Vegan in Teesside: The Waiting Room

Waiting Room 1

Recently I saw a list of the top thirty vegetarian restaurants in the country.  My initial reaction was, of course, to drool Homer Simpson-style at all the feasts that awaited me.  My second reaction was one of outrage:  why no Waiting Room?  Being a vegetarian teenager in Teesside wasn’t particularly a challenge:  there weren’t exactly exciting offerings, but the majority of places at least provided a solid veggie option.  Now that I’m living in Manchester and enjoying the range of entirely meat-free restaurants and the prominence of marked vegan dishes on menus, I can see what a struggle it would be to still live in Middlesbrough with my current diet.  It was slim pickings, but there was always this ray of sunshine:  The Waiting Room, situated right by the train station in Eaglescliffe.

Waiting Room 2

It is such a good place, in fact, that I made a day trip back to the north east to catch up with a dear friend there rather than opting for our usual middle ground of York.  The Waiting Room is fairly unassuming from the outside, simply inhabiting the ground floor of a terraced house, and the decor is similarly low-key:  a selection of mismatched tables dotted through what would have been the living room, a pretty old fireplace, the menu displayed on a large blackboard (an extension at the back of the property houses a more modern looking section).  It’s easy to feel at home there.

Vegan options aren’t marked, but are readily provided by the helpful staff:  there were two vegan options for each course, and a couple of savoury dishes that could be adapted.  I chose the cashew, carrot and apple loaf, as it was a Sunday and I fancied something traditional.  It had to be served without the non-vegan white wine sauce, but as someone who is partial to dry food it wasn’t a problem.  The loaf was very tasty and moist, accompanied by roasted vegetables and some beautiful sesame seed-coated roast potatoes.  It was filling yet sufficiently light:  the perfect Sunday dinner balance.

We needed a bit of a breather before tackling dessert, but there was no doubt that it would be done.  I went for the summer pudding- the first time I’ve ever had one.  The layer of fruit in the middle was zingy and refreshing, bursting with tart berries.  It was sublime.  Even with the rain falling outside, it tasted of summer.

The Waiting Room may be the best veggie restaurant in Teesside by virtue of being the only one, but it is also pretty stellar by any standards and definitely deserves a place in any top thirty list.

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Vegan Adventures in London Part Two

Sushi 2

On our second evening in London we had a Japanese feast at Itadaki Zen, a vegan sushi restaurant.  I had been looking forward to it immensely.  Japanese cuisine has always somewhat passed me by:  I wrote sushi off as being fishy, and found vegetarian food difficult to come by when I actually went to Tokyo (just poor preparation on my part, I suspect now).  Now I’m trying to get into it a bit more, with the help of vegan-friendly places like this and Moshimo in Brighton.  The menu was a bit nonsensical to me, but I opted for the tempura set menu -who can turn down tempura, after all?  It got off to a promising start with this plate of assorted nibbles:


Followed by the sushi pictured at the top of the page.  The one on the left, topped with a piece of deep-fried seaweed, was absolutely spectacular.  The tempura itself also exceeded expectations.  The dark coloured deep-fried seaweed was beautiful, but the crispy vegetables, heavy on the onions, were the real stand out.


My companions both opted for the chapche set, which included a vegetabley noodle dish, miso soup, spring rolls with more of a tofu than vegetable filling, and some tasty sushi rolls:


Sushi 1

All of us decided to go for the irresistibly named zen cakes for dessert.  They are made without sugar, so were not too sweet, which was quite nice after a big meal.  They are summed up as scones with a slightly crispy edge, which may sound like it’s a bad thing, but that’s not the case at all.

Zen Cake

After so much good food, a lengthy evening walk was required.  As someone who usually gets around London on the underground, it was a real treat to explore on foot and see some of the spectacular buildings, old and new.

Ms Cupcakes

Sunday was yet another hot day when we needed plenty of fuel for our adventures.  A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a trip to my baking idol, Ms Cupcake, in her Brixton home.  The Ferrero Rocher cake of hers that I had at Brighton VegFest remains very near the top of my cake league table, so I was obviously very excited about giving another one a go.  This time we split the Oreo and Bakewell cakes, and both of them were tasty and moist and absolutely heaped with icing.  Well worth a visit!  It was also my first ever trip to Brixton, and I loved it – there was just so much going on.  After our cakes, we went along to an art fair spreading along a nearby street.  There were some excellent paintings, if only everything weren’t so expensive.

