There are many kinds of love. Romantic comes to mind most often, but love isn’t all about heart shaped boxes and kisses on the corner. There’s platonic love for those friends you really couldn’t be without, and familial love for the people who raised you to be the person you are today. And then there’s that flutter, that moment of (perhaps unrequited) love you feel when your delivery driver hands you the paper bag containing your dinner. Valentine’s Day this year wasn’t what anyone really wanted it to be, but I felt warm inside just knowing I was going to be having one of East London’s best vegan “chick’n” burgers.
Temple of Seitan can be crudely framed as the vegan answer to a KFC, but this does a disservice to just how delicious and well-crafted their food is. Seitan, a form of processed wheat gluten, is a source of vegan protein with a very ‘meaty’ texture, which combined with the right kind of flavours make it much more tasty than its homophonic namesake implies. By honing in on this versatile ingredient, Temple of Seitan have created a döppleganger for an American Fast Food joint, except without a trace of meat or dairy in sight. I was so convinced in fact I had to triple check that the ‘cheese’ in my burger was of the plant variety!
Technically this isn’t just an ‘Eats Out East’ because Temple of Seitan also have a shop in Camden in addition to their Hackney branch, but all the better for enjoying wherever you are in London. I scheduled my order early, having been caught out in the past by just how popular it was. While I was tempted by some of the ‘buckets’ of ‘chick’n’ on offer, in the end I opted for a Nashville Hot with ‘cheese’, with a side of Small Fries (bought as a combo with drink, £10.50) and a regular Mac ’n’ ‘Cheese’ (£4). With a selection of unusual soft drinks also available, I went for the Dalston’s Sparkling Rhubarb to branch out and try something new. As it was Valentine’s Day, when my order arrived I plated it up and sat down, all dressed up in front of my screen for my distanced date with my boyfriend, who unfortunately did not nearly have as good a selection of take-away choices.
It certainly felt like a feast. The Small Fries were more than enough to accompany the burger, which came wrapped in colourful paper than just added a fun touch to the experience. Each fry was crispy and well-seasoned, exactly what you’d expect from any fast-food outlet, and getting basic right is sometimes even better than doing something out of the ordinary. The Mac ’n’ ‘Cheese’ was a more varied experience. The cashew parmesan, sour cream and bacon bits topping offered an exciting mixture of textures and flavours, but beyond this layer the body of the Mac ’n’ ‘Cheese’ itself was a little lacking and perhaps a bit too heavy on the nutritional yeast. Now, this might be my lack of distance from real cheese still talking, but it just ended up falling a bit short of my expectations. I did still eat it all though, so it clearly wasn’t anything offensive.
The Nashville Hot ‘chick’n’ burger was the star of the show by far. Crispy seitan coated in hot and sour spices, matched with tangy pickles, a cooling ranch mayo, and a load of shredded lettuce on a soft but sturdy bun. Basically everything you could want from a burger, veggie or otherwise. I had asked for the addition of a vibrant orange slice of vegan ‘cheese’ for an additional 50p, but if I’m honest it was neither needed nor really brought anything of its own to the party. Of course, as far as date night food goes, this might not be the best option for budding lovers and first dates. The bun is robust enough that the burger does not collapse on itself after the first bite, but there were certainly some lettuce leaves that fell casualty to overfilling. Not something you can eat and look particularly attractive, so I am definitely lucky that my boyfriend loves me for who I am and not how gracefully I can eat a burger.
The Dalston’s Sparkling Rhubarb was a real surprise. I was half expecting a fizzy water over-sweetened and with an artificial tang, but was met with a lovely refreshing beverage with a delicious punch of rhubarb, which the can informed me was of completely natural origin. It cut through the in truth very heavy flavours of the food and offered a bright break of subtle sweetness. Also it was pink, adding to the very loose Valentine’s theme of the meal.
Overall, Temple of Seitan does a fine job of veganising the classic American fast-food genre, and made what could have been a more melancholy Valentines at a distance just a little bit more fun while inciting just a little bit of food envy from my lovely dinner companion.