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A Vegan Goes To Guernsey

November 27, 2014

My family went to Guernsey on holiday in September this year. I wondered how my vegan son, Adrian, and my eldest son who tries to eat plant based meals most of the time, and vegetarian, if there is nothing else, would fare. Below is Adrian’s account of their experiences:

Day 1

Our first meal of the day involved a trek. Dad and Simon were looking for something light for breakfast and a lot of places weren’t selling anything light and breakfasty.

We ordered coffee in a café that turned out not to be serving food for another hour. The waiter assumed we wanted three white coffees and seemed a bit thrown when I said I asked for black.

It didn’t take long to get a picture of the local cuisine. Although the special of the area is promisingly called “bean jar”, reading between the lines it appears to be some variation on pork & beans. Otherwise, they pride themselves on fresh local dairy and seafood, particularly crab which was on nearly every menu we saw.

One restaurant, rated one of the best vegetarian in the area, mainly served cheese with its dishes; the types of dishes which rely on cheese to make their flavour (sort of Italian style light lunches and salads), so wouldn’t have been viable vegan options.

However, passing a few market stalls, Dad spied a Thai food stand advertising “vegan green Thai curry”, which interestingly enough used read “chicken green Thai curry” but had chicken crossed out and replaced with “vegan”.

It was close to lunch time when we eventually we settled for a hotel restaurant (The Crown Club) area that seemed OK (it sold its own ale which was the selling point for us). They didn’t have what was on their menu and the word “vegan” fetched the same blank look the white-coffee waiter gave me. However, he didn’t ask for details on what this meant, so we must assume he wasn’t completely clueless or too perturbed, even if he wasn’t thrilled about it.

Instead, he said they could do a roasted vegetable sandwich, which Simon and I ordered. It took a while to come, and when it did, it wasn’t anything of the sort – it was bruschetta. Or rather, tomato on toast served with a side order of kettle chips. However, it was nice enough so neither of us complained.

In the middle of the day we stopped in a café for refreshments. I had a flapjack which contained no butter or even honey, so was luckily (however accidentally) vegan. The home made apple pie Dad bought didn’t give the ingredients, of course; I tried a bit and I would guess there was no butter in the pastry, but judging by the shine on the top it was glazed with egg.

For dinner, we settled on a restaurant near the hotel selling one dish that looked to be vegan – which I ordered – simply called vegetable and mushroom stir fry (not sure why mushrooms are counted separately to vegetables but still). It was pretty good, and indeed was a standard, Chinese takeaway style rice and veggie dish.

None of the deserts were suitable, there was no fruit or any such thing. We did get starters, and the Soup of the Day turned out to be tomato and basil. It clearly contained no dairy, judging by the colour and taste, except a swirl of cream as a garnish, which I spooned out. I forgot to ask them to hold the single-serving butter pats, but I’m fairly sure they will use the ones I didn’t touch for someone else.

If I had made any specific requests, I’m equally sure they would have tried their best to accommodate me, as they were a friendly and enthusiastic bunch. But I didn’t need to, as the staff appear to already appreciate that tastes and dietary requirements vary; otherwise it’s hard to see whey they’d include a simple vegan option in their menu (even if it was not listed as vegan). Sod’s law being what it is, the people whose menu is inadequate will be the people I have to ask for special allowances, and they may not be the take the suggestion in the best humour.

Day 2

For breakfast at the guest house, I ordered beans, mushrooms and fried tomato. This was off-menu strictly speaking, and must have sufficiently thrown the woman taking my order as she forgot to ask me if I wanted toast – which is just as well, a it might have come buttered. There were small pots of Marmite so I had one with our Pure spread.

We decided to take a picnic lunch, so went to a Co-op and bought some items. I had ready-to-eat cold cooked corn on the cob, Moroccan couscous, fresh bread, green olives in oil infused with lemon and garlic, salt and black pepper kettle chips, a banana and an apple. I also found a cocoa and orange Nakd bar, so took one of those for another day. I thought my lunch was pretty good, better than dinner…

The Michelin star restaurant Dad and Simon were interested in unsurprisingly turned out to be hopeless for vegans. In typical Guernsey fashion, the recommended Thai restaurant was closed for no reason, so we found ourselves in a café bar called The Cornerstone, reported to be good for vegetarian food. It was true that had several options, including a veggie burger, “veggie combo” and vegetarian bean jar.

Simon ordered the bean jar. I tasted it, it was a sort of savoury bean stew, hearty and acceptable. Dad thought it bland, but I thought it was pretty good, thought I may have got bored of it if I’d had a whole dish. It came with French bread. I ordered the veggie combo, which was: spring rolls, onion rings, breaded mushrooms, salad, various dips and a humongous pile of French fries.

