This month, Manna celebrates its 50th birthday. The country’s oldest – or so they say – vegan restaurant is a pillar to West London’s meat-free constituency. And certainly, its longevity suggests it’s still doing something right.
In the wider context of things, the Vegan Society has reported a 350% increase in the amount of vegans in the UK within the past decade. But while there’s no question those abstaining from animal-derived food grow in number, are restaurants taking the hint the same way Manna have?
Not long ago, vegetarians and especially vegans wouldn’t exactly be spoilt for choice when eating out, constrained as they were to small joints in London suburbs, or forgoing the idea entirely to rustle up something at home. Even more lately though, their voice has been heard, and their demands are percolating into the mainstream.
Recently, the first floor of Carluccio’s Covent Garden branch has been temporarily transformed into a safe haven for vegans, offering up a menu of 20 animal-free dishes. It follows a surge in demand for better vegan and vegetarian options across the brand. And not just restricted to London – Nottingham’s two Carluccio’s branches are upping their menus to have the most comprehensive vegan and vegetarian options on the high street.
It’s not exclusively Carluccio’s riding off the rise of the meat-free diet. Wagamama has just rolled out a new vegan-friendly menu of dishes like yasai itame (spicy green coconut and lemongrass soup with tofu and veg) and yasai pad thai (rice noodles in an amai sauce with tofu, beansprouts and red onion). Meanwhile, Zizzi’s has built on its vegan menu with two new pizzas for the autumn, and popular US vegan chain Chloe last month secured a second site in London.
On the fine dining side of things, the Michelin-starred Club Gascon reopened after refurbishment this week, and with a new emphasis on plant-based dishes. The ‘Garden’ section of the menu is a direct response to what chef-patron Pascal Aussignac predicts will be a growing trend in restaurants over the next few years.
Even McDonald’s are sitting up and taking notice. The fast food giant is currently trialling its first vegan burger – predictably, the McVegan – in Finland. Of course, you could call this a bit slow on the uptake. Especially within the grab ‘n’ go sector – Pret a Manger, which McDonald’s once had a stake in, launched their third ‘Veggie Pret’ in Exmouth Market this week to queues ‘snaking down the block’.
To what do we owe all this? Partly, it’s down to diners’ awareness of the environmental consequences of cultivating meat. In the same breath, month-on-month rising global meat and fish prices are forcing younger generations, more cash-strapped than their elders, to look for alternative sustenance. In this day and age, when the young and their politics are so often ignored, going meat and animal-free is seen as a practical response to the problem of climate change, personal health, and meagre disposable income.
But then, this is mostly restricted to the cities and suburbs, where according to the Vegan Society, 88% of vegans reside. Then there’s the fact that, despite the rising cost of eating meat, people are generally consuming as much as they did before, if estimates from pork exports from the AHDB are anything to go by. As for whether that will change, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reckons global meat consumption will not decline even by 2024.
In a restaurant environment, you’d think the prevalence of plant-based dishes would see a positive change on ingredient costs. While that may be true, creative meat-free dishes generally take more time and knowledge to prepare, and the quality of those ingredients is arguably more important with a meat-free dish than with any other. When more time, skill and knowledge is required within an industry plagued with a shortage in skilled chefs, could there be the issue of asking for too much from too many?
At this very moment, UK cities are seeing a boom in meat-free dining options. But while there’s been no better time to be a vegan or vegetarian, that only still applies to the cities. It remains to be seen whether the likes of London or Glasgow (the UK’s best city for vegans) set an example. Speaking of which, Manna, at 50 years running, certainly has. And, with things continuing as they are, it’s hard to think the restaurant won’t be around for another 50.
Get started with OpenTable for Restaurants
We love talking with customers about their unique businesses. Simply fill out the below form and we will call you right back.