Art Fair

Finally, before jumping on our train home, we popped over to the Boiler House market, which promised several vegan options.  There were at least three stands which proclaimed themselves vegan-friendly, and a few others where we enquired about spring rolls and dumplings and got mixed responses, for example:

Me:  Do you use egg in the batter?

Market People:  Yes.

Me:  Oh, nevermind.  (Turn away)

Market People:  I mean, no!  No egg!

So we played it safe and stuck with places that brandished an actual “vegan” sign.  We went for these colourful, hearty, amazing Ethiopian plates of food.

Ethiopian Wrap

Ethopian Plate

Last time I was in London I ate Ethiopian as well, though it’s not something we see much of in Manchester.  But it’s so tasty, I am determined to track some down.

Bellies heavier, wallets lighter, we made our way back to the north feeling well fed, thoroughly entertained, and pretty exhausted.  It was a marvellous adventure and I shall start saving some pennies for the next one.

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Vegan Adventures in London Part One

Afternoon Tea

Allow me to break with tradition and not share a recipe this week:  I’ve got too much other food to talk about!  At the weekend I went for a trip to London again, armed with another list of vegan-friendly places to hit.  Generally speaking, when we go adventuring I plan the food and my fellow plans the activities and we both do our jobs alarmingly well.  So when we arrived on Friday I took him for an early dinner at Tibits before he guided us over to the theatre for our evening entertainment.


Tibits, for the uninitiated, is a vegetarian buffet restaurant where you pay by weight of your plate.  If it were all-you-can-eat, we may well have missed the start of our show.  There was a great selection of food, and vegan options were well marked.  Despite the abundance of fried food on my plate (I was on holiday, after all), it was actually the other dishes that I preferred:  the pasta salad, and the tofu-based twist on the Caprese salad.  Everything was really fresh and delicious, and it was quite nice being able to peck at so many different dishes.  Unsurprisingly, dessert was the highlight.  I’ve been waiting a long time for a vegan sticky toffee pudding, and this one is reportedly -and deservedly – always on the menu:

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The food fuelled us through the evening, when we went to see The Book of Mormon, the musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  As someone who has never seen a single episode of South Park, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I was also mildly concerned that our cheap seats up in the gods would hamper our enjoyment.  Fortunately, I was delighted on all counts.  We could see all the action (except that we suspect we missed out on a Darth Vader boogie at some point) and it was hilarious.

Marc Bolan

Saturday kicked off with a visit to the Marc Bolan memorial not far from where we were staying, followed by a real treat:  afternoon tea at The Coach and Horses, a vegetarian pub.  I went there for Sunday roast last time I was in London and was jealous of all the afternoon teas taking place around me.  I thought it worth enquiring about a vegan option, and happily, they said it could easily be done. It can be seen above in its full glory.  Vegetarians get three options of sandwiches, but we only got cucumber.  I hate cucumber with a fiery, irrational passion, but these were actually quite tasty.  Possibly I was just swept up in the fanciness of the occasion.  The scones were also a delight.  Obviously though, I was counting down to the cakes.


The cupcake was a touch heavy, but very nice -there were chunks of dark chocolate in the sponge, and the icing was lovely and rich.  We had to have a bit of a breather before embarking on the quadruple layer carrot cake (we certainly got our money’s worth!).

Carrot Cake

Again, it wasn’t the most breath-takingly amazing carrot cake I’d ever had, but as part of the whole experience it was really lovely and I applaud The Coach and Horses for catering to the vegan market.  There’s nothing so civilised as an afternoon tea, even with my uncouth gentleman friend stuffing down his sandwiches in one mouthful!

South Bank

We spent the afternoon basking in the sun on the south bank and sightseeing in Somerset House, working up an appetite for our next meal.

Somerset House

More on that to follow in part two.

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Giant Choc Peanut Cookies

Choc Peanut Cookies (16)

This weekend was one of massive sporting disappointments.  Not only for the likes of Roger Federer, Mark Cavendish and the Colombians, but also for me and my thwarted plans.

