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East London’s Vegetarian Haunts: Anarchists, Poets, and Buses

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Published 17 May 2010

When was the last time you ate out on a double decker bus? Enjoyed grub cooked by anarchists? Or wined and dined among knitters whilst watching live poetry? If the answer is ‘what, the…?’, then the time is ripe for a trip down to East London’s vegetarian & vegan venues to join in the shenanigans.

But before you write me off as dafter than Heather Mills under a full moon, hear me out a little. Take a look at a guide of my top five vegetarian & vegan friendly hotspots in East London:

> Pogo Cafe

Pogo is an anarchist vegan-friendly cafe that witnessed a revolution in March of this year (I’m serious; vegan redicals conducted a coup on the back of a meat-related ‘conspiracy’). Despite the extremism, which some may find a bit intense, Pogo is a welcoming place run solely by volunteers and it has a lot going for it.
Food-wise, the standard menu is ok, if a bit dominated by meat substitutes, but this tends to be countered by the daily specials board which is filled with livelier dishes such as tagines and curries. I found it fairly refreshing to see vegan food that you didn’t automatically equate with the word ‘hippy’.  Whilst quinoa doesn’t hide its face (or lack, thereof), you’re just as likely to be offered a meat-free BLT or veggie burger, allowing you to avoid culinary exile from the rest of the human race. This applies to the drinks too – you can go all whole food, or you can slurp up a choice of gobsmackingly creamy soya-shakes made with vegan ice cream, which go down just as indulgently as the real deal. The coffee shake will be my main reason for returning.

Pogo really is an intriguing place, dingy but bohemian, and littered with campaigning leaflets and books – as well as playing host to similarly themed film screenings and talks. It may be a bit shaky on its feet since the takeover but, for the sake of enjoying political idealism from afar, I hope it stays put.

Address: 76 Clarence Road, Hackney, London E5
Phone: 020 8533 1214

> The Gallery Café

The Gallery Café is probably the best, and most popular, of the venues on my top five. A few minutes walk from Bethnal Green tube, you’ll find it nestled lovingly next to a charity settlement which both owns and masterminds it. The main aim of this haunt is to engage the community, and it does that by putting on free live music on Wednesday and Friday nights (which are readily attracting the interest of both the press and rather respectable promoters) and giving free reign to a whole host of activities, including knitting, book clubs, and poetry.

The veggie food is varied and delicious, sporting all sorts such as pasta, bagels, paninis, wraps, salads, soups and a daily special. My favourite is the falafel wrap which comes loaded with fresh, crunchy salad, drizzled with sauce and griddled. There’s a good choice of cakes as well as a ‘cupcake of the month’ which is, without fail, disturbingly delicious.

So basically, put a load of wonderful, interesting, entertaining and socially important things into a petri dish, allow them to mutate into something gargantuan, and you have the Gallery Café.

Address: 21 Old Ford Road, London, E2 9PL
Telephone: 020 8980 2092
Website: www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/gallery-cafe/gallery-cafe

> The Hornbeam

Another community cafe with a large volunteer input, the Hornbeam is home for local food and environmental education schemes as well as other community based initiatives.

Food comes fresh from their very own stalls and the reasonably priced menu changes each week in line with seasonal produce. If you’re keen on environmental issues, turn up to their community action meetings or events for discussions, film screenings and more.

Be warned though: it’s not open on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

Address: 458 Hoe Street, London, E17 9AH
Phone: 020 8558 6880
Website: www.hornbeam.org.uk

> Gossip

Situated in the lively Broadway Market, Gossip’s exterior gives it the feel of an old French teahouse, very much in line with the vintage obsession which has taken hold of the area. It probably gets first prize for being the world’s smallest vegetarian cafe, and extra points for bearing the closest resemblance to someone’s front room; a small, brightly painted space with bookshelves, basket lamps, a sofa, and overly floral curtains which, perversely, veil an unused, rubbishy garden.

Gossip serves cold food only, but they have a good crack at making tasty sandwiches and salads. I went for the goats cheese salad box which came with gomasio (ごま塩) – a Japanese salty, sesame seed based condiment which they claim is ayurvedic. It’s that kind of place.
Like many vegetarian/vegan venues, it prides itself on ethical buzz words, so expect ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ to both adorn your lunch and imprint onto you conscience.

For me, this one is a regular for the fabulous choice of loose teas which come in rustic and artistic teapots, giving you a good excuse to lose the afternoon over a cuppa.

Address: 62 Broadway Market, Dalston. London, E8 4QJ

> Rootmaster

Uh-oh, I’m going to have to say ‘vegan’ again. I’ll wash my mouth out…This time, at least, it’s a) gourmet and b) on a routemaster bus in at the back of the old Truman Brewery. But not a bus as you know it, the Rootmaster is real smooth rider, with slick black booths and stylish chairs to replace the bottom-printed seats of old, plus a take out hatch, outside seating and an alluringly vivacious atmosphere.

Rootmaster serves up world food flavours (but sourced as locally as possible), from pizzas to pakoras, with intelligent seasoning and a sense of sophistication which lacks in too many vegetarian or vegan restaurants. There is a separate lunch menu, with lighter choices and smaller servings, but the dinner menu is more enticing as a whole. I enjoyed the Red Lentil Kofta, featuring rolled up lentils with a fresh Thai sauce, nuts and pickled vegetables, washed down with a Freedom larger from their predominantly organic list of beers and soft drinks. A magic bus if ever there was one.

Address: Elys Yard, The Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QL
Telephone: 07912 389314
Website: www.root-master.co.uk


  • Langridge

    What a great set of observations and tips! What a writer! Been to The Gallery – full marks, and so much goes on there.

  • Charles

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such a charming article. I’m even tempted to visit some of these brilliant places, despite:
    1. Being more carnivorous than a velociraptor with a rumbly tummy
    2. Living 120 miles from London
    3. Being convince you’ve made up the one about the bus

    Regards,
    Charles

  • Gill

    Thanks for the list, I have been to Rootmaster and have to say was quite a different experience. I came across it on Book A Table, so reservation was not an issue! I still need to check out the other places, heard quite a bit about the Pogo Cafe, hopefully, I will be able to try one of these places over the weekend.