Our Food and Drink Survey results show two notable trends: the rise of vegan-only eateries, and an enduring love for a Scandi aesthetic. We look at two places leading the way: Stockport's vegan restaurant The Allotment, and minimal Leeds cafe Stories
The rise of animal-friendly fine dining
With the number of vegans in Britain rising by a whopping 360% in the last decade, the plant-based diet – once a lifestyle associated somewhat demonisingly with preachy, kale-snaffling, hemp-clad hippies – is now being given a lot more credit. And the fact that a vegan restaurant in Stockport has won many of your votes for Best Newcomer is proof of precisely that.
The Allotment is a new vegan (and gluten-free) restaurant in the heart of Stockport's Old Town, where head chef and owner Matthew Nutter hopes to revolutionise the concept of vegan fine dining, conjuring up smart, flavourful combinations that reveal how vegan cuisine can be refined into something sleek, rich and genuinely special.
The £55 taster menu changes regularly, and currently features courses including shiitake parfait (buttery shiitake and chestnut parfait, served with a sweet port and shallot reduction, beetroot and balsamic marmalade and raw seeded crackers), southern spiced cauliflower (cayenne-spiced cauliflower with parsnip puree, braised celery, smoked macadamia cheese and slow-cooked artichoke) and chocolate orange brownie (orange brownie with vanilla and almond creme anglaise). Not forgetting, to conclude, a cheeseboard of cultured nut cheeses served with grapes, seasonal chutney and raw crackers.
Opening up a realm that's worlds apart from your humble beanburger or bowl of houmous, The Allotment single-handedly illustrates how, here in the North, vegan food is no longer on the periphery of our culture, but is starting to lead the way – and in this new restaurant, it gets the elegant environment it's deserved for decades.
Other vegan spots we love:
In Liverpool, The Art School serves up a vegan tasting menu (£89) which features braised black-eyed peas, girolles, charred baby leeks and confit cherry tomatoes; Asian marinated pan-fried tofu with spaghetti vegetables, baby spinach and soy juices; and late-harvest poached pear with mandarin orange puree, winter berries and praline popcorn.
At the other end of the spectrum, the folk at fabled junk food gaff V Revolution in Manchester are also working hard to prove that the vegan lifestyle doesn't have to be all about sprout tops and spiralised courgette. Having recently expanded to a larger unit on Edge Street, V Rev are continuing to smash the stereotypes into smithereens.
A Design for Life: Leeds' Scandi-inspired Stories
Our love for Scandinavian culture is by no means a recent revelation, with a regular trip to IKEA now an ingrained part of our consumer routine, along with evenings sat on the sofa immersed in Nordic noir 'pon the tellybox. Then there's all those slices of rye bread and knäckebröd for that endless barrage of avocados we now get through. Hell, why not even go right back to the days of ABBA? Indeed, our obsession with Scandi culture is nothing new – and yet somehow it continues to find new forms.
Take hygge, the Danish concept of comfort, cosiness and general wellbeing that’s become one of our biggest lifestyle imports of recent months. Or, in cynical terms, the only way to market absolutely anything this winter, be it an event or a pair of sodding socks.
But while some of us are beginning to feel coddled to death by the cable-knit clench of hygge, respite can be found among the slick, clean lines of places like Stories in North Leeds, an independent cafe run by Emily Crocker that opened in Oakwood last summer and is another of your winners in the Best Newcomer category.
Inspired by the sights and tastes of
The Nordic menu, for instance, champions all things local, with loaves from Leeds Bread Co-op, charcuterie from Woodalls in the Lake District, cakes from nearby Noisette Bakehouse and more. Smörgås are the main draw, using the open sandwich format to show off the quality ingredients like burrata with homemade pesto, sliced tomato, crushed pine nuts and rocket or Yorkshire smoked salmon with fresh, homemade pickled cucumber and dill. Team this with great coffee – ethically-sourced speciality coffee from Origin and seasonal hand-brewed filter options from local roasters North Star – or a cold-pressed juice, and you've got yourself one blissful package.
If hygge's supposedly all about wellbeing, Stories proves you don't need a cashmere jumper and a roaring log fire to feel good about the moment you're in.