Since my uncanny impression of Augustus Gloop over Easter and following my indulgent double-destination vacay to Reykjavik and New York City, the butcher’s dog is definitely feeling a lot fitter than I am. My jeans are too tight, my energy levels are lagging and I’ve got the kind of blemishes on my face that I thought I had waved adieu to back in 2007. So with that in mind, I’ve been making a conscious effort to clean up my act.
I’ve reinstated my gym membership, I’m trying to cut back on refined sugar even just a little bit and I’ve made the switch from dairy to soy and oat alternatives and I’m also trying to pick out more veggie and vegan options when I’m cooking at home as well as when I go out to eat. I definitely need to up my 5-a-day game and be a bit more adventurous with regards to protein sources so I figured swapping my predictable chicken or beef choices for a meat-free option from time to time would do my nutrition levels the world of good.
Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Just as I decide to readjust my culinary habits, an exciting invite to sample the brand spankin’ new menu at Down the Hatch lands in my inbox. It’s like the stars just wanted us to collide.
DTH as I’ll fondly refer to it from now on is a junk food eatery with a difference… everything on the menu is 100% vegetarian and 90% vegan. I’ve never been any good at maths so I don’t know if those numbers actually ring true but basically, this is a veggie (and mostly vegan) land of dreams. Not just a place to grab a plant-based bite though; DTH is also one of the coolest cocktail bars in the city with a comprehensive selection of gin, speciality cocktails and a beer menu that even features my old favourite strawberry brew, Fruli.
Sitting below ground level in a rustic but uber cool basement venue on Liverpool’s Duke Street, DTH is surrounded by great restaurants where meat is the focal point of the menu. Walk up Duke Street and you’ll have places like Almost Famous, Blind Tiger, Sapporo Teppanyaki and Salt Dog Slim’s in your immediate vicinity. We’re talking dirty burgers, the best chicken spring rolls in town and city-famous brines so for a convicted carnivore like myself, veggie-dedicated restaurants rarely get a look in.
I took my other half along with me for the ride, who I’m pretty sure would swap me for a lifetime’s supply of medium-rare steak in a fifth of a heartbeat so we were keen but cautious about our Saturday night dinner diversion. Would we really be able to find anything truly satisfying to chow down on with no meat on the menu? Can vegetables and meat substitutes really be as exciting as a juicy chateaubriand? We even concluded that we would most probably have to stop off at McDonald’s on the way home to get our chicken fix as we approached the basement restaurant which has just recently celebrated its first birthday.
How wrong we were. How very, very wrong we were.
You might well expect a vegetarian/vegan menu to be as lacking in inspiration as its flavour palate. Even I, the untamed meat-eater can’t help but notice that in many places, eating (V) typically means mushrooms, peppers, cheese or more mushrooms. Not here. We sat down at our table, a Scouse 75 (Liverpool Gin, rhubarb and Prosecco) and a Hatchspresso Martini in hand (the DTH take on the old classic with cinnamon syrup and Hatch Cold Drip Coffee) to a menu that left us like two kids in a candy shop.
From Deep Fried Halloumi and Salt & Pepper Seitan Bits on the Small Junk list and a whole host of ‘burgers’ on the Big Junk menu to Pizza Marinara Loaded Fries, ‘Homecooked’ Lasagne and a gluten free Thai Green Curry with Cauli Rice. As with most of my favourite restaurants these days, DTH serve up their plates as and when they’re ready but if we loosely use the 2-course format we’re all so rigidly accustomed to, our final choices went like this…
Some Tenderstem Broccolipops (£4.50) to start with, The Classic ‘burger’ (£9.50), the Mac’s Big Break (£9.50) and a side of Mini Mac & Cheese (£4.50). Despite our edit of the hefty Down the Hatch menu being but a scratch on the surface of veggie junk food, I cannot sing its praises more highly. I would sing its praises at maximum decibels if I could. No, the dishes on the menu here aren’t healthy and yes, Mother Nature is most probably eye-rolling at the mere thought of Cauliflower Buff Wings but that’s the whole point here. DTH are shaking up the veggie/vegan status quo.
Our Broccolipops came with a head of light batter and a dish of vegetarian dipping gravy which was to die for. I can’t say I’ve ever uttered the words oh my fucking god (pardon my French) about broccoli before but yep, that happened. They were delicious and the perfect bar snack if you just fancy popping into DTH for a nibble and a beverage. The Mini Mac & Cheese was NOT mini (much to my pleasure) and came in a choice of vegan or vegetarian, both with a sprinkling of crispy onions on top for a bit of bite and a kick of extra flavour.
Both of our ‘burgers’ came served on soft, toasted pretzel buns and accompanied by a choice of normal, sweet potato or salt & pepper fries. As you can see, we went for the latter and true to form, they were bloody fantastic. My Mac’s Big Break was a stuffing and bean mix patty topped with Sriracha mac & cheese (yes I ate a double helping of mac, fight me) while The Classic was a Quorn alternative to your standard beef burger. If you’ve ever tried Quorn before, you’ll know it has a fairly different texture to real meat in that it’s a tad more… spongey, for lack of a better word but The Classic was every bit as satisfying as its carnivorous counterpart.
This is junk food that your mind, body and soul is gonna thank you for.
So in response to our pessimistic questions pre-DTH, YES vegan and vegetarian fare can be just as exciting and satiating as a meat-based menu. Our meal here was hearty and wholesome with the rebellious junk food concept providing a refreshing approach to vegetarianism and veganism that I’m yet to encounter anywhere else in the city. Or the North West for that matter. We made our way home with absolutely no room for dessert left in our stomachs – although the Oreo Cookie Dough Sundae (£5) nearly had me at its mercy – and a WhatsApp list full of people we cannot wait to recommend this place too.
If you’re looking for the best vegetarian restaurants in Liverpool or the best vegan food in Liverpool, you’ve hit top drawer material here.
Oh and no, we didn’t get those chicken nuggets on the way home.
I was very kindly invited to review the new Down the Hatch menu but all words, photographs, opinions, teeth, hair, boobs and nails are my very own.