One of the dips was a garlic mayonnaise, so I left that alone. The others were tomato chutney and sweet chilli sauce. The salad came with coleslaw which I left on the dull iceberg lettuce leaf. I ate the tomato and the red onion, Dad had my cucumber.

The whole meal was heavy and greasy, fine for a snack lunch with a proper salad compliment, but not an ideal evening meal as the bulk of it was chips. I didn’t have a pudding but I could see the only thing remotely likely to be vegan there was a sort of apple pudding. However, it had a French name, so I doubt it was.

Day 3

I had exactly the same cooked breakfast and much the same picnic lunch as yesterday, except with a spicy red pepper humus, different olives and no corn. When we stopped for refreshment, my traditional lemonade was labelled as “suitable for vegans” which, while not amazing in itself, is an interesting choice of label.

For dinner we went to a highly rated curry restaurant called Sitar, which sold several interesting dishes I’ve never heard of before, including stuffed aubergine with sunflower seeds, curried vegetable koftas and a potato dish which was a main rather than a side. The mains were far more interesting than the sides, so we ordered five mains between us three and no side vegetables.

The restaurant was not so good at offering traditional dishes, like the korma, in vegetarian; the dansak and the balti were, and they sold three types of vegetable biriyani (including a tempting mushroom one). The rest were available in several meat and prawn variations only. However, what we chose was all delicious.

Day 4

I got sick of the cooked breakfast, so didn’t order it, but missed it the moment it didn’t arrive. Instead, I had a stack of Marmite on toast and some mixed cereal – they have muesli, cornflakes and weatabix. The hotel’s dried fruit and cereal collection left something to be desired, and Dad lamented the lack of available fresh fruit. Felt a bit bloated.

My bowl contained some cornflakes with raisins, dried coconut and a little sugar with the soya milk we took. I’m thankful for that, since without it I would have been sorely craving a proper cup of tea – Guernsey’s not so up on it’s herbals. I haven’t been able to find basic green tea here, only mint and fruit.

For lunch we bought sandwiches from the Boulangerie Victor Hugo (II). They had a vegetarian one with roast peppers and salad and soft cheese. I ordered this minus the soft cheese. I forgot to specify not butter or mayo, but it had neither. Dad’s sandwich sounded good; falafel (the only I’ve come across thus far) with salad on sweet potato bread. My sandwich was pretty good and Dad liked his as well.

Dinner was somewhat less satisfying. We wanted to eat at the recommended Chinese restaurant, but it was full, so we went to a place I found online called Christies. That too was full, so we waited at the bar. Wednesday is obviously a buzzing night for the good people of Guernsey.

Christies is a jack-of-all trades kind of place; open all day and well into the evening, it’s a sort of café-bar-restaurant that calls itself a brasserie and bistrot by turns. It has about six different menus, half of which you have to track down, like they’re secret or something. The vegetarian menu was one of these.

Oddly, the main menu is considerably less interesting than the vegetarian one, full of typical pub food fare, whereas the vegetarian had several types of risotto and some exotic thingamybobs, including my starter, the only vegan one, which was supposed to be melon with apple sorbet and a mixed berry sauce but they actually gave me mango sorbet. Not quite getting what you asked for without any explanation at all seems to be a thing here.

However it was nice if a bit odd for a starter; melon could have been better, but they are hit and miss sorts of things. The mixed berry was a good bit sweeter than I’d expected – I was expecting something tart, but it was like a high quality jam.

There was one vegan main, but I didn’t order it – it was a stir fry, which I’ve already had, with nuts, which I didn’t fancy. Instead, I asked for an asparagus, pea and mint risotto. All the three risottos had various cheeses on the top, so I asked them to hold the goat’s cheese from mine.

It was acceptably filling and perfectly bland, the blandest dish I’ve had in quite some time, essentially plain rice. I suspect the vegetables were all these frozen packet monstrosities. I emptied half the salt and pepper cellars on it.

The typical pepper here seems to be white pepper, rather than black, which was all to the better but not enough to save what tasted much like plain rice. Dad happened to order the same thing as me, but with the cheese. He thought his dish was fine and said the goat’s cheese was integral to it.

Simon ordered the mushroom risotto in truffle oil I was thinking of having. It came with parmesan but he said he didn’t notice it, so this would have been the better adjusted vegan option.

Day 5

Back to the familiar combination for breakfast. For lunch, I had an acceptable veggie burger and chips at a standard café. There were other options like soup of the day, but I have not yet had a good solid veggie burger and it was a hungry day.

