Hardcore vegan fans of Temple of Seitan have been known to make the trip to and from Heathrow during a 6 hour layover to eat here. We walked through snow from Kings Cross.
Temple of Seitan opened their first restaurant in Hackney just over a year ago, called Temple of Hackney. They quickly created a name for themelves for their faux fried chicken and long queues, with vegans making a pilgrimage to Hackney from all over the world.
They recently opened a second parish, Temple of Camden, and during the deep freeze of Storm Emma we braved the elements to take them on for this issue’s instalment of Versus.
Remember where you were during the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010 or when Kurt Cobain died? This may well be one of those days. Rumoured to be minus 7 degrees with wind-chill factor of Fucking Freezing it felt like a long walk along the frozen canal, but in reality their new restaurant is just a short walk from Kings Cross station.
The home of the restaurant itself is quite unassuming and is part of a new build office block and student accommodation with very little other eateries in sight. We were delighted to see that unlike at the Hackney branch, there was plenty of seating to escape the Beast from the East. We were cold, we were hungry and in true Versus style we ordered one of everything.
Seitan, a Japanese word invented by Professor George Ohsawa in the 1960s, is a protein commonly referred to as ‘wheat meat’. According to loveseitan.com it roughly translates to ‘proper’ or ‘correct’ protein. Although Professor Ohsawa gave it the name that has given us the joy of pun, this meat substitute has been enjoyed in the Far East and Southeast Asia since the 6th century, popular amongst Buddhists under different names until being adopted more recently by western vegetarians and vegans.
Pat and Rebecca, founders of Temple of Seitan, moved to London in 2014 and, surprised at the lack of vegan fast food, began cooking seitan at home. “Seitan is fairly common place in Australia, perhaps due to proximity with Asia. A lot of Buddhist and vegan places sell it. It was surprising to see so little of it when we moved over here but that has changed big-time now,” Pat told us. Rebecca came up with the concept and dishes. This led to them selling their seitanic chicken at markets and festivals around the UK in 2016 until opening their first temple in January 2017.
The staff at Temple of Seitan are friendly, welcoming and quickly got behind our attempt to take on their menu, even offering us a special route through the menu that would allow us to sample the offerings in three rounds instead the straight-forward top to bottom approach. This was clearly the way to go as it meant we would get to enjoy the burger, tenders and sides in each round. The playlist read like they knew we were coming. We started off the first round to Aerosmith. The perfect soundtrack for a cheeseburger.
This is oversimplifying but the menu is basically divided into chicken and red meat substitutes with additional sides of fries, gravy and mayo. Everything here is vegan so whenever we mention chik’n or patties or chicken wings it’s all vegan equivalents thereof. The buns / bread are made from potatoes and the cheese is vegan cheese.
There were four of us; Alex, Mark and Steve from Root + Bone together with our music producer and chicken wing connoisseur, Arveene Juthan. Four mouths versus 8 burgers, 2 portions of fries, 2 types of wings, 2 portions of tenders, pop corn bites and mac & cheese and unexpectedly, dessert. We didn’t know they did sweet. But we’re glad they do.
We have had vegan fast food before but not like this. The layout of the restaurant, menu and presentation of the food is just like any other burger joint. You could easily walk in, order and not realise it was vegan until afterwards.
All four of us were impressed by the food right away. Not only did it look like a real burger, the textures and flavours were there. We had come for the chicken but it was the red meat substitute that blew us away. Probably because texture of ground up red meat patty is easier to replicate, than the fibrous texture that is unique to poultry and almost impossible to replicate. The Two Piece (two fillets of chicken) did it better than the chicken fillets in the Chik’n burgers. But that is splitting hairs.
Having tried many meat substitutes it is often the case that the producer hasn’t eaten the real thing in a while and so although it might taste great, and may be an improvement on the competition, it’s often a far stretch from the real thing. This is totally understandable when the chef has been vegan or vegetarian for many years and one wouldn’t ask that they eat meat for research. People employed to detect counterfeit currency don’t study other fake bank notes but by knowing every detail of the real thing so intimately no fake bank note will ever fool them. I’m no expert, but the cheeseburger at Temple of Seitan could have fooled me.
On the whole we were super impressed with the textures, and the flavours showed skillful use of spices and condiments. These guys have done their homework. Impressive was the juiciness of the red meat substitute, evident when cooking, cutting and serving the dishes. There were literally juices flowing down the burgers and none of that cardboard dry patty kind of thing that vegans / vegetarians sometimes face.
In the case of chicken wings the frying was excellent at making a crunchy outer layer. The proportions of crunch, spicy sauce and juicy Chik’n inner were spot on. With the burgers the spice and pickles were on point for that all-American burger joint flavour – if you love that classic yellow Frenchies style mustard and pickles combo.
One thing to note is that the food as a whole was kind of roll your sleeves up – get stuck in, it’s going to get messy and don’t spare the napkins. Maybe don’t bring a first date here if you’re nervous about spilling food on yourself or dribbling at the flavours. This is where you come with good mates to talk shit, laugh and enjoy a good feed while knowing no animals were harmed in the production. If you’re living life meat free but miss the munchies of great fast food, we’ll see you at Temple of Seitan.