Why does it feel as if veganism has made a sudden come-back in recent years; undergoing some sort of plant-based revival? Why does it feel so buzzy and contemporary? Eager to jump onto this meat-free bandwagon, I was delighted to join the Chef’s Vegan Table at Balducci Restaurant in the V&A Waterfront for the launch of their new vegan menu, hoping to answer a few of my questions.
Even though The Vegan Society was only established a mere 70 years ago, veganism can be traced back as far as 2000 years. This extreme form of vegetarianism has become trendy in recent years; it’s the buzz-word on everyone’s lips. Restaurants and fast food establishments can’t keep up with the demand for meat-free alternatives and most supermarkets now carry a range of vegan-endorsed household food items.
So what is it about veganism that people world wide find so appealing? I mean, we all know the obvious with regards to not eating animals, but what are the advantages? Why should we change?
According to Healthline, there are a couple science-based benefits of a vegan lifestyle, including:
- A diet richer in certain nutrients
- Lowered blood sugar levels and improved kidney function
- Protection against certain cancers
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- Reduced pain from arthritis
I wanted to do my homework before delighting in what promised to be a feast at Balducci’s, so that I have a deeper understanding into the drive for meat-free dining, especially here in our own mother city. Armed with an arsenal of vegan trivia, I set out to the Waterfront for what I now consider to be one of the biggest (and most pleasant!) surprises of my life.
Situated conveniently with an entrance in the V&A Mall, but overlooking the harbour, Balducci’s is cozily tucked into a secluded spot of the usually bustling Waterfront. Inside, the restaurant feels modern and contemporary, with beautiful low-lighting, a wrap-around bar, accents of copper and earthy, practical furniture. The lines are clean and crisp, and the ambience perfect for a relaxed meal in a beautiful setting. Just my vibe.
I was excited when I saw the long L-shaped Chef’s Table set right next to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bay. Our group started to arrive in bits and pieces, and soon we filled all the seats at the table. I had a quick squizz at the menu, and if I didn’t know I’m about to go meat-free, I would’ve said it looks like a pretty awesome menu.
The new stand-alone Vegan menu is creative and comprehensive with over 60 delicious options including juices, smoothies and power bowls made with superfoods and probiotics, soups, wraps, nachos, curry, pasta, Asian bowls, sushi, pizzas, burgers, desserts, hot and cold drinks and vegan wines – all in all an insane variety to keep you coming back for more.
Wherever possible, the ingredients are organic, seasonal, gluten-free, low-GI, chemical and preservative-free, non-GMO, detox-friendly, raw and loaded with vitamins and minerals. No refined sugar or oils, synthetic ingredients or unhealthy fats are used. Honey substitutes include agave syrup, coconut nectar or maple syrup (Canadian maple syrup when available). Balducci only use Himalayan or sea salt and non-irradiated herbs and spices. Slow cooking and the use of ingredients dried at low temperatures maximises the availability of nutrients.
We whet our appetites with three samplers of Balducci’s fresh juices. I’m a complete juice fan, having done the whole juice diet for years before. I absolutely loved all three juices, which were fresh, bright, zingy and just the right amount of wholesome. Coupled with the juices were beautiful bread platters, served with a vegan spread and vegan parmesan, which was surprisingly delicious!
Starters consisted of the uber-modern salad-in-a-jar, but this was a big jar! No holding back on the yummies! I delighted in the falafel with tahini dressing, but that was until they brought out the pizza. Yes, vegan pizza! And I can’t believe I’m actually saying this – but it might be better than “normal” pizza. Correction; I KNOW it was better than normal pizza! Mixed chopped peppers, red onion and mushrooms, smothered in vegan dairy-free cheese with a dash of vegan dairy-free parmesan and a drizzle of vegan pesto. I could’ve eaten a whole pizza by myself. It was hot and gooey and delicious. I most certainly didn’t miss the meat.
Mains included three incredible dishes. I still struggle to believe they were entirely vegan. Red Thai curry, smokey black bean sliders and cashew nut cream pasta. The curry was perfectly spiced and fragrant, loaded with tofu and fresh veggies, served with rice on the side. The sliders were deliciously more-ish, made with amaranth and served with crispy sweet potato fries. But then. The dish that blew my hypothetical socks off: the cashew nut cream pasta.
It was everything my comfort food dreams were made of. It was pasta, to start with. It was creamy, decadently rich, deliciously indulgent and perfect for snuggling up in front of the TV with. It borders on dessert and I would happily have had it for both courses! The marinated tofu and smoked mushrooms added a certain heartiness to the dish without overpowering the nuanced taste of cashew cream. Gorgeous.
All the while, our glasses were kept full with tasters of vegan wines from the Elgin region. I didn’t even know that vegan wine is a thing! I’m not sure if I expected them to taste different, but the white was crisp and delicate, and the red full, rich and smooth.
Our group consisted of a wide variety of bloggers, influencers, friends, food connoisseurs and writers. We were a happy mix of meat-eaters, veggies and vegans. As I scanned the table at various intervals, looking at the happy, smiling faces of my dining companions, it soon became pretty clear that everyone was having an absolute feast, regardless of personal dining choices. I honestly can’t say that I missed the meat dishes. I was more than perfectly content with the plates in front of me. More importantly, the food was fresh, bright, wholesome and deliciously more-ish, and I think that was the unique selling point at the Chef’s Table that night.
By this time the eating has slowed down, as the food kept coming from the kitchen. Again, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I anticipated going home hungry. Most certainly not! In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I had space left for dessert…
I decided to try, anyways. Dessert was a cute mini blueberry cheesecake and a chia parfait glass. This was the first time I actually “noticed” the vegan taste, so to speak. Although both desserts were tasty and beautifully presented, I guess a cheesecake needs cream cheese. And loads of it. And yoghurt isn’t quite yoghurt without milk. Maybe the desserts needed to be something that didn’t imitate dairy-loaded treats, because, as a non-vegan, you expect that hit of cream and indulgence when faced with a slice of cheesecake or a yoghurt-based dessert. I finished both regardless.
I take my hat off to any institution who decides to navigate what I consider to be quite a complex and painstakingly time consuming process of sourcing, preparing and presenting authentically vegan food, whilst committing to sustainability, value for money, maximum nutrition and organic agriculture at the same time. Balducci’s new vegan menu completely caught me by surprise and it was the most pleasant surprise ever! Their menu is innovative, creative, colourful, fresh, trendy and remarkably comforting. I love the bold confidence with which they serve each plate, proudly standing behind their steadfast morals and ethos. Balducci is one step ahead of the rest with the introduction of their expansive vegan menu. They make seem sustainable eating seem cool – so much so, that I can’t wait to return for my next vegan-fix.
We have to be the change we want to see. And if each of us choose to only support #meatfreemonday, if nothing else, that’s already going a long way towards saving our planet. Well done, team Balducci, for encouraging sustainable eating and showing meat-eaters that there is life after steak.
The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.
Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my capacity as photographer/writer as part of a media outreach. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.