Fear and Loathing in a Vegetarian Restaurant

Just so we’re clear, this is a rant.

I usually tell people I’m a vegetarian, as I don’t eat meat or fish. I’ll eat seafood like crab, lobster and oysters, however (not whelks though. Nasty, slimy, rubbery little mouthfuls of filth), so don’t personally consider this categorisation of my dietary preferences to be strictly accurate. It’s just easier than launching into a list of what I will and won’t eat. The term Vegetarian also seems to be a trigger for verbal warfare. The second you mention it whole rooms of people will turn on you… “B-U-T  W-H-Y?” They shout, whilst arming phasers and activating shields.

Unfortunately ‘vegetarianism’ encompasses a huge range and variety of reasons for not eating meat, all of which are amalgamated by carnivores into one collective perception of vegetarians as freaks. Some of them are. There is the ‘vegetables have feelings too’ brigade out there. There are those who feel it their duty to educate the meat-eating world as to their wrongdoing, but who only damage the cause further by pissing everyone off. Some love the taste of meat but abstain for moral reasons. Some people are just fussy eaters.

Personally, I have a number of different reasons, which, after a heavy sigh, I will dredge up and recite every time I am asked “BUT WHY?” Firstly, I am a fussy eater. I have tried different kinds of meat before, and I just didn’t like it. I also have a vivid imagination, and the slightest thing will put me off my food. Images of death, blood, and organs being ripped out of animal carcasses… yep, that’ll do it. The idea that I am eating muscle and tissue, something that was once animated into life, equally disgusts me. I do object for moral reasons as well. I love animals, and eating things you love seems to push the boundaries of what is humane. To be honest, given how far the human race has advanced in terms of knowledge and technology, I find it shocking that we have not advanced beyond eating the flesh of other creatures, flesh similar to our own… But that’s my opinion, and the perversions of the human race will always be difficult to suppress, so I’ll (usually) keep my arguments to myself.

Now, to the real point of this post.

Why does every restaurant offer the same vegetarian options? I have become a lover of seafood, suppressing any moral reaction to this I may have had, largely just to add a bit of bloody variety when I eat out. If a menu lacks seafood, then it will invariably offer me the same old crap. I’m sick of goats’ cheese. I’m sick to death of risotto. I can’t even eat butternut squash anymore, so frequently has it been forced upon me. Waiters stare at me in confusion if I reject a ‘meat substitute’ – “surely madam wants her vegetables to taste of sausage?” – and even mushrooms, those perfect doses of serotonin, are beginning to pall for me.

There are a couple of restaurants in Hampstead that frequently impress me. The Horseshoe, and The Holly Bush. Even their salads are innovative; the ingredients intrigue, surprise, and taste fantastic. Though there will usually only be one or two vegetarian options, and the menus don’t really change frequently enough for this to negate my little rant. Today at The Horseshoe I had saffron and potato dumplings, with asparagus, a tomato-based sauce, some sort of green stuff (possibly pesto?) and button chestnut mushrooms. The boys had fancy fish and chips, and we were all perfectly happy. Last night, however,  I had a full-on sulk at dinner. We ate at the Riverfront Bar and Restaurant on the Southbank, and my only options for a main course were a SANDWICH, or a goats’ cheese salad. I had leek and mushroom soup, a starter (it was passable, but I only had a mouthful then continued sulking), and a handful of  chips (they came in a little bucket, they didn’t just put them into my hands, but it was a side-order so petitely proportioned).

The Holly Bush

The Horseshoe

Perhaps I’m just being a brat, but isn’t it about time restaurants put a little more effort into their vegetarian options? It isn’t just vegetarians that want to eat them!


20 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in a Vegetarian Restaurant

  1. I agree with you about the variety but goats cheese and risotto are an improvement from what I can normally find locally. Pasta Primavera, cheese sandwiches, or Portebella mushrooms (I don’t eat mushrooms). The saffron and potato dumplings sound lovely!

  2. It’s interesting that the associations you give to meat are very similar to a technique I have seen to help people diet. As an example they are told when eating/thinking/looking at chocolate imagine it with hair clippings melted into it. More on topic I agree with you. I am not a vegetarian but if there was more of a choice of good quality vegetarian dishes I would definitely eat them.

    • Good to know! Tom spent a couple of weeks in Provence last summer for work, and was served a whole octopus concealed within some sort of seafood soup. Even he balked at that. Jx

  3. Fully agreed – I try to eat vegetarian at least 50% of lunches and dinners… and the % is increasing as I get more and more frustrated with modern farming techniques. I would also put Sea Urchin in the same class as uneatable fishy stuff.

