I was impressed when I learned that a restaurant just round the corner from us at the Kassam Stadium, The Ridge, had an extensive and promising sounding vegan menu. They’ve managed to veganise most of their junk-food based menu, featuring burgers, hot dogs, nachos and the like. Admittedly these are some of the easiest foods to veganise these days, but so many businesses are still leaving us vegans out. My meat-eating boyfriend had been previously and hadn’t spoken fondly of his visit, warning me not to have high expectations. When the government launched their ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme though, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it out for myself with 50% off.
We didn’t get off to a great start on arrival. It was fairly busy, which they obviously weren’t prepared for, or were trying to save costs regardless. We’d booked a table but still had to wait at the door for ten minutes before being seated. This just set the precedent for the meal – at every single stage, we had to wait an unnecessarily long time, making the whole experience take twice as long as it usually does when we’ve eaten elsewhere. Our order, even for drinks, wasn’t taken for half an hour after we’d sat down. They had a contactless order system in place, but due to the 50% off scheme, they were taking orders like normal anyway as the offer wasn’t compatible with their system. The staff were apologetic, and presumably they were short staffed in the kitchen too so not a lot could be done about it, but being told ‘sorry for the wait’ at every stage, without the problem actually being fixed, suggested they weren’t particularly sorry really.
When our food finally arrived, there were issues. My pulled jackfruit burger came without the jackfruit, a pretty major flaw you’d have thought. My sister’s vegan cheese burger and cheesey chips both came without the cheese. The speed with which they apologised and whisked the food away suggested they’d known the order was wrong already but were just crossing their fingers that we wouldn’t mention anything. The third meal we’d ordered, the vegan nachos, didn’t arrive for another 10 or so minutes. Lucky that we’d ordered it to share between us, because if it was someone’s main course they’d have been pretty annoyed at having to start their meal after everyone else was nearing the end.
When the pulled jackfruit returned, I almost wished I hadn’t asked. It looked like they’d hastily taken three pieces out of a can, zapped them in the microwave until they could pass as warm, and squeezed half a bottle of barbecue sauce on top. It wasn’t ‘pulled’, and although it was hot it was very firm and somehow didn’t feel cooked. I’d imagined a nice barbecue-style homemade, or at least pre-made, sauce, rather than literally your standard Heinz squeezed out of a bottle. It was way too strong of a flavour. The few pieces of jackfruit sat on top of a chicken-style burger, which was fine. It reminded me of the cheap frozen ones you can get from Aldi, and I could’ve definitely done a better job at creating this burger at home. There was a solitary lettuce leaf in the burger, and the best part of the whole thing was the slice of pickle sitting next to the burger, for some reason.
My sister’s cheeseburger was made with a double decker of Moving Mountains patties. You probably all know what the burger tastes like, and there was really nothing else more to it than that. She said it wasn’t too bad compared to my own burger, they’d given a decent amount of vegan cheese and the one that they’re using seemed to melt reasonably well in the burger. She quite enjoyed her cheesy chips on the side as again they’d been generous with the cheeze. I did like the fries too – they were crisp and nicely salted. I’d probably have been happier if I just had a big plate of those! On the side of both of our meals was a little pot of coleslaw. It looked a bit sweaty and neither of us touched it.
When our nachos arrived, I’d already made my way through a good part of my meal, and I was kind of sad about that because they actually looked much better than what I’d been eating! It was a huge bowl, topped with a rather large portion of three bean chilli, lots of guacamole, melty vegan cheese, and plenty of jalapeños. It definitely look more appetising than both of our burgers. Unfortunately though, when I ate a big scoop of the chilli with a tortilla chip, it just tasted a bit weird. I’ve eaten many a veggie chilli in my time and I can’t quite describe what they’d done to it, the flavour was just not really right. It was also surprisingly very spicy, and I like heat, but it has to come alongside great flavours. Instead, we ate around the chilli, using the ample portion of avocado and cheese to flavour the chips.
When we finally got given the bill (again, after much of a delay, and an acknowledgement from the waitress that we shouldn’t leave a tip), we were all pretty keen to get home. They had a couple of promising sounding vegan desserts on the menu but we were feeling pretty full and not wanting to just be disappointed again. It’s the sort of food that leaves you feeling really full, bloated, and just a general slight sense of regret – though at least when it tastes good it’s usually worth it. But overall here, the food was on a par with Wetherspoons quality, or in cases worse, and at a much higher price point. I definitely would not recommend coming here and paying full price, and I felt sad for all the people locally who might choose to go to this place as a ‘treat’, and spend a fortune on such mediocre to bad quality food. I was glad I’d set my expectations low on my boyfriend’s recommendation, but kind of sad about it too because I was really hoping we’d discovered this secret vegan haven a short walk from my flat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.