Katherine MacAlister goes veggie to see what all the fuss is about

The recent #GoVegan campaign has made a massive difference to our eating habits.

With the likes of Beyonce, Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt and Venus Williams all advocating the lifestyle, chefs, bloggers and celebrities are demonstrating it’s easy to switch.

Even McDonald’s is being petitioned to be more vegetarian/vegan friendly, while Waitrose tips 2018 as “the year veganism went mainstream”.

But it’s too extreme for many, cue flexitarianism, which offers us the best of both worlds, without insisting on an all-or-nothing mentality.

We can opt in or out, and adjust our eating habits accordingly, with increasing numbers of people doing just that.

Tagged “vegetarianism but cheating”, either way, it’s a thing.

As a result, instead of vegetarians being catered for, they are being competed over, restaurants falling over themselves to jump on the veggie/vegan bandwagon.

Pret has launched a new vegan range, The Thatch in Thame hosts its first exclusive vegetarian evening this month, The White Hart in Wytham has an ambitious veggie menu alongside its carnivorous offerings, and Le Manoir has been doing the same for decades.

Even meat heavy venues such as Nando’s recently announced a major vegetarian influenced menu, and now Byron, the famous burger chain, has stepped up to the mark.

Its veggie menu now includes three new burgers: the Cheese Melt (beer battered smoked cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, mustard mayonnaise, pickled red onion, pickles and BBQ sauce, £6.50), The Vegan Beetnik (beetroot patty, baby kale, smashed avocado, tomato, pickled red onions, red pepper ketchup, and lime dressed rainbow slaw, £8), and finally the Jack Stack – a veggie bean patty with pulled BBQ jack fruit, homemade guacamole, baby spinach, lime-dressed rainbow slaw and coriander (£10).

Most things on the menu can also be adapted.

Don’t like the chicken in the Caesar salad? Change it to avocado. Don’t want meat on your nachos? Ditto.

Don’t want a burger bun? Have salad instead.

Want to to eat less red meat? Opt for the the new Flex menu, with burgers that include 30 per cent sautéed mushrooms to maintain their meaty taste while being much better for you. Allegedly.

Byron has even introduced a nachos starter with jack fruit instead of chilli, adding a spicy dimension previously lacking for vegetarians.

We tasted both, including the standard nachos with guacamole, sour cream, cheese and salsa, but weirdly no refried beans (usually a staple, as well as being veggie).

Gulping down one of Byron’s infamous Oreo milkshakes, and ordering just the French fries to accompany our mains, first up was the Cheese Melt.

This was literally a piece of beer battered cheese, which was as healthy as sunbathing in the Gobi desert without suncream, but tasted wonderful.

Hard on the outside, it oozed in the middle and was perfectly offset by its accompaniments, meaning you didn’t miss the meat. I loved it.

The Vegan Beetnik came next; massive, impressive and colourful to behold (see main picture) although with one bite its texture fell down and couldn’t be contained by the bun because it was predictably mushy, and tasted, well, vegan – sort of earthy and purple.

And why the holier-than-thou baby kale? What’s wrong with a bit of lettuce?

Otherwise Byron has made a big effort with the other accompliments, and it was a great improvement on what the vegetarian options were before.

And finally the Jack Stack – a jazzed up bean patty which was juicy and tasty, if a bit sloppy.

Judging by the Deliveroo drivers queuing out of the door, the word is already out.

But anyone thinking it’s all swinging too far the other way can rest assured, there are still 10 hamburger and four chicken burger options for the carnivores to get their teeth in to.

As for my vegetarian daughter, she was more than happy. And if a burger restaurant can reinvent itself, the world is her oyster.