Where to start with Herbivore? The friendly and welcoming staff ? Organic and local products? The fact that their entire menu is vegan? Or the fact that it’s only a stone’s throw from Fallowfield?
Herbivorous is a relatively new vegan restaurant located in the heart of Withington. Damian and Robyn (the two adorable co-owners of Herbivorous) started their heartwarming vegan journey 6 years ago, with stalls in Brick Lane in London and at festivals across the country. Following the success of the original Stretford Market herbivore site and the more recent move to Hatch in 2019, Withington’s spot continues to draw inspiration from his “epic road trip” across the United States, during which he discovered for the first time the American vegan food scene.
At first glance, Withington’s herbivorous site appears to be an explosion of bright, vibrant color and once inside, the festival-themed decor makes for an informal and cheerful dining experience. Paper menus, hanging plants, wooden tables and chairs, and photographs of the brand’s early festival days contribute to the eclectic mix of styles and materials that create a cozy atmosphere in the venue.
To start, we ordered a Manchester Union Larger and Philly Steak Loaded Fries (£9.50) to share. These came in the bucket, their secret recipe cheese sauce oozing through the delicious salty paprika fries, topped with the vegan Philly steak ‘steak’, which reminded me a bit of good quality meat with its slices finely cut. This dish came with optional added jalapenos (which we requested on the side due to my inability to hack the spices).
We then ordered three small plates: the Mac and Cheese (£6), the Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls (£7) and finally the Buffalo wings (£7). The chicken meatballs were intensely crispy on the outside, but almost identical in texture to the chicken inside and when tossed with the bright red sweet and sour sauce. The Mac and Cheese was once again delicious, with the smoky sweetness of the chorizo sausage. Vegan cheese can be hard to come by, but Damian and Robyn’s recipe handles it perfectly. Damian told me that sometimes people come to a restaurant just to try their top secret cheese sauce, that often they just order a jar of it to take home!
At this point, we should have been sold out, but we were so intrigued by their two bestsellers that we just had to give it a try. We ordered the homemade seitan fried chicken burger (£9) and their Pulp Fiction-inspired Big Kahuna Burger (£10). My only words to describe the latter are “Hmm, it’s a tasty burger” (Samuel L. Jackson said it first). It consisted of a grilled beef patty marinated in teriyaki sauce topped with melted cheese, grilled pineapple, smoked seitan bacon and sriracha mayonnaise. They really managed to bring the fictional Hawaiian burger to life, with sweet pineapple, salty bacon and spicy sriracha. The chicken burger is “always on sale,” with its secret batter mix containing 11 herbs and spices.
To finish we shared a Nutella cheesecake which was one of the highlights of the meal. It tasted the same as a Ferrero Rocher, with a biscuit base followed by a thick layer of dense chocolate then topped with nuts. The texture was heavy as a ganache and my friend and I fought for the final bite.
The owners’ goal when it opened was a kind of “soft activism.” The couple wanted to encourage people who were initially skeptical or afraid of vegan food to try comfort foods that are familiar to them. With that in mind, I brought my meat-loving friend and after trying the buffalo wings he was impressed with the ability of vegan products to be not only better for the environment, but also tasty.
For those interested in how to make seitan, vegan or not, how to make it Herbivorous also offers Master Classes. Through years of practice, Robyn has developed an expertise in the field and she wants to share her knowledge with others, giving them a foot in the door to develop more recipes. Demand for these courses is always high with most of them selling out. For £25 you get a master class and full meal plus getting to know the owners on a more personal level.
Besides the fact that the whole menu was vegan, 90% of the products are homemade and locally sourced. All of their fruit and veg are sourced from ‘Better Veg’, one of Manchester’s few remaining independent food retailers, and drinks are sourced primarily from the Manchester brewery. I would definitely recommend Herbivore. If you’re looking for a tasty, inexpensive meal, be sure to head to their lunch menu offering every Tuesday (for students only, so take your ID) at both locations. It offers a Philly Steak Sandwich or a Chicken Burger with a can of soft drink for just £5! And keep your eyes peeled – the couple are potentially looking to expand again and open another site!