Where do I start with Herbivorous? The friendly, welcoming staff? The organic, local produce? The fact their entire menu is vegan? Or the fact it’s only a stone’s throw from Fallowfield?
Herbivorous is a relatively new vegan comfort food joint located in the heart of Withington. Damian and Robyn (the two lovely co-owners of Herbivorous) started their vegan comfort food journey 6 years ago, with stalls in London’s Brick Lane and at festivals across the country. Following the success of the original Stretford Market Herbivorous site and more recent move to Hatch in 2019, the Withington spot continues to take inspiration from their “epic road trip” across the USA, in which they first experienced the American vegan food scene.
Upon first glance the Herbivorous site in Withington appears to be an explosion of bright, vibrant colours and once inside the festival themed décor makes for an informal, joyous dining experience. The paper menus, hanging plants, wooden tables and chairs and photographs of the brands early days at festivals all contribute to the eclectic blend of styles and materials which in turn create a warm atmosphere within the venue.
To begin, we ordered a Manchester Union Larger and some Philly Steak Loaded Fries (£9.50) to share. These came in the bucket-load, their secret-recipe cheeze sauce oozed through the delicious paprika salted fries, topped with the vegan Philly steak ‘steak’ , that reminded me a bit of good quality donner meat with its thinly cut slices. This dish came with optional added jalapenos (which we asked for on the side due to my inability to hack spice).
We then ordered three small plates: the Mac and Cheese (£6), Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls(£7) and finally the Buffalo wings (£7). The chicken balls were intensely crisp on the outside yet had an almost identical texture to chicken on the inside and when paired brightly with the bright red sweet and sour sauce. The Mac and Cheese was again, delicious, with the smokey sweetness of chorizo sausage . Vegan cheese can be difficult to get right, yet Damian and Robyn’s recipe manages it perfectly. Damian told me sometimes people come into the restaurant just to try their top secret cheese sauce, that often they just order a tub of it to take home!
By this point, we should have been full , but we were so intrigued by their two bestsellers that we just had to try. We ordered the house made seitan fried chicken burger (£9) and their Pulp Fiction-inspired Big Kahuna Burger (£10). My only words to describe the later is “Hmm that is a tasty burger ” (Samuel L. Jackson said it first). It consisted of a grilled beef patty marinated in teriyaki sauce topped with melted cheese, grilled pineapple, smokey seitan bacon and sriracha mayo. They really managed to bring to life the fictional Hawaiian burger, with sweet pineapple, salty bacon, and spicy sriracha. The chicken burger is ‘always a sell out’, with its secret batter mix containing 11 herbs and spices.
To finish, we shared a Nutella cheesecake which was one of the highlights of the meal. It tasted just like a Ferrero Rocher, with a biscuit bottom followed by a thick layer of dense chocolate goodness then was topped with nuts. The texture was heavy like a ganache and both me and my friend fought for the final bite.
The owners aim upon opening was a type of ‘soft activism’. The couple wished to encourage those originally sceptical or scared of vegan food to try comfort dishes which are familiar to them. With this in mind I brought my friend who loves meat and after trying the buffalo wings he was in awe of the capability vegan produce has to be not only better for the environment but tasty as well.
For those interested in making seitan, vegan or not, in how its made Herbivorous also offers Master Classes. Due to years of practice Robyn has developed an expertise in the field and she wish to share her knowledge with others, giving them a foot in the door to develop more recipes. The demand for these classes is always high, with most of them selling out. For £25 you get a master class and a full meal as well as getting to know the owners on a more personal level.
Besides the fact the entire menu was vegan, 90% of the products are made in house and are locally sourced. All their fruit and veg comes from “Better Veg” one of the few remaining independent food retailers left in Manchester, and drinks mostly from Manchester brewery’s. I would definitely recommend Herbivorous. If you’re looking for a cheap tasty meal be sure to head down for their lunch menu offer on every Tuesday (for students only, so take your ID) at both sites. It offers a Philly Steak Sandwich or a Chicken Burger with a can of pop for only £5! And keep your eyes peeled – the couple are potentially looking to expand again, and open another site!