The recent vegan explosion in the Dublin food scene has made plant-based living more accessible and more exciting. Despite this growth, there are still a variety of threats to veganism – the greatest of which is not Big Dairy’s ad campaigns, but rather the bandwagoning steakhouses who superficially support vegan ideology with their falafel option.
A decade ago, it may have been a step in the right direction to throw a low-calorie veggie option on the menu, but as veganism has grown in popularity, there is now demand for more adventurous, less health-oriented main courses. Non-vegan places like Wagamama and Xi’an Street Food have some of the best options in the city, the latter offering generous portions for only €5.
This leads me to wonder whether it would be more beneficial for an eatery to have a few vegan options or to jump straight into a completely vegan menu. Luckily for me, there’s V in Temple Bar: a place that has done both, just in an unusual order.
Back in May, I heard about a new vegan toastie bar down in Crane Lane. The impossible-to-find-on-Google-Maps name glowed green down the alley, as well as on every piece of the unfinished decor. Out of the entirely vegan menu, I had the spicy vegan chicken melt, which came with a mug of spicy bean soup for €10. I left feeling happy that I was supporting a vegan business, even with its teething flaws. I knew that I would return in the coming weeks to an ironed-out and matured menu.
My June visit proved that V did change the menu – so much so that it was no longer vegan. Half of the toasties were now vegetarian – a stride backwards since the baby steps I had seen in May. It became obvious that V’s owners could not lure enough people down an alley to eat plant-based food, so they abandoned their most attractive quality and became another sandwich bar in the city. I guess no one had ever specified what V stood for.
The impossible-to-find-on-Google-Maps name glowed green down the alley, as well as on every piece of the unfinished decor
I was seated opposite the blackboard which told me I could get “any melt + soup for €8.50”, a better deal than before, which soon negated itself with a €1 tap water charge. The vegan menu had only one adjustment: the new MacDaddy Melt – a mac’n’cheese, vegan pulled pork, caramelised onion toastie. I pushed through the anxiety of saying that horrendous name to the waiter only to be told that it is not included in the “any melt” deal.
I was not too bothered since it was the same bean soup as before, so I just ordered the €8 calorie monster. I was not disappointed. The sandwich was an incredibly carby, crunchy, cheesy construction. V nailed the creamy pasta and packed it between two great chunks of sourdough. The caramelised onions were closer to pickled but it helped level the heavy flavours and sweet jackfruit pork. All I could think about was why a place with such an exceptional option would need a dairy menu at all. There is no doubting the chefs’ skill in plant-based cooking, so why hold them back?
90 per cent of the restaurant is vegan when you factor in the salads, desserts, smoothies, coffees and sweets
I returned for a quick July visit and managed to talk to the owner briefly. I questioned him on the vegetarian choices and he optimistically assured me that veganism is the goal, just not right now. He insisted that 90 per cent of the restaurant is vegan when you factor in the salads, desserts, smoothies, coffees and sweets. V also stocks various plant-based meats and cheeses from Vegan Food Store Ireland and does a vegan tapas dinner menu, so I definitely don’t debate this claim.
However, when half of your lunch menu ideologically opposes your plant-based goal, it demeans any environmental or ethical message that you are trying to spread. I left V with an assortment of emotions and gummy sweets from Peachy Green, an independent Northern Irish plant-based pick’n’mix substitute. There is an uncomfortable contrast between the effort involved in importing artisanal vegan candies and the restaurant’s lazy, non-vegan cheddar melts.
But despite all of my criticisms, I do recommend V for their food. All I ask is that it be more confident in its plant-based abilities.