Vegetarian and Dining out? – Might be better to stay at home with a bag of stale crisps.
There are many reasons that people decide to become vegetarian and amongst them are health, ethics and animal welfare. I have yet to encounter a vegetarian, who has given their reason for vegetarianism as being lack of taste buds, so why therefore do many restaurants and easting establishments approach their vegetarian customers as the culinary underclass?
Pick up almost any vegetarian menu and you will find something with goats cheese in it and a tartlet of some description, though most probably mushroom. If you enjoy overcooked pasta mixed with tinned tomatoes and coated in gelatinous white sauce before meeting its fate of being cooked to inedible death than you will never be disappointed when dining out as a vegetarian.
Pasta, risotto, polenta, salad, breadcrumb coated spicy burgers and pastry are all favourites on the vegetarian dining out menu. Thankfully the age of sundried tomatoes is fading, but still we have to endure vegetarian food that offers neither style nor substance.
Don’t dine out vegetarian if you are hungry, because vegetarian dishes generally don’t come with any substantial accompaniments’, instead prepare for mixed salad leaves, a few roasted tomatoes or a couple of dry, new potatoes, but not to worry they will be drizzled with the chef’s creative twist which will mean a splash of pesto or if you are lucky blitzed mushrooms doused in olive oil that look like and taste like water logged compost. If a chef is being really creative you may find your dinner dotted and drizzled with some other equally unsuitable condiment such as harissa or coconut curry. Indeed I once visited a country house hotel that after a long drive had no vegetarian options on the menu. However, after some consultation with the kitchen the waitress confidently said that the chef would create something for me. Indeed the chef did create something, a hideous pasta dish that contained boiled mushrooms and was drenched in butterscotch sauce; yes that is sweet butterscotch sauce and spaghetti. When I complained about the dish I was curtly informed that they had never received a complaint about the dish before and the chef believed it to be delicious.
In an age of chain pubs, corpse crunchers and carrot munchers alike can expect very little in terms of the taste and quality of the food they will be served at such establishments, but when you visit an establishment that purports to be one of fine dining credentials then even a vegetarian hopes for a gourmet treat or two. A few years ago I stayed at the Moody Goose in Bath which by all accounts was supposed to very good. My starter was sadly a tartlet, whilst my main was pickled cauliflower and walnut salad and though perfectly edible it would not have quelled the appetite of a gnat let alone an adult diner. Although, the breakfast at the Moody Goose was truly memorable; albeit, for all the wrong reasons. When the breakfast menu arrived there was not a cooked vegetarian option, so I asked if I could have something cooked. The waiter disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a poached egg on toast and a large wedge of cheddar as an accompaniment, sadly I did not have a pet mouse companion with me.
I have encountered meals so bad that they have been inedible and the only form of apology I have received is would you like a complimentary pudding or a coffee. As a vegetable aficionado there really is no excuse for menu’s not containing imaginative and satisfying vegetarian dishes. Exquisite vegetarian menus can be created, but this is food which needs the resources, time and skill of a professional kitchen to pull off and there lies the problem with vegetarian food: vegetables require an awful lot of trouble and creativity to make into something substantial and memorable.
Any old chef can hurl together a steak dinner or roast a guinea fowl and no doubt the same chef can rustle up a few salad leaves and slice a tomato, douse it good olive oil and throw in some seasoned mozzarella cheese, but if you want to progress beyond that level, say into the aromatically hedonistic world of chickpeas, pickled lemons, a finely spiced tagine, seasonal vegetables cooked creatively and delicately flavoured sauces, then you have to be prepared to work at it. Many restaurants are just plain lazy when it comes to vegetarian food and think its enough just to put something veggie on the menu.
Last weekend I dined at the Talbot Inn at Tregaron and I must say that I was underwhelmed and confused by the experience. I won’t bore you with all of the details as the dish as I don’t wish to induce a coma in any of my readers [and I have written a frank review about the weird but not wonderful meal I ate] but suffice to say it was just another over-priced, disappointing vegetarian dinner in a long line of disappointing meals out.
Maybe there is a conspiracy to just bore us troublesome vegetarians so that we give up in apathy and depression and stay at home to dine.
Don’t get me wrong there are some good places to eat out if you are vegetarian and some places really do make the effort, but they are sadly in my experience outnumbered by the lazy and mundane ones. Let’s face it a good piece of meat or fish can be excellent with just the right cooking and a dab of butter, A squeeze of lemon or smidgen of mustard, but vegetables require so much more to elevate them to an excellent meal.
I would love to see some creativity and care in a vegetarian dish when dining out; as so many times I wonder if there is a national shortage on ingredients, other than dried porcini mushrooms and grilled goats cheese. So, before I take to taking my dinner with me when dining out I shall pray to the God of Taste buds and ask that chefs realize that vegetarians require edible food and they do have taste buds.