Proudly bearing the kale-and-kolhrabi crown, Brighton is widely regarded as the vegetarian capital of Britain. Next month we’re cracking open the quinoa to celebrate National Vegetarian Week (16th – 22nd May), the annual awareness-raising campaign promoting the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.
So if anywhere can convince me to give up sausages for good, it’s Brighton, where the veggie and vegan dining scene first pioneered by Food For Friends, the city’s first vegetarian restaurant 35 years ago.
The latest newcomer to the v-scene is 1847, which has opened on North Road in the boho district North Laine. Named after the year the Vegetarian Society was formed, 1847 is the brainchild of Damien Davenport, a former Malmaison operations manager and life-long vegetarian. It’s the fourth restaurant in his new vegetarian chain (Britain’s first) following branches in Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham.
Last week, I took someone who may be their toughest critic yet – my husband, a confirmed carnivore and proud vegetable-shirker – to see what all the fuss is about.
The décor at 1847 is bright and simple with a retro sniff of the Eighties about it – think marble-topped bistro tables, custard-coloured banquettes and a feature wall sprouting plants and foliage. From the dining room, a spiral staircase leads down to Dandelion, a new basement cocktail bar with a pop art theme that specialises in botanically-influenced cocktails. For a boozy take on your five-a-day, try its range of herby, fruity tipples including Basil Faultless, a Blackdown gin and basil infusion, or Le Roux de Barb with vanilla vodka, rhubarb and topped with Prosecco.
The menu, which champions local farms and artisan producers, is seasonal and changes regularly. I start off with an allotment salad: a huge vitamin-boosting bowl of colourful veggies including broad beans, freshly podded peas and posh heritage tomatoes, topped with chunks of crispy fried bean curd (because you can’t have salad without fried stuff, obviously). Mr Davies opted for vegetable pakora with coriander yoghurt and shaved fennel, which seemed to sate him easily enough without him having to mention bacon (not even once).
My health halo slipped slightly with the main course – 1847’s vegetarian take on fish and chips. Fat slabs of cider-battered halloumi, chip shop-style chips, and a soft and sweet mint and basil mushy peas; it was overly generous and tasty to boot. Mr D opted for the ‘meaty’ oyster mushroom medallions with asparagus, roasted quinoa and a garlic sauce, which he thoroughly enjoyed (despite cutting short his proud lifetime avoidance of quinoa).
The menu offers an inventive variety of dishes – no Beanfeast or braised tofu in sight – such as chargrilled aubergine rolls stuffed with buckwheat and soya yoghurt, and spring pie crammed with smoked local cheddar, marrow and beetroot, and served on a marjoram pesto, with most offering vegan and gluten-free options.
Desserts are equally as generous and varied with treats like vegan ice cream with cardamom syrup, and Scottish trifle – a whiskey-flavoured (vegetarian) jelly topped with strawberries, custard and meringue. There’s also an impressive, and almost entirely vegan wine list.
Damien, who started the group via a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, has big plans for the 1847 brand with more branches opening and a training school to help school and college leavers enter the industry. But for us Brightonians, it’s all about having good meat-free food in the ‘hood once more.
1847 – 103 North Road (On Mondays, quote meatfreemonday and get 50% off your food bill).
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All images courtesy of 1847.