Scotland's Best Vegetarian and Vegan Food
Glasgow continues to be one of the UK's best cities for meat-free dining, and now Edinburgh's catching up. We take a look at your veggie favourites...
There was a time, back in the early 2010s, when there was something of a red meat arms race going on. You couldn't take a step without tripping over a post-industrial burger joint, people were using 'dirty' as a positive adjective about food (you know, the stuff that's explicitly not supposed to have dirt on it), and there was mandatory bacon with everything. But times change, and we all change with them. Jump forward a few years, and Scotland is a hive of interesting vegan and veggie food being served up in an equally interesting set of locations. But in a way, things have always been like this.
Hendersons, for example, has been flying the vegetarian dining flag for more than 50 years, helping the meat-free in the capital to get their fill of delicious and meatless cooking. In their half-century of operation they've grown and grown, and diversified to keep up with the times – their Hanover Street restaurant is an all-day veggie bistro, while their Thistle Street spot is now 100% vegan (and that's without even getting into their deli shop, and cafe down by the Scottish Parliament). They've been fighting the veggie fight for longer than many of us have been alive, which if nothing else is proof that a meatless lifestyle has its health benefits.
Hendersons was joined this year by another H – Harmonium (60 Henderson St, Edinburgh), a supremely cool bar-restaurant in Leith that serves up great dishes and drinks that you'd never know were vegan if you didn't ask. It's the latest venture from the minds behind the collection of vegan venues in Glasgow that are part of the reason why the city regularly tops the rankings as one of the most vegan-friendly in the country.
Mono (12 Kings Court, Glasgow) is the mothership when it comes to this kind of thing – it's a community hub that's buzzing with live music and fun stuff (like a record shop next door), while the kitchen serves up amazing and eccentric food that all happens to be completely free of animal bits. Same deal over the road at the 13th Note (50-60 King St, Glasgow), where the basement is taken up with raucous gigs from local bands while upstairs is a cool and cosy bar that serves up a vicious Bloody Mary and immense vegan breakfast, as well as some of the city's best chips in five different configurations. These venues, along with Stereo and the Flying Duck, have all been key in Glasgow's vegan rise thanks to following a simple formula – make good vegan food, and put it next to music.
If you're a staunch meat-eater, and associate a vegan diet with grim utilitarianism despite the fact we just spent a sentence talking about fry-ups and chips, this might be hard to get your head around. Events like Vegan Connections – the music and food festival which expanded to a five-venue, two-day affair last year with plans to return in 2018 – are key to understanding how this all works. VC brings together a host of fun stuff (bands, food, talking about bands and food, drinking) under one umbrella. They're all good things, so you get under the umbrella. Then you go for some food, and it's a vegan pizza which you enjoy and voila, you're on board.
It's a similar situation over in the West End at The Hug and Pint (171 Great Western Rd, Glasgow); go down for a gig in the basement, and chances are you're going to fancy a bite to eat beforehand. You hear that The Hug and Pint's menu of Asian street food-inspired dishes, from black pepper aubergine to spicy papaya salad, is boss, so rather than traipsing up and down Great Western Road you kill two birds with one stone. Except everything you eat is vegan, so it's more like you help two birds out of a tree on their way to freedom, with one stone.
Down in the southside at Ranjit's Kitchen (607 Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow), things follow a slightly different path. OK, it's not vegan by any stretch (there's plenty of paneer kicking about, and this is Panjabi homecooking we're dealing with so you know there's ghee involved), but no diner could have any complaints about a lack of variety or taste on offer. You'll find daals, chickpea curries, samosas, and a decadent array of Panjab snacks from gulab jamun to gajrela (the Panjabi take on carrot cake). With all that on offer, there's no need for a big slab of meat.
That's the big takeaway from this crop of your favourite vegetarian and vegan spots – there's no need to eat meat if you don't want to. Some of us still like meat, and others would run a mile before tucking into a ham sandwich, but the Scottish food scene is now at a point where you could go meat-free in almost any scenario and you'd have a range of exciting and inventive options to choose from. Breakfasts, a few beers with pals, a pub lunch, or a pre-gig feed; all can be as meatless as you want. Vegetables – turns out that, unlike all those burgers from before, they're here to stay.