Manchester is home to an outdoor World Cup fan park which shows all the matches in a Brazilian-beach-style venue.  Despite the decor, the weather remains strictly Mancunian:  we had planned to watch both Friday evening games there, but were driven indoors by the incessant rain.  The fresh air and lively atmosphere would have most likely kept me awake, whereas in the comfort of my own home I managed to nod off and completely miss the Colombian penalty.  I fared little better on Saturday night, when my boyfriend roused me from my initial slumber with the exciting news that a penalty shoot-out awaited, with a change of goalkeeper no less!  I promptly fell back asleep and missed all the drama.  Curse these late kick-offs.


But those disappointments were nothing compared to our Saturday attempt to get to the Tour de France finish line in Harrogate.  My beau is a die-hard Tour fan (Tourette?), and I had spent hours (or a while, at least) reading articles about it and listening to his enthusiastic and patient explanations of how it all worked.  We set off on Saturday, buzzing with excitement.  Our train from Manchester was delayed, but we remained optimistic.  That optimism died a swift death when we arrived at Leeds to change trains and were told to join a three hour queue in order to get to Harrogate.  Three hours!


After a brief look around the colourful, Tour-themed phone boxes, we tracked down a vegan cafe and had a freezing cold slice of cake and a warm milkshake (it seemed like we weren’t the only ones having a bad day), and began our journey back to Manchester, defeated.  Our spirits rose again in the evening when we watched the excitement of the Tour highlights and my fellow was delighted to see a rider from his fantasy team take the yellow jersey.  Making up for the poor cake and shake, we also rebounded with an absolute feast of a Chinese takeaway.  All, apparently, was not lost.  It was a frustrating day, but sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Speaking of cookies…

Choc Peanut Cookies (9)

Giant Choc Peanut Cookies

Slightly adapted from Vegan With A Vengeance


250g plain flour

200g rolled oats

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

175ml rapeseed oil

127g chocolate peanut butter

200g brown sugar

125ml soya milk

3 tsp vanilla extract


1.  Preheat the oven to 180C and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Choc Peanut Cookies (1)

2.  Mix together the flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Choc Peanut Cookies (3)

3.  In a separate bowl, combine the oil, peanut butter, sugar, milk and vanilla.

Choc Peanut Cookies (4)

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until everything is well combined.

Choc Peanut Cookies (5)

5.  Roll handfuls of the dough into balls, place them on the prepared baking tray and flatten.  Leave plenty of room for spreading.

Choc Peanut Cookies (7)

6.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Choc Peanut Cookies (8)

7.  Stand on the trays for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Choc Peanut Cookies (11)

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Mediterranean Overnight Scramble

Mediterranean Scramble (8)

I have been back in the UK for a whopping eight months now, which is something of a personal best since I first headed abroad in 2007.  I still feel happy that moving back to the UK was the right thing to do…but my feet are getting a little itchy!  The sun is shining, I spend most of my day with people from exotic locations, of course I want a piece of the action.  Fortunately, Manchester is a pretty diverse city and even if I can’t do any travelling myself, I can experience global cuisines as I go about my day.  Last weekend I paid a visit to Levenshulme market and was delighted to see a few stalls marking their vegan options.  Thus I was able to enjoy a Burmese noodle soup:



A Colombian empanada:


And some good old fashioned cupcakes:


All of which, along with this Mediterranean breakfast scramble, gives me the feeling that I’m quite the traveller and helps me to keep my feet on the ground…at least until holiday time!

Mediterranean Scramble (7)

Mediterranean Overnight Scramble

Serves 4, from Isa Does It


1 pack tofu

handful olives, chopped

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp plain flour

1/2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil


Mediterranean Scramble (1)

1.  The night before, crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl.

Mediterranean Scramble (2)

2.  Add all the ingredients except the olive oil, season with black pepper, and mix well with your hands.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

Mediterranean Scramble (4)

3.  In the morning, heat the oil in a pan.  Cook the tofu for 5-7 minutes, and serve with toast.

Mediterranean Scramble (5)

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Bean Chilli

Meaty Beany Chilli (10)

My fellow and I are currently merging our interests:  I’m teaching him the importance of good grammar, the joys of Beyonce and the beauty of elongated Teesside vowel sounds; he is attempting to teach me about science, Led Zeppelin and silly southern pronunciation.  I have to admit that he is learning faster than me (except on the musical front -he is oddly resistant to Beyonce), presumably because grammar is something we use every day, whereas who ever uses science in their daily life?  It’s moot!