In the evening we went to a Chinese place called China Red, highly recommended on Trip Adviser, and on a wider scale than just Guernsey. I ordered a tofu starter and main and they were the best tofu dishes I think I’ve ever had. The main was sizzling tofu in spring onion and ginger sauce and the starter was a sort of peppered battered tofu. There was a vegetable dish which was also made similarly, some won ton dumplings, spring rolls and a spicy salad that was surprisingly excellent (and surprisingly peppery). Except for the dumplings, these were all very good (the dumplings were a bit bland, even with the dipping sauce).

The mains were the same again, all impressive. There was aubergine in something like “sea” sauce or spice. I thought this might contain fish so I avoided this, but Simon ordered it and he said he couldn’t taste a trace of fish. Neither could I when I tasted it. We had Singapore noodles and some kind of pan fried “hon” Chinese noodles or something, with jasmine rice and a side vegetable which shocked me by containing something suspiciously like celery.

No puddings, but elegantly served jasmine tea to finish. This veritable feast was polished off with surprising ease. It was, and I expect will remain, the best meal here. Worth the wait and needing to book.

Day 6

Same breakfast minus the tomatoes, which aren’t anything special. For lunch, I had Dad’s sweet potato bread with falafels. Would have been better warm but though they warmed it, it wasn’t by the time I came to eat it. The falafels tasted like cooked onion and were very green inside, so probably spinach.

For dinner we had to faff around. A large party got off a ferry and without booking, a lot of places got full. Dad went into “The Brasserie” of the Old Government House Hotel to ask about vegan food. A waiter went to check and disappeared. We then couldn’t get anyone’s attention or figure out if they’d actually spoked to the chef, so decided their service was questionable and left.

We trailed around for quite some time before settling in an average looking Italian place called The Emilion. They were offering something called “vegetarian pasta”, but not having a clue what that was (there were no descriptions), I chose penne arrabbiata instead.

They don’t automatically sprinkle the classic hard cheese on pasta dishes, but sensibly come round with a pot. The waiter was all ready to give it to me and the spoon was almost out the jar before she registered my declining. This may explain why I, unlike others, was not offered black pepper I threw her aloop – or it may simply be because arrabbiata is spicy anyway.

On balance, the pasta sauce was a bit salty – a constant over the rest of the food in the restaurant. But when I first started it I thought it was pretty good. Well, it was hot and there was a lot of it. Their French bread wasn’t very interesting and they had a typical ice cream and cream heavy pudding menu.

I had the usual trouble with herbal tea. I don’t think people order them very often here. On the menu it was called “Herb tea” with again no list or description.

Day 7

Sick of beans. Mushrooms on toast for breakfast.

For lunch, the vegetarian baguette again, interestingly completely without any Mediterranean vegetables as advertised. Hannah got the same thing but oddly one had some cheese in, even though neither of us ordered it – Hannah thought hers was different to mine and didn’t come with cheese. Turns out they were the same thing, so I gave the cheese one to her. It was only a soft mild cheese so I don’t think she minded, but the menu she looked at didn’t say anything about cheese, so once again a failure on principle. She had the foresight to get some humus, so I had a humus salad sandwich which was perfectly respectable.

Dad and I also picked up a Giant Bar, apricot flavour (they also did apple) which was labelled vegan on the back. Dad thought his was far too sweet, so I finished his at the airport the next day.

The last evening was also one of the more interesting dinner experiences. Despite being well rated it wasn’t great for vegans and I wasn’t looking forward to dinner there. It was called the Old Quarter. However, I was instantly cheered when a leek and potato soup was discovered on the specials menu. It came with a basket that contained rye bread. I forgot about the inevitable swirl of cream, and spooned it out.

There was a huge expanse of dishes and some of the starters were gigantic. A mysterious pate turned up unannounced with the bread which caused some confusion. Upon questioning, the waiter revealed that it was chicken something or other. It smelled overwhelmingly meaty to me, so I hadn’t gone near it.

For a second time this holiday I found myself surrounded by whole dead crustaceans still in their shell as if they’re party decorations or something. Hannah’s pasta had exactly that – and entire lobster shell as decoration.

The mains didn’t really grab me. I saw one vegan option, a risotto, which I didn’t fancy. They did vegetarian cottage pie but I felt sure it would have butter. In the end, I ordered two sides instead of a main – stir fried vegetables and roasted new potatoes. They didn’t exactly go together and the meal was quite plain, but they were nice dishes and the restaurant was sufficiently fancy that they had attempted to dress the thing up nicely for me, with a sort of tower of vegetables (albeit a squat one) surrounded by a circle of potatoes.

I got to have desert this time – the menu had strawberries and cream, which I ordered without the cream. It came with icing sugar.

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