A good burger is a thing of beauty. A satisfying, messy manifestation of all things umami: cheese, relish, onions, pickles and meat. It’s something that, after years of being served sad-looking bean burgers, would seem impossible to make vegan-friendly.
This is not to say that I despise a bean patty. I enjoy its light and healthy verve, but let’s be real: it lacks the cultural identity of a traditional burger. Take Pulp Fiction, and the scene where Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta burst in on some kids eating burgers for breakfast, for example. Can you imagine Samuel L Jackson exclaiming, “Mmmm! This is a tasty burger!” about a falafel?
But as veganism continues to grow in popularity, restaurants and supermarkets are leaping to provide us with Samuel-appropriate fake meat just like the real thing. The once-sorry corner of Sainsbury’s, with its Linda McCartney and Quorn products, has expanded across isles and is decked with newcomers like Vivera and Beyond Meat. Even the nation’s favourite brand of sausages, Richmond, is offering meat-free ones.
Beyond Meat burgers are the meatiest I’ve smacked my lips around and are a favourite of small UK chains such as Honest Burger. The restaurant authentically flame grills the burger and serves it in a glossy toasted brioche bun, which is cascaded in a smoky gouda that, unlike a lot of vegan cheeses, melts beautifully. Pickles, red onion and lettuce give it that all-important crunch, complemented by French’s mustard and Rubies in the Rubble chipotle mayo. This burger is without a doubt the naughtiest: a gooey, juicy, handsome one-hander that packs a magnificent punch. It comes with a huge portion of homemade rosemary salted fries and I ordered a side of onion rings that were the size of my face.
Another burger I tried on my quest to find the best was DoppleGanger’s gluten-free ‘Tempeh shawarmy’ burger. It wasn’t trying to mimic meat, but it also wasn’t a bean burger, so it fitted my criteria. My first mouthful delivered a dense, satisfying umami whoomph that I had never tasted from tempeh before. It was smoky and topped with roasted portabello mushrooms that were lightly spiced, salty and tender. A mint salsa and cooling tzatziki balanced these flavours and were a good match for the crunchy tomato and red onion. I ordered a side of air-fried chips, although I was reluctant at first (my experience of air fryers is that they cook like a really rubbish oven). But these chips were crisp, soft in the middle and oily in a good way. I washed it down with homemade ginger beer because ‘healthy food’ deserves a healthy drink.
Those wanting a chicken-style burger should go to BrewDog. Known for its anarchist ales, the Scottish brewer is also developing a following for its food, having recently partnered with cult favourite Temple of Seitan to feature their signature seitan wings and burgers. I had the ‘Clucky this time’, a southern fried chunk of seitan, piled with avocado, red onion and coriander. The seitan has a different texture to real chicken – it’s thicker and slightly chewy – but its breading was spice-etched to perfection and the creamy avocado balanced its density. I ordered a side of truffle fries and wings, doused in an addictive hot sauce and syrup glaze – as well as several beers because 95% of them are vegan! I fully recommend the Elvis Juice for a tart, citrussy assault on the senses.