These days denying yourself is the new hedonism. Where we used to brag about how much our houses were worth and chunter on about our exotic foreign holidays, now it’s all about staycationing and the hair-shirtism of Dry January. Around the world people are woke to the nightmare of the plastics plague, pledging to reduce their use of straws and bottled water. Similarly, folks are keen to adopt a more restrictive diet, with gluten-free, grain-free and, of course, meat-free lifestyles rapidly gaining popularity.
There are many reasons for plunging into a full-on plant-based diet: the social, environmental and health benefits are well documented elsewhere. However, if a thousand people had one vegan day a year, that would have more impact than a single person fully committing to a vegan diet over the same period. Those who dip in and out of vegetarianism and veganism might be described as #reducitarian – that is, reducing their meat and diary intake, rather than going the whole hog – so to speak.
We regularly enjoy meat-free meals and we guarantee you will too if you eat at any of our top five venues that serve plant-based dishes.
Quay Arts, Newport
For as long as we can remember, the kitchen at Quay Arts has been a reliable source of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. With its current chef Dave Holley at the helm, the ante has well and truly been upped; even meat-botherer Matt has been known to enthuse about the Quay’s vegan burger. Rather than create a textured vegetable protein burger, Dave slams ingredients such as portobello mushroom, beetroot, peppers inside the bun, skewering the vegetable stack to hold its meat-free goodness in place.
Frittata is a regular option on the Quay’s special’s board and, depending on the season, might be created with asparagus, peppers or perhaps olives and shallots. With baked sweet potato also a near-fixture, plus the world’s most abundant egg and cress doorstep butties, and also Cat’s fave portobello mushroom and Brie sarnie – all served with peppery salad with sweet mustardy dressing, this is a place that will turn your head to reducitarianism.
Ada, Ryde and Carisbrooke
For a slice of Mediterranean cuisine with a Turkish emphasis, then Ada is your go-to venue. Mostly serving tapas and mezze (is there a difference? The young ‘uns would probably call this type of food #SmallPlates), we defy you not to find something to your liking on the menu.
There is an unexpectedly wide range of meat-free dishes for you to mix and match to your heart’s content. And your heart *will* be content as you stuff yourself with Turkish salad: a mix of of finely diced cucumber, onion and tomato, or fried aubergines and peppers in a yoghurt and garlic sauce, or maybe muhammara: roasted red pepper dip. All for around £5.50 a dish.
Bringing a bit of Shoreditch to Ventnor is the achingly-hip Stripped – all raw surfaces, and enamel plates, chandeliers and a DJ booth to crank the vibe up to eleven. Ostensibly a pizza and burger joint, what Stripped has saved on soft furnishings it has invested in the kitchen, with top-notch local ingredients – including bread products from its own V-Town bakery.
Mindful of the trend for vegan and vegetarian dining, Stripped has developed its ‘plant’ burger, a savoury blend of sweet potato, beetroot, quinoa and tomatoes, served in a seeded bun (gluten-free options available). The day we visited the plant special was topped with yummy burned spring onion vegan mayo and miso tofu.
With bonkers dishes like dill pickles fried in sourdough batter squirted with the chef’s hot sweet sauce, and smoky beans and charred peppers, plus the signature pizza range, Stripped is a place for meat lovers and meat dodgers alike.
Edulis at Ventnor Botanic Garden
Even before Ventnor became popular with the nineteenth-century literary set, folks were probably banging on about its tropical micro-climate. And with good reason. This south-facing town sucks up the sun long after the rest of us have shrugged on our winter coats. Any visitor to Ventnor Botanic Garden will be agog at the range of southern hemisphere plants grown on its sunny terraces.
In the garden’s Edulis restaurant, Chef Brad Roe is exploring plant-based dining combined with that other on-trend topic, food provenance. Here ingredients are not measured by the miles they have travelled, they are calibrated in food inches!
Look out for special events in the VBG calendar. We enjoyed a spectacular plant-based tasting menu. Using flowers, such as lavender to smoke-infuse mushroom; kale, which we enjoyed as part of the street food-esque beetroot and kale tostada; and sage, used as the basis for a foam which topped a charred fennel and sweet potato dish. Eat the garden!
Prego, East Cowes
Italian food can be dominated by cured meats and there’s certainly plenty for omnivores to choose from on the menu at Prego. However, hidden among the ham-stuffed calzone and seafood-laden spaghetti gamberi, are some great vegetarian alternatives. Cat loves the restaurant’s spectacular garlicky gnocchi verde: potato dumplings with green pesto, green vegs, pine nuts, rocket and Parmesan.
Matt’s a big fan of a calzone, but it needn’t always been filled with pork or shellfish. Prego does a vegetarian version, on a sourdough base, filled with tomato, mozzarella, goat’s cheese, caramelised onion, broccoli, peppers, black olives. If that doesn’t take your fancy then there are meat-free risottos and pasta options. Hopefully you’ll have room for one of Prego’s desserts – we recommend the sweet waffle with toffee apple sauce, toasted almonds and ice cream.
So there you have it, our whistlestop tour of a few of the Island’s many eateries where the staff won’t be shocked by a request for a vegetarian or vegan dish. Gone are the days of being served just a plain omelette and chips or heaven forbid, a grated cheese sandwich.
Of course, these are just the ones we are familiar with – there are many others, so use the comments to give us your suggestions too.