Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
Vegan food and fast/junk food are not generally seen as being particularly synonymous with each other. Yes there are veggie burgers of various degrees of competency (from quite nice to inedible ice hockey pucks), but outside of that (think meaty dogs, beef burgers, fried chicken, wings etc.) there seems (at first sight at least to me) to be little of interest for fast/junk food lovers.
One thing that veggie, particularly vegan, food is perceived to lack is that element of “filthiness”. To a meat and diary eater like me, it can all seem a tad too virtuous and pious and there is no fun in not being a little bad once in a while (although tell that to the sanctimonious prigs that came up with the “no alcohol is safe, we should all be teetotal” study nonsense). Those far from virtuous guilty pleasures that (in theory) a bean burger and it’s ilk just can’t replicate or can it!?
I can’t say I am a big fan of the fast food giants, with the food on offer at the likes of McDonalds, Burger King and KFC leaving me totally cold (if anything could turn me vegan it would be the thought of eating only meat from the fast food chains). Personally, I find their food bland and far from good value. Cheap it may be, but cheap rubbish is still rubbish.
Am I a food snob due to my dislike of Maccie D’s and it’s ilk? Quite possibly as it’s fans are legion (each to their own and I suppose it is quick and relatively cheap – still can’t see the attraction personally), but I know what I like and it ain’t the high street fast food giants. Give me a dosa or a pav from 3Bs, pintxos from Curado Bar, tapas from Bar 44 or a kebab from Sen BBQ any day – taste much nicer and is better value (at least to my mind – which is not the same as cheaper).
Having said all this, when “fast/junk food” is done properly – such as fried chicken (Korean is the best Cardiff has to off on that front in my opinion), a juicy burger made of dry aged beef or a fully loaded dog – it can be glorious. The problem is that it so rarely is done properly.
This brings me to Greazy Vegan, an outfit that brings a vegan take to the fast/junk food “classics”.
Starting as a street food/pop up outfit they have recently gone bricks and mortar and set up shop in a unit in the Castle end of Castle Arcade (where Seasons Cafe Bar use to be).
With some potentially “injudicious” name tinkering (which could form part of an interesting exam question for law degree students studying the intellectual property elective), their aim is to bring to Cardiff “filthy” junk food in an all vegan friendly form.
Tough ask you may think, with vegan cuisine’s (perhaps unfair) dowdy image, but one that friends who have tried their food at pop ups suggest they are more than up to.
The meat based elements of the burgers etc. are substituted by stuff called “seitan“. This is wheat gluten (after all the starch has been washed out) that has a texture and look that is supposedly reminiscent of meat. It is used in the Far East (particularly Buddist dominated countries that have a heavy veggie based cuisine) to make mock meat dishes such as “Mock Duck“.
Can’t say it sounds that appetizing from the Wikipedia description, but if you look at meat production in any detail then that can be more than off putting and the reason why many go veggie.
Until my visit to Greazy Vegan I cannot say I have knowingly tried seitan – odd looking stuff uncooked, but seemingly very versatile in that it can be made to look like a myriad of things including pretty realistic renditions of meat products (even down to duck skin).
I do like the fact that they are using it to bring a bit of filthiness to the all to often perceived (incorrectly in many cases – just look at Milgi, Anna Loki, Ruin Cafe Bar and Blanche Bakery in Cardiff and the Vegging it blog) preachy, piousness of veganism.
It is quite an challenging space, with its long but narrow layout.
The decor is very Scandi with a stripped back interior. Lots of white paint and pine.
Nice enough if a little cramped. There is overflow space ouside (still undercover in Castle Arcade) and I sat outside as they were pretty full inside.
The menu reads like a classic fast food joint, with their take on fast/junk food burgers with the Big Moc and Vhopper (we all know what these are attempting to replicate in a vegan format – could this be all a bit to close for comfort in name and form I wonder), as well as fried chickun, Buffalo wings and even (that fithiest of filthy food the kebab) the doner vebab and, of course, the sides to go with them (bit easier on the vegan front these).
After much deliberation I went for a Big Moc.
This is normally priced at £8 (I took advantage of a Wriggle deal and got it for £5), which is not cheap for a burger (looking at Bleecker Burger/Patty and Bun in London pricing and on a par in Cardiff with the likes of Five Guys, Shake Shack and – more to my liking – Burger Theory at Kongs). If looked at as against McDonalds’ Big Mac (standard price rather than any meal deal etc) Greazy Vegan’s Big Moc is a whopping £4.91 more expensive.
So how did this burger shape up?
What arrived certainly looked like it’s “meaty” namesake, that is for sure.
