Veggie restaurant food: a rant

I’ve been a veggie for 25 years. In that time I’ve seen vegetarian food go from lentils 12 ways, to shelf after shelf of veggie food in the supermarket. These are good times indeed for vegetarians. Back in the day asparagus came in tins and squash was something bright orange in a bottle that rotted your teeth. As far as we’ve come, I do wish restaurants would catch up.

I eat out at a variety of different restaurants and cafes, from really posh places (this is very rare) to high street chains and independents. A good 90% of the time I look at the menu and realise that the veggie option is more often than not a lazy afterthought.

This week I had a Christmas meal at a reasonably swish local restaurant. My meal was a starter of beetroot and goats cheese tart (the tart was just a circle of burnt pastry) and a spinach and feta filo pie which was almost inedible, the pastry was thick and burnt. I left it. I don’t really like pastry, let alone burnt pastry, two courses of burnt pastry.

A few weeks ago I had a veggie “burger” in a trendy burger place, it was a slab of halloumi. I like halloumi, I love halloumi, but just a slab of it in a burger bun is a disappointing cheese sandwich I could’ve made at home. The chips were nice though.

Every menu seems to have the same selection of veggie options –
Veggie burger
Pasta with tomato sauce
Risotto, usually mushroom
Something containing blue cheese
Something containing mushrooms

Is there a chefs’ law which states “thou shalt offer vegetarians blue cheese and mushroom options only”, I really hope not, I can’t stand blue cheese and I can’t eat mushrooms because they make me ill. Seriously, why so big on blue cheese? There are approximately 8 squillion different kinds of cheese out there, there’s more to life than Stilton.

Is it so hard to think beyond crappy filo pies, slabs of cheese and lasagnes? I know a lot of chefs look at vegetarians in a disdainful, disparaging way, but if we’ve got the money in our back pockets and we want to spend it eating your cooking, why won’t you serve us up something decent?

I’m not asking for the world, I’m just asking for a little bit of excitement on my plate, not the lazy “that’ll do” option. So down with burnt filo pastry, soggy lasagnes and blue cheese and mushroom monstrosities. You can do better, I know you can.

Veggie restaurant food

Afternoon Tea for Two at Opus One

I love an afternoon tea. I mean who doesn’t? What’s not to love? Dainty sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and a selection of decadent miniature cakes. It’s basically perfection beautifully arranged atop three plates.

It was with some excitement that we ventured into the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel in Manchester for the launch of their autumn afternoon tea menu. It was fortuitously timed too, as the next day just happened to be our wedding anniversary. Perfect.

We arrived in the sumptuous Manhattan style surroundings of Opus One which is located in the Free Trade Hall. Possibly one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in Manchester. We reminisced about the last time we were in the building, me to see the Halle perform, him to see The Charlatans in 1991. It’s been a while. The building is still beautiful and very, very grand.

We were shown to our seat by Peter, who was effortlessly charming and affable. We made small talk and he discovered we were celebrating our wedding anniversary… more of which later.

My Mister of 13 years ordered the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea which came with a pot of tea of your choice, a selection of rustic sandwiches, mini hot Yorkshire pudding, warm pork pie and mini fish and chips served with freshly baked homemade scones served with clotted cream and preserves. This mammoth feast, suitable for the very greedy gentleman was £18.95 per person.

opus one restaurant afternoon tea
Rustic style cheese savoury sandwich

Being no kind of Gentleman at all, he was a bit miserly on the sharing front, but I did snaffle a cheese savoury sandwich and a forkful of the rather excellent, clearly homemade and not from a tin mushy peas. He said the pork pie, which was served warm in a light but golden hot water crust pastry, was the best pork pie he’s ever had. I can testify (in court if need be) that he has sampled a large range of pork pies. It did look exceptional, as did the crispy Yorkshire pud filled with beef and gravy. Impressive and manly.

As I’m a dainty lady, I opted for the Traditional Afternoon tea, again priced at £18.95 per person. For that you get a pot of tea of your choice, a selection of dainty lady style finger sandwiches, a plethora of delicious cakes and for me the highlight, freshly baked homemade scones served warm with clotted cream and preserves.

The sandwiches were delicious and garnished with a few salad leaves, for my taste there could have been more greenery, but I am a lover of a frilly green leaf. I must confess there was some mixing and matching of the sandwiches between us, but both his rustic and my dainty lady styles were excellent.

I then eagerly moved on to the scones (thus prompting a heated debate about the pronunciation of scone, I say it correctly, he doesn’t. End of). My heart belongs in Devon and we go often, I’m no stranger to the cream tea. I was delighted to see they served proper clotted cream rather than a thick whipped cream which I’ve had elsewhere. The jam was jammy, but the real hit were the warm, light and just the right size without being too much scones. I will look back on those scones with a fondness I usually reserve for beloved relatives.

opus one restaurant afternoon tea
Jaunty little carrot cake

Then to the top tier of my afternoon tea. There was a banoffee tart, generously topped with a delightfully marshmallowy Italian meringue. A dark chocolate éclair made of the lightest choux, a cider jelly which we were both a little unsure of, but did serve as an excellent palette cleanser and a deliciously moist jaunty little carrot cake.

I always feel a little sorry for the beautiful cakes, visually they are the stars of the show, but as they’re usually left until the very end they’re not fully enjoyed, they get toyed with and left. Thankfully the staff are very happy to box up anything you can’t squeeze in there and then for you to take home for your supper, or for the tram journey home.

Once our plates had been cleared away, the lovely Peter presented us with a beautiful plate with “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate with two mini chocolate brownies and strawberries, it was a lovely, lovely touch and underlines the attention to detail and high standard of customer service we experienced on that day.

opus one restaurant afternoon tea
A lovely, personal touch!

It’s a beautiful, relaxed venue; if you can bag a window seat you can watch the hustle and bustle of Manchester from the comfort of a beautifully upholstered velvet chair. We were entertained by a jazz band, they were perfect, the music was not intrusive and they played arrangements of classic songs. I loved it, it all felt so restful apart from the urgent need to slip into something with a looser waistband.

I’ve had a few afternoon teas in my time and this was an excellent quality, great value tea in a stunning, iconic building. I’d very happily go there again and I’d recommend it to anyone. The prices are competitive too so you don’t have to save it for a special occasion tea, though the grand surroundings do make it feel extra special.

Opus One Bar and Restaurant is located in the Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester M2 5GP; Tel: 0161 8358904.

Disclaimer: We were invited as guests of the restaurant and were not asked to pay for our food or drink. We did love it though and will be back for more!