, onions, garlic and mustard and some breadcrumbs to bind them together.

 

 

We were pretty hungry so I am ashamed to say we cooked all four at once!

While Ben pan-fried the burgers I toasted some ciabatta bread and sliced the ball of mozzarella we had bought (there really was no need for added mozzarella with burgers that are mainly cheese but we couldn’t resist!) The burgers crisped up really nicely on the outside and stayed soft and gooey on the inside – perfect! Ben had the genius idea of laying the sliced mozzarella on the burgers as they cooked, causing the milky cheese to melt slightly and adhere to the top of the burger.

Once they were cooked to our liking (an abundance of burnt crispy bits on the edges!) we piled them on our ciabatta with a splodge of Heinz ketchup and jammed the lid of the roll on top. No side accompaniments were needed, this was a very humble lunch.

The watercress burgers were delicious with a really unusual flavour that I hadn’t come across before. Obviously the addition of cheese in the mixture was an excellent idea and our greedy mozzarella topping only enhanced this. These would be an excellent replacement for the tired-looking Quorn or spicy bean burgers usually faced by vegetarians in the summer months and generally make a nice change from beef burgers. Delicious!