There was a long-standing joke the gist of which was that a meat-free diet would cause an increase in methane emissions from all the gaseous fermented bean-trumps leaching through the velvet bell-bottoms of those hippy vegans and vegetarians. Turns out that the joke’s on the other foot. Meat and dairy production is responsible for sixty percent of world agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. There’s no denying it; the facts are in and they have been checked and verified – our meat-loving lifestyles are ruinous for the planet.
Now, alongside curating your signature vintage style from other people’s donated cast-offs, taking your own non-plastic bag to the shops and dusting off that old bicycle in the shed, veganism is the shiny flag of convenience under which to wave your newly-acquired environmental credentials. And, not shy of jumping on a bandwagon, we’ve climbed right aboard. We’ve eaten some spectacularly creative vegan dishes on the Isle of Wight, from Ventnor Botanic Garden’s plant-based dining tasting menu with its laudable ‘food inch’ hyper-local ingredients filtered, smoked and foamed. Also in Ventnor is the achingly hip Stripped, with its yummy ‘plant burger’ a permanent fixture on the succinct but delicious menu.
Aiming to complete the triumvirate and earn the town the sobriquet #VeganVentnor is Pulse. So, with all this positivity about veganism swirling round our heads, we stepped through the door of Pulse, ready to be wowed by the joys of a plant-based diet.
The restaurant, which opened in spring 2018, is a labour of love for the proprietor. Although she claims not to be a chef, she has seen a gap in the market – and one which is bang on trend. The compact venue is pleasant enough; a bright homely space where we took the table in the window, which has to be the prime spot.
Although there for our evening meal we were given the daytime menu; it was like that of a regular cafe: fried breakfasts, beans on toast, ‘cheese’ pasty and salad. We used that menu from which to pick our starters. The specials board showed the evening meals including the go-to student standards of spaghetti bolognese, curry and pasta bake.
What we’ve discovered in the last few years is that vegan food can actually be good. No, more than that – it can be blooming fantastic. Take the vegan burger at Quay Arts, for example. Matt’s a major burger fan but even he will actively choose the vegan special there because it is usually better than the meat option. And that’s the way to make people choose vegan food. During Cat’s foray into veganism, she was agog to see that the Veganuary website is chockful of photos of farm animals instead of delicious plant-based dishes. A cuddly picture of a pig is unlikely to change our minds about eating bacon; awesome vegan breakfasts most certainly have done. To its credit, Pulse is a welcoming place and is not pushing any vegan message, militantly or otherwise. Nobody checked our vegan credentials on the way in, and it seemed like a place that any diner would be comfortable in. Even if you wanted to know about vegan food there was not much to go on – no descriptions of what the cheese substitute was made of for example, nor the burger – other than what wasn’t in it: “No Bull”. When Cat tried to draw the waitress out about the origins of the yoghurt the reply was, “It comes from Booker’s.”
Matt’s starter was a substantial Mexican wrap, which promised spicy beans, hummus, red pesto and salad. The chunky wrap collapsed in a wet muddle when picked up. Inside Matt found salad in the form of fresh iceberg chunks and cucumber – and plenty of it – but of the rest there was only traces.
We each had one of the two curry options and one of our friends had the bolognese. Although requesting a mild curry, Cat’s madras was quite pokey, and certainly improved by a generous dollop of cooling ‘yoghurt’. It wasn’t too bad; the rice was nicely cooked and the lentil curry itself had some fruity chunks – surely too sweet to be the aubergine – but the pepper didn’t really make itself known.
Mexican wrap £6
Pepper and aubergine madras £12
Thai curry £12
Fennel and syrup flapjack £6.50
Apple pie £6.50
Matt chose Thai curry with rice. The menu gave no other detail but the waitress helpfully described it as a mixture of stir-fry vegetables. This sounded promising – alas it was a promise that remained unfulfilled except in a very literal sense. The curry was a sad pile of sundry veg that had been stewed to the point of tastelessness. Flaccid broccoli, watery carrot, and chunks of deflated aubergine sat in a puddle of anonymous brown sauce. Even the sparse cashew nuts in the mix had somehow become soft and irrelevant. Sure, it was edible, and there was plenty of it. But this cost £12. Something – anything – more lively could have given that dish some Thai spirit. Maybe some fresh coriander. Maybe a slice of lemon. Maybe some root ginger, sliced lime, or lemon grass. You know, all those ingredients that actually make a Thai curry. Alas no.
For dessert, it was back to the tea time standards; Cat had apple pie and ‘ice cream’. A tiny rustic pie with a hint of filling came with a reasonable scooping of ice cream, (although there was supposed to be a choice, it came with vanilla). Trying to engage the proprietor to reveal more about this dish, Cat was told that the coconut ice cream came from the supermarket and nothing about the pie – although it looked homemade. Again, this was ok, in a simple sort of way.
Matt’s pudding was fennel and syrup flapjack with ice cream. Yes, that same ice cream. And yes, syrup was detectable, albeit in minuscule amounts. No idea about the fennel. There was a bonus of some fruity jam on top that was probably the highlight of Matt’s whole meal – a rich, sweet paste that did everything in its power to elevate the two hunks of dry flapjack to edibility.
It’s laudable that Pulse has opened at all, and it certainly adds to the diversity of Ventnor’s food offering. Had it opened in 1975, Pulse might have been the darling of the Island by now – a brave pioneer paving the way for veganism. But today with its lentils, soya mince and ersatz sausages, it reinforces old stereotypes about vegan food; those same stereotypes that are being left in the dust by talented chefs across the Island. Pulse’s profoundly unadventurous cooking has been leapfrogged by the neo-vegans, lifestyle reducetarians, and sexy street food types like the Island’s own Veganboys – hot rock ‘n’ roll veganism. Pulse needs to up its game to really turn carnivores’ heads and give hardcore vegans a showcase venue to proudly call their own.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Good for the environment
- The Island's only vegan restaurant
- Unadventurous menu
- Uninspiring food