“You have to eat a vegan one too.” I’m looking across the table at my dining partner - who doesn’t appear to have received the memo about my hunt for the UK high street’s best vegan burger. “What’s the point in that?” they respond, indignant at being asked to eat anything other than cow in a bun.
Until two years ago I lived my life as a full-time meat eater. Regularly chowing down on roast beef with piles of crispy potatoes, a toad in the hole with onion gravy, or a hungover McDonalds breakfast muffin.
These days, as a vegetarian, I don’t really miss the taste of animals: there is enough choice that I can happily gorge on a plant-based alternative. Until I come face to face with a hamburger. At which point, I’m afraid I’m in cahoots with the carnivores again - what’s the point in anything other than the real deal?
Non-meat burgers often feel like a complete afterthought: a soggy mushroom between bread, marketed for the price of a steak. But with the rise in both the number of vegans in the UK, and the number of burger chains on the British high street, surely someone is nailing this?
Byron Burger: The Beetnik
I wasn’t until April 2018 that Byron made its first foray into the world of vegan burgers. The ‘Beetnik’ is described as a beetroot falafel patty, with baby kale, tomato, red onions, smashed avocado, red pepper ketchup and lime-dressed rainbow coleslaw.
Our waitress suggests wrapping it inside the paper before taking a bite. “It’s going to get a little messy,” she says. I choose a knife and fork.
It’s far less dry than many falafels that have crossed my plate in the past. The trio of red pepper ketchup, avocado and coleslaw do an amazing job of making this feel like a ‘real’ burger. And if you’re concerned about not liking beetroot, the flavour is not that strong.
With a glossy brioche bun (containing no soy or dairy) and a side of french fries, for the first time in a long time I don’t have meat-based food envy.
The Beetnik. £8 without fries or sides.
Brewdog: The Hail Seitan
Next up is pub chain Brewdog, whose vegan burger offering is slightly different. Instead of opting for a bean or vegetable patty, they’ve used the vegan wheat-based substitute, seitan.
Known as the ‘Hail Seitan’, this is a bbq seitan burger, with crispy kale, tomato chutney and hummus. Although it has fewer ingredients than Byron, the first thing I notice is the sheer weight of the thing – it is pretty much unable to stand up straight. At least the vegans at your table won’t be going home hungry.
That is, unless like me, they’ve been dealt the unfortunate hand of being allergic to soy. Despite seitan being soy free, the recipe has seen the entire thing generously marinated with the stuff. Tricky.
Based on the couple of bites had by a fellow dinner the conclusion was that the deep fried kale and hummus is delicious, but the overpowering flavour of the whole thing is tomato chutney and soy sauce. Depends what you’re into.
Hail Seitan, £8 without fries or sides.
Nandos: The Sweet Potato and Butternut
Nandos: the home of peri-peri chicken and refillable soft drinks. Not the first place that comes to mind when considering vegan dietary requirements. But like other eateries, they have been paying attention to diners and are now giving us what we want. Well, sort of.
Nandos currently resides in that halfway house of providing for vegans by giving them the vegetarian menu and then making a special request to ditch the mayo, which we can definitely get on board with.
You have a choice of the supergreen (broccoli, beans and kale) and sweet potato and butternut (with red pepper, onion and edamame beans). Or the portobello mushroom and halloumi burger (if you’re willing to ditch the halloumi and double up on ’shrooms). I opted for the sweet potato and it was surprisingly tasty, although with a side of chips there was a lot of potato on my plate.
When it comes to picking sides, vegans can have the hummus and pita, peri-salted chips, chargrilled vegetables, spicy mixed olives and even garlic bread. Not the spicy rice or macho peas though as I found out when I tried to order them (not sure what is hidden in there).
A fairly solid option if you need to please everyone.
Supergreen or sweet potato and butternut, both £6.45 without sides.
Meat Liquor: The Burgaloo
The name doesn’t give vegans much hope of a delicious plant-based meal, but Meat Liquor is a surprising entrant on the high street. Although they only have one vegan option, they have done it well.
The ‘Burgaloo’ is a solid and tasty offering. Inspired by Indian potato curry recipes it contains a spicy potato, beetroot and black bean patty, red onions, pickles, lettuce and ketchup.
Admittedly they haven’t tried to do anything too fancy here - just another breadcrumbed patty (with a good kick of spice) served with lettuce, gherkins and red onions. (Although vegans don’t want meat, they do just want a burger rather than an attempt at something fancier in a bun. Ditch the kale and give us iceberg lettuce any day.)
Meat Liquor also give vegans some good options for sides - if you’re bored of chips then opt for the deep-fried seitan fingers. Although word of warning, you might need your friends to roll you home.
Burgaloo, £7, without fries or sides.