One area in which I suspect we will never converge is heat.  First, temperature:  unless in direct sunlight, I am freezing cold; he permanently runs rather hot.  This means that our life together is a constant  negotiation of layers, windows and blankets.

Meaty Beany Chilli (8)

The other kind of heat relates to food.  Thanks to his Indian roots, he has a two chilli minimum for every dish he makes.  I think two chillies make food hotter than the sun.  We are trying to compromise:  he is sticking to the two chilli rule at the moment, with the hope of increasing that back to his usual six as my tolerance changes.  And for my part, I am not deseeding chillies any more.  So I felt rather proud of myself when I made this dish with a whole red chilli and a tablespoon of chilli powder.  How I bragged of my fearlessness!  Alas, still not enough for my beau:  he refers to this delicious beany chilli as “mildy”.  At least he agrees that it’s pretty darn tasty though!

Bean Mildy

Serves 6, from Isa Does It


1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1-2 red chillies, finely sliced

1 tsp salt

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp chilli powder

1 tbsp dried oregano

2 tsp ground cumin

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup red lentils

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp maple syrup


Meaty Beany Chilli (1)

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion, green pepper and chilli for about 5 minutes.

Meaty Beany Chilli (2)

2.  Add the garlic, chilli powder, oregano, cumin, salt and plenty of black pepper.  Fry for about a minute, stirring well to ensure everything is coated.

Meaty Beany Chilli (3)

Meaty Beany Chilli (4)

3.  Pour in the stock and lentils, bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

Meaty Beany Chilli (5)

4.  Add the tomatoes, kidney beans and black beans.  Cover the pot and simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

Meaty Beany Chilli (7)

5.  Finally, stir in the lime juice and maple syrup.  Delicious with rice or tortilla chips.

Meaty Beany Chilli (9)

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Coconut French Toast

Coconut French Toast (11)

During the World Cup I am loath to support another country in any way, but let’s give the French some credit – they do make bloody good toast!  I had never made French toast in the past so it wasn’t something I could miss when I became vegan, but as soon as I saw this recipe I had to try it.  Isa Does It has quickly become my go-to breakfast book:  everything I’ve made from it has been absolutely sublime.

This provided a hearty yet summery breakfast on Saturday before I escaped from the Manchester gloom and went to explore nearby Chester.  It had been described to me as very similar to York, which can only be a good thing.  Sure enough, it had the same historic walls, the same cobbled streets (rather hard on summer shoes!), the same lovely, laidback atmosphere.  The only thing it was lacking really was the quirky, independent side that York has, with its little shops full of knick-knacks.  Still, this is the smallest of complaints:  walking the walls, picnicking in the sun and battling/playfighting to the death in the ancient Roman amphitheatre were all heavenly activities.  As great as the day was, breakfast was probably the highlight.  So good, I had to have the same again the next day.

Coconut French Toast

Makes 6 slices, from Isa Does It


1/4 cup flour

pinch of salt

1 tbsp cornflour

1 cup almond milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

6 tbsp coconut oil

3/4 cup dessicated coconut

6 slices bread

banana and maple syrup, to serve


1.  Preheat a frying pan over medium heat.

Coconut French Toast (1)

2.  In a large, wide bowl whisk together the flour, salt, cornflour and milk until there are no lumps.  Add the vanilla.

Coconut French Toast (2)

3.  Spread the coconut over a plate.

Coconut French Toast (3)

4.  Melt a tablespoon of coconut oil in the pan.  Dip the first slice of bread in the batter first on one side, then the other.  Let the excess drip off.

Coconut French Toast (4)

5.  Press one side into the dessicated coconut, then the other.

Coconut French Toast (5)

6.  Carefully put the bread in the frying pan and cook it for about 3 minutes on each side.  Flip it carefully with a spatula or palette knife.

Coconut French Toast (8)

7.  Remove the bread from the pan and set aside.  Remove any loose coconut flakes from the pan – they might burn.

Coconut French Toast (10)

8.  Add another spoon of coconut oil and repeat the process with the other slices of bread.  Before serving, you might want to reheat the slices in the oven for a few minutes.  Serve with sliced banana and a generous drizzling of maple syrup.

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