Despite UCL’s great reputation for diversity on campus when it comes to the student body, it lags woefully behind in terms of flexible dietary options. Whether you’re self-catered and forgot to pack lunch in-between lectures, or you’re reliant on catered halls for breakfast and dinner during the week, the sad reality is that you won’t exactly be drowning in vegan (let alone exciting vegan) options. Alas, don’t lose hope, because while UCL has little incentive to cater to the vegan diet at the moment (although we are in talks with management) central London begs to differ. There are more vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants within comfortable walking distance of the main campus than I can count and even those of us on the committee entering our third year of study here haven’t come close to trying them all out! So without further ado, we present to you, our dear members, a non-exhaustive list to veganism on campus.
*NOTE*: Despite the common misconception that, y’know, veganism means salad across the board and will bore you to tears, we of course understand that, as with any group of people, taste, budget, perseverance and appetite will differ. We have tried to take all of these factors into account so that you can have a better idea of which restaurants and cafés are for you, as well as saving you the time of trawling through every description in search of your perfect match. J
- UCLU Cafés and catered halls
Just to get the underwhelming stuff out of the way, what you can expect to find strictly within UCL premises is summarised below:
UCLU Café’s (Gordon’s, George Fahra, Bloomsbury, etc.): While you’ll undoubtedly get by in a tight spot with the options offered by our union in their several on-site shops, the choices are limited to say the least. You may be able to find a hummus and falafel baguette in any of the three cafes named above (try Bloomsbury as this is where I’ve had the best luck), as well as one or two other sandwiches, these are not nearly as good as the baguette in my opinion. You should also always check the ingredients as I frequently found hummus wraps in the science café with egg in them.
Apart from this it will seem quite a struggle to find a proper, satiating meal in any of the union cafes. If you’re feeling a bit peckish they do of course stock all of the standard accidentally vegan crisp varieties, as well as nakd bars and fruit (apples and bananas), but you’ll really be found wanting in terms of any substantial meal cravings. It should be noted that they also have a few passable snacks such as wasabi peas or banana chips, but they’re pretty expensive. As I said, only go here if you have NO other choices. Prices in general are acceptable but given the quality and quantity of other shops and restaurants in the area, as well as the fact that many offer student discounts, this isn’t a good enough reason to restrict yourself to UCLU.
Catered Halls: If you thought looking for food in the cafes was the only difficulty you’d encounter, anyone in catered halls is likely to feel similarly disheartened. While vegetarian options are offered, vegans will have to specifically request dishes free of animal products for the time being. Chances are if you’re vegan you’ve chosen self-catered halls, but if not, rest assured that we are working hard to maintain the Meat-Free Mondays initiative in catered halls, and to ensure that vegan AND vegetarian recipes become more common throughout the week.
Worth an honourable mention in this overall rather depressing section is Student Central, not technically a part of UCL but ULU (University of London Union) – their food menu offers a vegan curry that’s definitely worth a try.
On to the fun stuff – if you’ve read this far we apologise if you have the impression you’re in for a miserable time, you’ll soon see the abundance of vegan options you’ll have right at your fingertips!
- Vegan options at non-vegan chains
As we’re sure you all know by now, it can be incredibly easy to eat vegan in chain restaurants and cafes that never intended to cater to us – rejoice! A good bet if this is your kind of thing is the Brunswick Shopping Centre, located right next to Russell Square Tube station, about a 10-15 minute walk away from Campus. As well as the standard Sainsbury’s and giant Waitrose at either end of the centre, and a Tesco just around the corner, it offers a multitude of famous chains with plenty of vegan options – Starbucks, Nando’s (yep, the chicken place – surprisingly vegan-friendly!), Itsu, Crussh, Yo Sushi, Giraffe and Carluccios are all either happy to cater to vegans, offer vegan menus or stock many more creative food choices than, seemingly, UCL could ever fathom (but, again, we’re working on it). Also, Pret a Manger is right around the corner (literally, every corner in London) – a really forward-looking restaurant that seems to have new vegan options every few weeks, as well as recently opening a temporary, completely meat-free pop up shop in Soho, called Veggie Pret. The chains listed vary in terms of pricing – if you’re looking to spend sparingly I would recommend Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Pret, but if you’re happy to spend a bit more for a sit-down meal then Giraffe, Yo Sushi and Nandos are excellent choices.
P.S. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgm1qV_iSLI ß Timothy Shieff, world champion free runner and vegan, explaining what you can order at Nandos.
- Alara and Planet Organic
Changing tack now to more specialised, vegan/vegetarian oriented shops. Sometimes it can be nice not to have to walk by the meat fridge just to get to the food to go section; we highly recommend you try out Alara, a health food shop that offers ready meals as well as hot food priced by weight, just a stone’s throw away from the Brunswick centre on Marchmont Street. We’d go so far as to say that about 80% of their offerings are vegan, and everything on the hot food buffet is clearly labelled vegan or vegetarian. They stock a range of fake meats/cheeses if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for (look out for the vegan chicken wrap), and do hot/cold drinks such as smoothies and coffees too. They have a 10% student discount, but be warned that prices can soar upwards of £10/15 in the buffet section if you’re not careful. Nonetheless, you can easily buy a delicious and filling lunch for 5/6 pounds – more or less exactly as much as you’d pay at union cafes, but you leave with your soul intact.
