Vegans find a space
With its origins as a medieval fishing village, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that eating out in Hastings and St Leonards emphasises fish, locally caught, and, of course, meat. But what if you’re vegetarian or vegan or someone who wants to eat meat-free? What are your options?
Well, there are a few good places around town which offer some choice, writes Kim Stallwood. They include the cafes Bullet, Eat@ and Cafe des Arts. There are also a number of Indian restaurants, most notably the new and celebrated Taj Mahal and a popular vegetarian menu at Gurkha Chef. But there’s no exclusively vegetarian establishment in town, except for Trinity Wholefoods, the co-operative whole food store founded in 1984.
As welcome as they are, this town could do with more adventure in the culinary arts for those who don’t want their food killed for them.
This is, perhaps, why for the last three years an almost secret society of local vegans has been meeting monthly. I admit to being a card carrying member of the Hastings Vegan Dining Club. We meet up in each other’s homes to enjoy delicious dining experiences which we can’t find anywhere else locally. I testify willingly to enjoying a delicious Sunday afternoon English cream tea, discovering Bombay street food, taking comfort in a traditional Christmas dinner and even experimenting with such dishes as chocolate ravioli. We’ve also had TexMex, Caribbean, 1970s dinner, classic French, Burmese, Thai, Korean, faux Domino pizza, Italian and Halloween Scary! Our annual East Hill picnic is in its third year. We’re also fortunate in one couple owning an organic farm where we wassailed apple trees and enjoyed a barbecue in the woods.
Our group has grown in three years from half a dozen to more than 20. In fact, many of our homes are now too small to host an event.
Feasting at the Beacon
This is partly why one of our members, Maresa Bossano, has taken things a step further by producing a series of special and uniquely-themed vegan dinners at the Beacon, the local arts hub on the West Hill. Maresa plans one day to open a vegan cafe, LOVE (standing for Local Organic Vegan Ethical), in town. In short, we are her tasters and happily pay for the privilege.
Recently, 30 guests sat down at a very long table laid with red and white check tablecloths decorated with bay leaves and candles for an Italian peasant vegan feast. For some this was their first time at one of Maresa’s dinners. Others would not miss one for the world. Not everyone was a vegan, however. (We didn’t eat Italian peasants, by the way.)
The appetisers included grilled polenta with aubergine, cherry tomatoes and green olive and almond tapenade. This was followed by Tuscan chickpea soup served with baskets of ciabatta or walnut sourdough breads.
For the entree, we were invited to go into the adjoining room and be served from a buffet table crammed with seven different dishes. This included a caponata, courgette salad with mint dressing, roasted squash and lentil salad, tomato and basil salad, pinto beans with sage and garlic, celeriac, beetroot and apple salad, wild mushroom risotto and green salad.
Dessert came with double delight as everyone was served with tiramisu and pears poached in balsamic vinegar and rosemary, accompanied by coffee and cinnamon.
Most of the vegetables and salad ingredients came from Pannel Organics. The wild mushrooms were picked from the, er, wild. The pears came from a friend’s garden. And the apples were plucked from trees at the Beacon.
And did everyone enjoy the feast?
Most assuredly, yes.
Annet said she liked the polenta as she had not had it cooked crisply before. Among Kim’s favourites were the almond tapenade and the pinto beans because they were “smoky and creamy.” She also enjoyed the polenta because she had never eaten it grilled before. This was her third time at one of Maresa’s dinners. “Each one has been great!” She recalled a Jack in the Green themed dinner when all the food was green. “I loved the mint and chocolate chip ice cream served with pistachio and cardamon brittle and courgette cake.”
One of the non-vegans, Esther, said Maresa’s cooking showed her that it was possible to cook fruits and vegetables creatively and deliciously. She admitted to being raised in a home where her mother boiled everything to death. So she was discovering new pleasures in food. She thought Maresa’s meals were always beyond restaurant quality and looked forward to dining out at Maresa’s own place one day. The £20 per person fee, she said, was very reasonable, particularly given how fresh and wholesome the ingredients were.
As the meal wound down toward the end of the evening and people congratulated her on her success, I asked Maresa what was next. “I’m thinking of a Christmas dinner,” she said. “But not a traditional one. Maybe Goan.”
To learn more about the Hastings Vegan Dining Club email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for us on Facebook. If you’re a vegan running a local business or you have a vegan-friendly business and want to get in touch with others like you, please email Shelley at email@example.com. To find out more about LOVE Food’s meals at the Beacon visit www.facebook.com/lovefoodcafe.
PS A reader points out correctly that the all-vegetarian cafe, The Rooms, is in St Leonards on Sea at 33-35 Western Road, TN37 6DJ; 01424 713555. Visit here: http://www.visit1066country.com/eating-out/the-rooms-p635771
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