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VeganMoFo: Herbivore review or, a tempeh tantrum

This post is part of the Vegan Month of Food - or VeganMoFo to you and me. To learn more about Vegan Mofo, click here.
If you've ever longed for the taste of vegan pub grub, Herbivore's your place.

The San Franciscan institution has three branches, one in Berkley and two in the city itself.

My other half discovered the downtown branch ambling through the city, and brought me there. I was primed to love it - a whole vegan restaurant to choose from, all the dishes animal-free. What more could I ask for?

Well, a bit of flavour would have been nice.

We shared some soft flour tacos for a starter. Bonus points for the vegan sour cream and the sadly-underrepresented-in-the-UK pinto beans and salsa verde, nul points for the lack of any discernable spicing and generic meat replacement that brought as much to the table as a general studies A level. The overall effect was that of an adequate, if unexciting starter.

For a main, I went for a soup and a sandwich combo, while my partner went for lasagne.

Having mentioned my first tentative steps in the realms of tempeh on this blog earlier, I was lured by the prospect of more tempeh goodness with a tempeh sandwich with all the fixings, along with a small bowl of coconut noodle soup.

The former wasn't bad at all - the tempeh held up its end of the bargain (not a patch on Saf's tempeh sandwich, mind) and came with all the fixings you'd expect. I love American sandwiches for that reason - the sheer big-as-your-head-ness and 20 separate elements all clinging onto bread like sailors to a liferaft.

The soup, though - gah. It tasted of watery sod-all. A few noodles, some tomato and coconut milk all combined to leave no impression on the tastebuds at all, apart from a vague sensation of wondering if Herbivore's washing up water tasted similar to its soup. For good measure, in case there was any hope of anyone liking the soup, there were a few chunks of tinned pineapple. Why, god, have you forsaken us?

For a finale, the waitress had flicked a slick of the soup onto the plate it shared with the sandwich, making sure it couldn't take refuge from its mediocrity even while I ate the otherwise redeeming tempeh.

The lasagne however gets a big thumbs-up, reminding me as it did of vegan pub grub. You know, before you were vegan and you'd go down your local boozer, you'd have a plate of something pasta based with chips, or maybe a burger - something so carby it would send the GI brigade into meltdown. And joyous that pub-based carb overload would be too. Herbivore's lasagne was that kind of a dinner - big, solid, unimaginative, but warming and welcome nonetheless.

It got a few extra points from me for sporting an additional green salad, nicely dressed. Only it seemed a bit of a shame, then, to have left some of those self same leaves fermenting in that dressing til they became that sort of slug-like lettucey green sludge after you've had the salad bag open for way too long.

The lasagne itself was something of deconstructed offering - a few sheets of passta piled up helter skelter with some veggies and tofu ricotta between them and some garlic bread on the side. The tomato sauce was a little on the sweet side, but was a nod to the Wetherspoons style of dining that I have something of an affection for.

Feeling masochistic, we ordered dessert - blueberry pie and ice cream. What it lacked in quality, the pie made up for in quantity - we were presented with a wedge so large it could kill a man if thrown correctly.

The ice cream was lovely, but the pie had an oddly solid, jammy filling that bore little resemblance to the fruit allegedly contained within and its pastry had so much cinnamon any blueberry taste was obscured behind an enormous spice curtain.

As I said, I was primed to love Herbivore. It was like going on a first date after seeing the profile picture of someone you like on an online dating site and swapping a bit of banter with them. You keep your fingers crossed that there could be something worth pursuing in this, only when you finally do clap eyes on them, you find they smell like damp and they keep licking their fingers.

In Herbivore's favour, the wine was grand and the service was warm and friendly. It's just the food that needs work.

San Francisco/Valencia
983 Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110


San Francisco/Divisadero (the one I went to) 
531 Divisadero
San Francisco, CA 94117

2451 Shattuck
Berkeley, CA 94704

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  1. It's a shame the food wasn't as good as it looks because I would definitely eat there are seeing the photos!


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