Planet Organic, the nearest store being on Torrington Place – a 5-minute walk from campus – is also a health food store, but operates on a much larger scale, with 7 locations across London. Slightly pricier than Alara, they offer countless vegan options, as well as hot food in a similar style to Alara, specialising in more health/environment conscious food choices. With clear vegan and vegetarian labelling this is a perfect place to go if you want to try something new or buy ingredients for an experimental new recipe you’re trying out. Also boasting a 10% student discount, we recommend either of these stores if you want to pick something up on the go (their bakery is not to be missed), or explore the huge variety of vegan options out there.
This is a relatively new find (at least in society circles) but all evidence suggests that this Mexican restaurant, equipped with a vegan menu on Hampstead Road (an 8-minute walk from campus) may be a hidden gem when it comes to exotic vegan cuisine.
Our president César visited recently: https://www.instagram.com/p/BI00eW8BhNs/?taken-by=veganspeak and by the look of it you’d be remiss if you didn’t pay this place a visit as soon as possible. Prices are reasonable – £5-6 for starters and £10-12 for main courses – and while for most students going to this kind of restaurant regularly would be too hard on finances to justify, we can’t think of a better location for a celebratory end-of–the-week Mexican night.
“But Pizza without cheese isn’t really Pizza” we hear your parents/friends/acquaintances whine in your general direction. To that we say: 1) Vegan Cheese, and 2) Go away. In all seriousness, vegan pizza lovers are truly blessed with what London has to offer – objectively. Aside from the fact that many pizza restaurants are happy to remove the cheese from otherwise perfectly delicious and ethical recipes, many chains are starting to realise that appealing to hungry vegans is, in fact, a smart business decision. Pizza Express (our nearest is next to Great Portland Street Station – an 11-minute walk away), now offers the ‘Pianta’, a mouth-watering vegan-by-default creation on their menu. They’re also happy to add vegan cheese if you bring some to the restaurant. Zizzi (also 11 minutes away on Charlotte Street) will save you the process of buying it yourself with their new vegan-friendly pizza – cheese and all.
Similarly, Icco, 10 minutes away on Goodge Street, offers an insanely affordable pizza packed with veggies and cow-free cheese for just £6.70. If you want to fit in with the crowd and order from more typical pizza joints, Papa Johns are, based on our research, the only mainstream chain that don’t use any animal products in their bases, so order away! Who says you can’t have pizza delivered with your non-vegan flatmates? Special mention goes to Franco Manca (Tottenham Court Road – a 5 minute walk), very easily veganisable and their sourdough base is the stuff of gods.
If you’re more into raw veganism or just want to give that aspect of things a try, then why not head to Rawligion on Tottenham Street (8-minute walk from UCL). They focus on creating raw food of all kinds for all occasions, smoothies, desserts, coffees (using a fancy ‘cold-drip’ process), juices, and plenty of other options for breakfast and lunch. On the pricier end of the spectrum but if you’re after a health kick, want to try something new or even if you’re raw already, then this is ideal.
- Le Pain Quotidien
Le Pain Quotidien on Tottenham Court Road is another great place for a relaxed atmosphere and very well-made, often organic food. With plenty of clearly-labelled vegan options ranging from creative salads to chilli ‘sin’ carne, this is a great example of a mainstream coffee/bakery that’s really welcoming to the vegan movement and is making meaningful steps in the right direction.
Indian food lovers rejoice! This authentic southern-Indian restaurant on Percy Street (11-minute walk from campus) has a fully vegetarian menu with an extensive range of vegan options. Samosas, Onion Bhaji, Sag Aloo, Aloo Gobi, Daal, the list goes on and on. I recommend you try the Uttapham, a dish local to Southern India that’s best described as a Lentil-based pizza type concoction, but that also might make you curse the fact you’d never heard of it before. Prices are middling to high, but given its quality and atmosphere we’d say it’s more than worth it once in a while!
- Hare Krishna
Staying with the Indian theme, this is a special one. It’s not a restaurant, not a shop, not even really a stall so to speak, but what it is is delicious – oh, and free. If you head to the square by Byng Place (directly next to the ULU building where Student Central is located) at lunch time you’ll come across two very kind men who operate a tiny food stand and offer (almost always to long queues) a delicious vegan curry and rice to the public completely free of charge. A true blessing for students for obvious reasons, the food is delicious regardless and there are few better ways to enjoy lunch than out in the sun, right by university and knowing it didn’t cost you a penny. The reason for this gesture has to do with the religion these men follow, with the point being to increase their positive karma by doing this selfless deed and offering food to everyone who wants it. A great tip, a great lunch and a wonderful idea if you ask us. However, you do need to ask if the additional offerings are vegan – the apple pie frequently is, but sometimes the bread has cheese on it, or the other pudding options contain non-vegan ingredients. Available every day except Sunday.
- Ginger Jules Kiosk
Undoubtedly the quietest and quaintest option in this guide, this tiny kiosk is just a 7-minute walk from campus and offers hot drinks, cakes, soups, and sandwiches. The kiosk is aimed towards students but the portion sizes can be small for the price, although being located in Gordon Square Garden, it offers the invaluable bonus of green scenery and outdoor seating right in the heart of campus.
As always, please get in touch if you find somewhere else good!
By Piers Grassmann, a third-year linguistics student at UCL and the current Transitions Mentor. If you’d like to write an article for us, just send us a message!