Although Brighton has always been at the fore of vegetarian restaurants in the UK, what a mere ten years ago was seen as a fringe dining option is now very much in the mainstream. New restaurants of all shapes and sizes are not only offering strong plant-based options but significant numbers are exclusively vegetarian or vegan.
According to recent research by Censuswide, as of the end of 2021 around 14% of UK adults classified themselves as following a meat-free diet with a further 8% stating they’d be moving to plant-based diets in 2022. Whatever their reasons, unsurprisingly younger demographics are far more likely to avoid meat with around a quarter of 18-23 year olds leading the charge.
Rachel Hugh is co-founder of The Vurger Co, a vegan fast-food concept with outlets in Brighton Place in the Lanes and also London.
“We have been operating since 2016 when the plant-based dining scene was particularly small”, said Rachel.
“Over time, the country has become even more aware of the health, environmental and ethical benefits of a plant based way of life. This rise in awareness has been heightened through social media, influencers and in turn the amount of investment spent in the plant-based space resulting in new and delicious products and dining experiences”.
The Vurger Co joined an extensive line-up of vegan eateries in the city including the Japanese-themed Kusaki, the highly-regarded Erpingham House, fine dining Botanique, Italian kitchen Purezza and fish-free ‘fish and chips’ from The No Catch Co.
“We couldn't wait to open our restaurant in Brighton, which we did in July of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic”, continued Rachel. “Our business and – of course – our menu is 100% vegan, this means we do not use any animal products in our entire company. Brighton is an extremely welcoming and open city, this has been clear from the moment we opened our doors to a roaring success”.
Alongside the wider trend towards veganism and vegetarianism, many consumers are increasingly identifying as flexitarians who are eating a predominantly plant-based diet but occasionally indulging in high welfare and organic meat.
Caspian Armani, head chef of Isaac At in Gloucester Street, has seen an increase in non-vegetarian guests choosing their plant-based menu.
“It’s down to the individual’s preference however we are seeing vegetarian choices become more popular particularly with our returning guests”, said Caspian.
“Brighton is a 'green city' and we take that in our stride. From locally foraged mushrooms that Andy, our forager, brings in each week, to fresh chervil grown by our restaurant manager Connor in our EvoGrow urban micro garden in the restaurant itself, every dish we serve relies on the quality of the ingredients used and – luckily for us – Sussex is bursting with fantastic independent suppliers, passionate about their produce and striving to make the most of the local terrain”.
Following over a decade as head chef of the renowned Jeremy’s Restaurant in Borde Hill, Jimmy Gray and partner Maria Chilton set up their own premium private cheffing business late last year under the name of Angelica Food..
“There are also so many amazing local vegetable producers”, said Jimmy. “That makes cooking so much easier when the initial product is already so flavoursome”.
“We do think plant-based dishes are more challenging to make”, added Maria. “Although these forever evolving food trends are what keeps us interested and creative”.
“We thoroughly enjoy creating new flavour dishes using our knowledge of spices from around Asia, so this can easily be incorporated into vegan and vegetarian menus”.
Caspian from Isaac At agrees that in many ways plant-based dishes are more fun for chefs.
“I actually find it more exciting, freeing and liberating”, said Caspian. “If someone asks for a filet steak in a restaurant, they have certain expectations of how this will be cooked. However, if we offer a Beetroot dish, the taste and presentation is open to the guest's interpretation. This works to our advantage, creating endless opportunities for us to adapt our Tasting Menu to cater to our plant-based guests”.