I’ve never written a restaurant review before, but I had such a fantastic time eating lunch today that I think I need to.
We planned to go get Panini based items from the Hippy Hippy Shake (om nom, by the way) but events conspired towards dragging us to Hanley and we ended up in The Big Strawberry.
For anyone who hasn’t seen me in the last 10 days* I’ve gone Vegan for lent. Not for any deeper or more spiritual reason than ‘Steve bet me £10’ but I’m taking it rather seriously.
*anyone who has seen me in the last ten days knows that sometimes I just sigh ‘Cheese’ with a little whimpering noise and drift away from whatever conversation I’ve been having.
ANYWAY, I’ll tell you all about that another day and get back to reviewing stuff:
We wander in and I instantly feel fear because at first it looks like we’ve wandered into someone’s living room. There’s a bunch of people sitting about drinking coffee and talking loudly in a nice cozy homely type environment. When I get a grip on my senses I realise I am in the right place, since there’s a giant menu exactly in front of me and one of the loud talking people is inviting us to come in and choose some food.
We’re greeted by a lovely bubbly lady who looks about our age and who I really hope is the owner because of the sheer enthusiasm she has for this place and, seemingly, everything else she’s talking about. Holding two conversations at once she introduces us to the menu “We’ve run out of tons of stuff, including eggs and anything vaguely mexican”, whilst chatting away to what seem to be the only two customers. She tells me she’s been Vegan for two and a half weeks and seems delighted that she’s beaten my ten days, and tells me all about plastic rubbery Vegan cheese they’ve just introduced in Tesco.
I liked this place immediately.
The menu, by the way, didn’t have one single thing on it that I would turn down. If you asked me a week ago I could think of maybe four things to put in a Vegetarian sandwich. Here there are at least double that of just Vegan foods and about a dozen more Vegetarian. Then there’s soups, too. I love soup.
I hear there was a Vegan Lasagne and I am disappointed that I was a week too late to try this, but I’m plotting to return so I’ll get one eventually.
We took our Vegan Chocolate Brownies upstairs to the little seating area and gulped them down while we awaited the rest of our lunch. These, incidentally, were the best Brownies ever, since they were exactly as good as non-vegan brownies, but twice the size.
Times like this I wish I was less of a socially awkward paranoid weirdo, or that the downstairs part of The Big Strawberry was a little bigger because while we sat at lovely wooden tables admiring the Cello in the corner, the two book cases of real people’s books (rather than the sad collection of the sorts of things people leave in book exchanges in Costa), and the fact that the salt and pepper pots were shaped like cupcakes, I got the feeling that we’d be completely welcome downstairs joining in with the lovely random people and the owner (who didn’t stop laughing for half an hour) talking about frog legs, decent quality Soy milk and growing cow meat in jars. (eww, maybe and bleurgh respectively) and the fact that ‘Hazelnut Milk tastes like the tears of a Fererro Rocher’ (direct quote). We listened in and made comments quietly to each other and Steve was all cynical because that’s what we do, but I bet we could have done that completely happily to their faces had we been down there too, and it cheered me up just to be there.
The food, when it arrived at about five past three, was lovely. A Vegan All Day Breakfast Panini, by the way, is wonderful; stuffed full of Vegan Sausage, Beans, Mushrooms and Hash Browns. I’ve recently discovered the joy of putting potato based things in bread, and for my first ever Vegan Sausage, I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee is strong, and is squirted out of a real old fashioned coffee machine into an Ikea mug served on a plate rather than a saucer, with brown sugar as the default option.
Steve appeared to enjoy his Falafel, Salad, and Thai Chilli wrap (I sampled, and I did) and sipped away at the Latte he decided to buy, insisting that Coffee was ‘growing on him’ and that he ‘needs to learn to like it like a normal person’. When the food was brought up she noticed he seemed to be struggling and happily offered to water down the coffee if we’d like, then rushed off for yet another journey up and down the stairs.
The upstairs bit sits on a lovely balcony thing that looks out through the glass-fronted building. Sadly it looks out onto bins and the front of the Chicago Rock Cafe, but we got to watch assorted track-suited delights to civilisation wander past eating chips and coke on the other side of the glass for once and it was significantly better than being surrounded by them in a KFC type environment.
Side note: has everyone else noticed that above the toilets in the KFC in Hanley the words ‘Colonel Whatever’s Chicken’ written on the wall cuts off after the letters ‘Colon…’ to make way for the doorframe? Heee hee
In between listening in and quietly having opinions on being a Vegan (do free range chickens have a better quality of life than the farmers who grow Soya Beans? What’s the pollution impact of cows vs. meat grown in a jar? blah blah blah and concluding that it has probably been impossible to eat ethically for at least 60 years) we realised that the art on the walls was probably trying to be a vagina metaphor, and that one wall was in fact made entirely out of curtains stapled to book cases (I hope someone lives behind it and pretends they live in a New York loft in the 90’s rather than in Stoke On Trent. It’s what I’d do).
We also realised that the menu and the Open sign both featured pictures of kittens with human mouths. I wish I’d taken a photo because I can’t find it anywhere on Google but it was absolutely brilliant. The general atmosphere is everything Costa wishes it had, plus some actual personality, and costs about a third as much to get to appreciate it.
I would thoroughly recommend this place to anyone with an hour to spend eating lunch, whether you normally eat cow burgers or not. Whether I stay Vegan or go back to cramming cheese into my face as fast as I can get it, I completely agree with the concept of lovely high quality local pleasantly sourced food and will happily sacrifice the better-organised but soul-lacking meal times eating rapidly produced identical sandwiches in Subway in order to get it. It inspired me to keep enthusiastic about the whole Vegan thing (30 more days now) and, through its simple welcoming un-pretentious niceness made me happy for the whole afternoon.
Go there. Be happy too.
UPDATED: Found it on their Twitter page!