How Homerton’s Kingfisher somehow made vegan food authentically British
I dragged my girlfriend along expecting a hilarious excursion; the only thing hilarious was how wrong I’d been.
I can honestly say that I think this is the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating authentic British vegan cuisine. You know, not a tofu salad, nut roast or beetroot burger, but something that felt (and tasted) British.
And who pulled off this great feat? A little independent fish & chip shop in Homerton, which is pretty damn remarkable.
How I ended up going to the Kingfisher’s vegan menu launch
How did I get there? It began at a barbecue last night.
I sat in someone’s garden with a bunch of people I didn’t know. To make friends I started showboating.
To do it, I strung them along with a captivating story about the plight of a local fish & chip shop, and its misguided attempt to get with the times by launching a vegan menu. Then (and this is how you make friends) I got everyone involved.
Passing around a picture of a poster I’d spotted in window of the Kingfisher earlier, I asked everyone what they thought:
For those who can’t see past the permanent marker, it’s an invitation to the launch of the Kingfisher’s vegan menu on Sunday, 2 June 2019: a bring-your-own-booze spectacular and the first ever VEGAN ONLY day in the establishment’s 47 years of business.
Then I said, “for a fish and chip shop that still doesn’t accept cards, that’s one hell of a statement. Why don’t we go?”
Everyone was hooked (or at least pretended they were). So, much to their amusement, I called and booked a table for four.
Surprise-surprise. When I got up the next day everyone had forgotten about the plan.
So that table for four became a table for two (my girlfriend’s long suffering).
And hell was I surprised.
Much to my disbelief, the Kingfisher’s vegan menu launch featured decent vegan food. For the first time, I was sharing my culture with my girlfriend (who’s not from round here) and I wasn’t embarrassed about it.
Leaving, I couldn’t help but root for them. Businesses like this should be succeeding.
Authentic British vegan food? How can you make a claim so bold? (THE REVIEW)
The Kingfisher doesn’t boast. It’s a modest, traditional fish & chip shop situated along Homerton High Street. It’s pretty accessible at five minutes walk from Homerton overground and fifteen from Hackney Central.
But that doesn’t matter: it’s the real deal: no need for sequin dresses, an imported Club Mexicana menu or DJ sets that no one listens to.
Inside, it’s what you’d expect – the deep fat fryer bubbles, there’s the occasional spray of salt and vinegar and the placemats are kinda sticky.
What makes the Kingfisher different is the menu.
This Sunday, it was totally vegan:
When I first saw it, I didn’t really read it properly and instead just laughed. I was fully expecting deep-fried Linda McCartney sausages and slices of lukewarm tofu.
I was really wrong.
For their vegan menu, the Kingfisher had gone the whole tempeh (get it? Tempeh’s a pork substitute). It was wide-ranging and from what I tasted, very well executed.
Talking to the owner, it was clear that it was founded on a lot of research, experimentation and definitely was not half-arsed (yeah, I’m looking at you the Diner).
We saw them prepare the Classic (standard vegan beef burger), the Chickadee (their own attempt to rival Hackney’s vegan burger emporium, Temple of Seitan), their namesake ‘the Kingfisher’ (a mock fish-fillet burger) as well as their own vegan take on chip-shop classics including the doner kebab (every fish & chip shop in London is a glorified Super Kebab – it’s what the people want) and pie & chips. There were also a bunch of vegan desserts and smoothies.
Also, like me you probably associate traditional British cafes with Nescafe Gold. But look, the coffee actually wasn’t granulated:
As a party of two we had:
- the ‘Kingfisher’ (vegan breaded fish-fillet burger)
- A Vegan Pie (vegan take on a steak and onion pie)
- Some chips
- And a Super Green smoothie
Look, it’s almost like someone might have posted that picture on Instagram:
It was surprisingly good.
I’ll start with the Kingfisher. For context, I’ve been to the vegan Sutton & Sons in Hackney central (the fancy-ish fish & chip restaurant chain) and I’ve had the fried banana-blossom mock-cod. I can confidently write that the Kingfisher’s breaded vegan fish-fillet tasted more like fish, had texture more like fish and was actually pretty nice to eat, like fish. I’d recommend it over almost any other battered vegan fish I can recall (and I’ve made vegan fish fingers with tofu and seaweed – so I’m pretty much the authority).
The chips were chip-shop chips (better than Chinese takeaway chips, kebab-shop chips and the pub-enamel-mug chips – irrespective of what this survey says). There was also complimentary vegan mayonnaise and a whole range of other free condiments that Mildreds would definitely charge you for.
The vegan pie, normally only offered takeaway, tasted like a meat pie and it came with vegan gravy (a real boon). It was good (in the sense that pie and chips are good). The offering at Camden’s Young Vegans (a dedicated vegan pie shop) isn’t any better.
And the smoothie? The Super Green was made out of avocado, banana and added pea protein (and some seeds. Apparently people who drink smoothies like seeds). It was thick (the right sort of thick), very green and pretty fresh. After a conversation with the owner, I learned that she’d worked a lot on getting the consistency right and even consulted her son, a sports nutritionist, on how to boost its nutritional value.
The food was well executed, well researched and the owners put in a lot of effort to deliver it. Even though it was 100% vegan, it really didn’t seem out of place or phoned in. It wasn’t up itself (pretentious) and most importantly, it tasted good and is actually something I’d eat again.
The whole menu’s also reasonably priced – it cost about as much as a standard meal at a London chippy (just over £20 for two – not including the smoothie).
Why weren’t more people at the launch?
When I arrived, there weren’t that many people there.
When I left, there weren’t many people there either.
It’s not my business, but it got me down.
The food was good, the invitation was charming, it was all well priced and you could bring your own booze. It also had something that you don’t find at chains – charm. I don’t want to be sentimentalist here, but it really felt like you were part of a community.
And if the food satisfied, going there this weekend was certainly a better story than a nutroast at an anonymous east London pub.
For the Kingfisher to deliver a wholly vegan menu was incredibly bold. Maybe it’s a sign of how tastes are changing – adapt or die – but honestly, how often do you see relics of the British High Street trying to innovate and reinvent themselves for 2019? And actually accomplishing it?
The owners were incredibly sweet too. You could tell they’d put one hell of a lot of work into delivering this and cared a lot about their business.
I really don’t want to rant, but if people like you and me don’t go out and support risk takers like this, then we’ll end up with exactly what we deserve – a London with way too many Pret a Mangers. Who honestly wants that?
I cannot implore you enough, vegan or not, to try the new menu at the Kingfisher.
I guarantee that you’ll be just as surprise as I was.