  4. 🙂 I’m not a vegetarian, but when I’m traveling, I do often like to go for the vegetarian options. You just never can fully trust meat! Especaially when you’re not sure where it comes from or how it’s been processed – yuk!

  5. Hi Jade, love your photos and good to hear you found my blog, we’ve definitely got a few things in common. . Have you ever checked out Brighton veggie cafes? I’m veggie too and there are some really wonderful places for us veggies down here on the coast.
    keep writing and taking photos,
    Anne aka cafedharma.

    • Thanks – a LOT of people have advised me to head down to Brighton for the vegetarian food, so I’m sure I will do soon! I used to visit a lot as a teenager, but my goal then was always shopping in the lanes – good to have another excuse now. Jx

  6. Completely agree! Been vegetarian for 30 years yet still get the verbal BUT WHY and the poor choice in restaurants. I cannot look at stuffed peppers anymore 😉

  7. I’m so glad someone else feels the same! In any generic British restaurant, the vegetarian option is always invariably a goat cheese tart, or mushroom risotto. As I loathe both goat cheese and mushrooms (being a fussy eater is also why I don’t eat meat), I usually end up with a bowl of chips. I was thrilled when I went to a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago, and the risotto was broad bean instead of mushroom, which is kind of sad, as it was still risotto. I can avoid those types of places in London easily enough, but it’s hard when you’re out in the country where the only option is a pub lunch.

    • I spent a few days in Ireland recently, and the vegetarian options were always Chinese or Indian courses – I had to conclude that that was the only way the restaurants/ cafes we visited could comprehend not eating meat: must be a ‘foreign’ thing! Jx

  8. I hear you! I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 16 years. I don’t eat seafood, so that option is closed. I eat cheese in moderation, not because I’m restricting myself, but because I can’t eat very much in one sitting. I find it too rich and feel overfaced/nauseous when given too much. I love butternut squash risotto, but the point is I make it at home (same goes for risotto and pasta in general). When I eat out, I want to eat something special and feel spoiled, not be fobbed off with cheese or something I could (and do) make easily at home. Don’t even get me started on the childrens menu. Both my kids are vegetarians and are sick of pizza and chips!

    • Absolutely agree on trying to avoid ordering meals you can – and do – cook yourself at home. So many restaurants seem to view the vegetarian option as the diet option, rather than realising that it’s also supposed to be a treat regardless of how healthy it accidentally happens to be! Jx

  9. Dear God – you have hit the nail on the head here. Seriously, I ask you, how many times must I be confronted with the same old crap? Most usually, a choice of a giant portbello mushroom stuffed to within an inch of its life with goats cheese, or some wet, soggy risotto (glorified rice pudding with a few peas floating around in its broth). For this reason, I have a general rule of avoiding “Modern English” and “Gastropub” affairs like the plague. If friends suggest a meal out at one of those places, I politely decline and say that I have prior commitments. I simply cannot bear situations where I am relegated to having a medley of side orders to concoct a main course of my own making. And chips in a little silver bucket – please!!! Such a bloody buggery cliche.

  10. Haha. Isn’t it nice to read someone else’s experiences though, and know you aren’t alone?

    I’m a fairly strict vegetarian, with vegan aspirations until I fall off the wagon.

    I do like goats/sheeps cheese occasionally, but avoid them unless I am really struggling for a change, a bit like you and the sea food.

    Here in Gib we are not at the portobello mushroom/risotto stage, although goat’s cheese may have made the odd appearance. A lot of the time, veg offerings are still stuck in the days of veg lasagna (which I loathe for a meal out with a passion, although am happy to cook it at home and cook it far better too). Veg curries and stir fry usually make an appearance too qv your comments above.

    I don’t know whether you allow links, so I’ll just tell you that in my last blog post I put up a link to a Spanish restaurant that does great veg food. Some of the best veg meals I have had have been here in Spain! But normally the choice is abysmal. Invariably tortilla, chips and salad. The big cities usually have a veg restaurant and some of the international resorts.

    I do write semi-preachy posts, not aiming at conversion, but trying to tell people what vegetarians eat and offer some options if people are entertaining at home or putting on food in a work setting. It’s pretty frustrating going somewhere, whether for work or pleasure when the only option is a slice of tomato and a lettuce leaf from the garnish.

    Do you eat tempeh, tofu, seitan?

    • I will eat tofu or tempeh (I hadn’t heard of seitan before) though can find them bit too meaty! As my palate has been honed to identify sneaky or accidental inclusions of meat in food, this puts me off.

      I’ve found quite a few vegetarian cafes popping up in London and the West Country, not advertising themselves as such but just happening not to serve meat. It makes me wonder if (hope that) the tide is slowly turning!


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