With vegetarian and vegan food firmly on the menu in Brighton, Nick Mosley visits The Vurger Co to check out if plant-based fast food really does cut the mustard.
Vegetarians are a lucky breed in Brighton. For a small UK city – for at least the past 15 years – we really have led the field when it comes to restaurants offering up plant-based dishes as an integral part of the menu that equals, if not surpasses, meat-led plates.
As Brightonian’s we’ve also enjoyed some amazing vegetarian restaurants at both ends of the marketplace. Terre à Terre on East Street remains one of my favourite restaurants not just in Sussex but in the World; it never fails to satisfy, amaze and astound in every way. I literally cannot fault it. On the flip side, equally, the long-standing Iydea Kitchen in Kensington Gardens serves up hearty, well-cooked dishes at a very pocket-friendly price. That’s a job well-done and definitely somewhere I pop into when I’m in North Laine.
So I was intrigued to stumble upon The Vurger Co, tucked away in Brighton Place near Donatello. Proudly serving up a menu of vegan fast food, they’ve clearly identified a gap in the market for consumers who want all the razzmatazz of a burger joint but without a moo, oink or cluck being involved.
In between meetings, I dragged along my colleague Nathalie. It would be inappropriate to mention her age but suffice to say she’s been a vegetarian for at least 40 years. Not only is Nat ethically opposed to meat production, she also just doesn’t like the taste. Give her rich ‘umami’ flavours any day, but the fatty fullness of beef, pork or chicken is simply a bridge too far.
Which is where the day’s food challenge came to the fore. The Vurger Co unashamedly serves a menu of mainly meat substitute burgers and sandwiches that – to my palate – are as good, if not better than the real thing. They’ve got their own products but also partner with Beyond Burger, which you can also pick up at the supermarket.
But would Nathalie be converted to non-meat ‘meat’ that tastes like the – let’s be frank – animal flesh she hasn’t eaten for decades? The gloves were subtly but clearly off.
The Vurger Co outlet in Brighton is small but perfectly formed. It was a busy mid-week lunchtime, but what first struck me was the floor team – all bright eyed, bushy-tailed and ‘on the page’ when it comes to the completely informal messaging of the brand. There’s no lecture; they’re just happy to chat and serve.
Some – if not all – fast food joints could learn from this; I want to see happy faces and engaged workers. I’m not sure if its a prerequisite to be vegan, but clearly it helps and I’ll order a double helping of whatever they’re on.
The menu isn’t extensive but seems to cover the bases of the fast food world. We ordered the BBQ ‘Pork’ burger and Auburger sandwich, plus – just for the hell of it – a Mango Exotic Shake. Personally, I hate the taste of mango and despise milkshakes so this was really throwing it out there but in the interests of vegan fast food research, I threw caution to the wind.
As the names suggest, one burger was meant to be ‘porky’. And it was; it absolutely did what it said on the proverbial tin. If someone had handed me this blind off a back garden BBQ, I don’t think I’d have questioned that it wasn’t pork. What made it super special was the sauce, garnishes and bun. The bread actually tasted of something, rather than a limp, floury flannel which appears to be both the choice and the curse of high street fast food chains.
After 20 years working together on the coalface of hospitality, Nat and I have no boundaries on sharing each other’s food so I sank my teeth into her whopping aubergine burger. It was amazing. Clearly, The Vurger Co are covering their behinds for vegetarian oldies with this particular sandwich but it served up everything you’d want from a burger.
In terms of the shake – it wasn’t for me – cloying and overly sweet but as someone who doesn’t drink shakes I don’t feel its my place to comment. Nat sucked up most of it so I’m assuming that’s a good sign.
With so many food and drink options in Brighton – including vegan and vegetarian – I’m not sure I would have proactively chosen The Vurger Co. Now I’ve found it, would I go back again for a lunch on-the-run or to grab an early supper? Yes. Would I actually choose The Vurger Co above other fast food options. Absolutely yes. Taste, quality, value, service boxes all ticked. And I also weirdly feel better about myself.
The Vurger Co, 13 Brighton Place, Brighton BN1 1HJ