On the taste front, when the whole package was eaten together (bun, onions, sauce, pickles, vegan cheese and the dual seitan patties), if I hadn’t been told/known I am not entirely sure I would have clocked it as veggie, let alone vegan (the converse position goes for a Big Mac, if my distant memory of the last one I had – good 10 years ago – serves me right).
The sauce was creamy yet nicely tangy and the onions and pickles were crisp, whilst retaining a touch of sweetness. The seitan patty was oddly (in a good way) meaty in flavour (with an element of umaminess to it). Only when I saw and tasted the seitan patty on its own did its meatless roots (excuse the pun) become obvious.
Even the cheese was akin to the plastic slices you get in standard fast food burgers (neither taste of much if I am honest).
Made from nuts (how I have no idea) apparently.
The triple bun was nicely toasted and held its integrity until the end, thus admirably serving its purpose.
Under the bonnet it is not a looker with the lack of browning of the patty (or caramelised knobby bits) and the colour of the sauce all making it a bit beige.
Have to say, however, where it matters on the taste front it was a pleasant surprise and as a meat eater I was very happy with it. Could be wrong, but I suspect this stuff is just the ticket for vegans. Filthy, but pretty fine tasting stuff.
The drinks are pretty limited with, sodas and water currently.
The usual suspects (coke, lemonade), as well as a throwback to my youth in the form of vimto.
An acquired taste this stuff, with (at least to my mind) it tasting akin to diluted fizzy Benylin cough syrup. I, as a child, was rather partial to Benylin (and remain so). As a result I have a soft spot for Vimto, but many do not.
Slightly small pour (especially with ice added), but at a mere £1.10 (£1.30 for full fat coke) fairly priced I thought.
With the vegan theme, which I always (perhaps incorrectly) think is synonymous with “eco – warriors”, I was slightly surprised to see standard coke cups and what looked like (evil personified to a “greenie”) plastic straws. Perhaps they were from recyclable material, but at first sight didn’t look to be. Odd as they use wooden cutlery so clearly are thinking of the environment (although is “one use” wooden cutlery better than multi- use metal I wonder). I am no eco – warrior, but using recyclable straws seems a no brainer to me.
On the drinks front, personally, I think Greazy Vegan are missing a trick not putting on vegan shakes to go with their burgers. I am sure they could made pretty good nut or soya milk based shakes.
As an avowed meat eater (but not a lover of the likes of Mcdonalds, Burger King and KFC), I was genuinely intrigued as to what the food here would be like. To my slight surprise, my Big Moc was very nice. Tasty, filling and overall pretty good.
What it wasn’t on my visit was “fast” food. I went on the second day they were open and waiting over 30 minutes for my Big Moc. I was happy to pass the time (in part by starting the writing up of this post), but others were less happy to wait and I felt for those with hungry kids.
It was busy, but not manically so. The main logjam seemed to be in the kitchen.
They may label it as “junk food” rather than “fast food”, but the whole look and feel of the place is that of a fast food joint.
rather than something more refined. As such the impression and expectation is it will be food that comes “fast”.
On the day of my visit, the fryers were not working so no chips, fried chicken etc. (electrical fault that resulted in them closing earlier on only there second day of trading and staying closed on the third, which is unfortunate/bad luck) and this clearly contributed significantly in creating the delays.
Teething problems no doubt and some amount of leeway has to be given to a business in its start up period to allow the kitchen to bed down routines etc, but these wait times need to be sorted ASAP as what people don’t tend to have when ordering what they perceive to be “fast” food is patience or the luxury of time
So would I go back? Yes – I enjoyed the food (despite the wait). It offers something different, yet all too familiar.
Would it convert me to veganism? Nope, but I suspect vegans with love it and there are a growing number of them so Greazy Vegan could be on to a winner.
A note of caution in terms of the success of this place is the pricing. At the full menu price, it ain’t cheap and personally the burgers here would not dissuade me from one of these (a Bleecker double cheese burger),
priced at a mere one quid more.
Will it at these prices drag in the non vegan/veggie crowd on a regular basis? Not so sure, but time will no doubt tell
I would, however, happily eat another burger from Greazy Vegan (want to try vegan bacon, so the bacon double cheese burger is the next one I will try I think) and it has certainly opened my eyes a bit as to what can be achieved within the vegan envelope.
One thing is for sure, I would eat a Greazy Vegan Big Moc over a Big Mac anyday.
Address: 47-49 Castle Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1BBW
Tel: 07432 726 091
Website: Click here
Opening hours: 11.00 – 21.00 (all week)
As well as eat in, takeaways are available.