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Essential Vegan review: Heavenly cake and perfect cheesy balls

I almost didn't post this review, because the photos I took of the meal were so terrible. And that would be a shame - not only would you miss out on the chance to laugh at my questionable smartphone photography skills, you'd also miss the heads-up to get yourself down to Essential Vegan at the first available opportunity.

Essential Vegan is a small, Brazilian vegan cafe in Shoreditch that sprung from a vegan street food business of the same name, which vegans have been encountering and enjoying all over London for some years. It got its permanent home in September last year. Why it's taken me nearly six months to pitch up here is a sad reflection on me as a human. I can only apologise to Essential Vegan, and veganity as a whole. If, like me, you've been putting off getting down to Essential Vegan, sort your life out, hop on the Tube and get stuck in. You won't regret it.

The Essential Vegan cafe is a light, plant-strewn and fairy-lit space, with a handful of closely packed tables (a little too closely packed, some might say - the gentleman behind me's chair kept making unwelcome contact with my kidneys every time he got up from his seat. Which was often. Keep your spatial awareness about you, fellow diners!)

The menu is a one-pager of small plates, burgers, and well, that's about it. The one dish of Essential Vegan's that I'd had my heart set on enjoying was the Brazilian cheese balls. I've never eaten them before, so I've no frame of reference to compare them to the non-vegan version, or indeed any other version, of the classic Brazilian staple.

One portion involves six cheese balls. You can only see four below, because me and Mr Flicking the Vs are busy inhaling the other two.

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I defy anyone without prior knowledge to guess these cheesy treats were not only dairy free but gluten free too. Authentic? I've no idea. Delicious? For sure.

Sadly, the other Brazilian dish on the online menu I'd been jonesing to try, a stew called moqueca baiana, wasn't anywhere to be seen on the paper menu. The mains on offer were four burgers or a special of lasagne, available in gluten-y and gluten-free versions.

Mr Flicking the Vs had a beefesque Essential burger, and I had the pun-heavy Cluckin' Good. Both were seitan patties with nice crispy buns, different nut cheeses, and assorted salady fixings.

Yeah, sorry about the photo. Don't let that put you off though - those are some moist, meat-esque, cheese-tastic burgers right there.

I should also draw your attention to the fact that neither burger comes with fries, and Mr Flicking the Vs had the foresight to order some cassava chips, (there in the background somewhere). I've never been able to quite put my finger on why cassava chips are so gorgeous, given their taste has background notes of glue, and the texture is just as heavy. If you've not enjoyed a cassava chip yet, and my pictures and descriptions haven't put you off, you are truly an adventurous soul, and your bravery will be well-rewarded. Go, feast on the cassava chip! 

And if all that wasn't enough, there was still more good food ahead: there's a whole Essential Vegan cake and cookie counter waiting to take your money. 

I couldn't pass up the chance to chow down on one of the best, and rarely veganised, cake flavours of all time: coffee and walnut. Look at how moist that cake is. Look upon Essential Vegan's work, ye herbivores, and tremble.

If I've not yet convinced you that Essential Vegan is worth your time and money, I have two more joy-bombs to drop upon you.

1. It is BYO and there is no corkage charge. That may be the biggest act of human altruism I can think of since Warren Buffet slung the lion's share of his fortune to charity.
2. It's dog-friendly. That means you can enjoy all this good feeding and no-extra-charge drinking in the company of your favourite four-legged friend.

So, is there anything actually wrong with Essential Vegan? Well, if you're a crappy photographer, you may find the light's not great for snapping. Don't let that put you off though. I certainly didn't.

Essential Vegan 
6 Calvert Ave
E2 7JP
020 7739 3628

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  1. I hate it when the food is good and the photos don't do it justice - but I am sure with better light you would have felt happier about the photos. And I am wondering why the guy behind you kept getting up and down - hope he wasn't just standing to get the waiter's attention :-)

  2. You had me at...vegan cheesy balls!

  3. I rarely comment on your posts, but I read them all! Just in case: I lived in Bahia for a year and a half and got a vegan recipe for pumpkin moqueca (moqueca de abóbora in Portuguese), (to which I sometimes add black-eyed peas or TVP). It's very easy, and DELICIOUS if you want to try: starting with one large red onion, equal volume of tomatoes and green pepper chopped super fine (really as fine without making a purée). About 1.5 cm chunks of 400 to 500 grams of pumpkin (I like kabocha); a huge handful each of coriander leaves and mint leaves (both finely chopped); dênde oil - this is the red palm oil you can find in lots of African and Afro-caribbean shops; serrano chillis to taste, also finely chopped if uing; 400ml coconut milk; vegan bouillon cube; optional black-eyed peas OR TVP; cumin powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds - about a heaped teaspoon and a half, salt to taste. The rest is simple - heat the dênde oil, add the onions, tomatoes, green pepper and chilli with all the spices - keep the salt to the end if you're unsure of your bouillon's saltiness... fry until fragrant - about 5 minutes, then add everything else (yes, you actually do cook the stew with the coriander and mint) and let simmer until pumpkin is cooked, add water if necessary, I just rinse the coconut milk can with water about half way and that's enough for me, of course, taste for salt. I've made the vegan version for decidedly non-vegan Brazilians who then asked me for the recipe. It's excellent with collard greens and rice! Thanks for your posts!

  4. I'm glad you shared your photos anyway, so we could benefit from the review! I hadn't heard of this place so it's great to know about.

  5. Photos be damned. If my dog and I lived anywhere near Shoreditch, we'd be heading to Essential Vegan immediately.


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