Many people are beginning to become aware that the squeaky-clean wellness bloggers of the vegan world – like the raw vegan who was caught eating fish – portray a less-than-realistic view of how one should eat.
Now, there is definitely a place in society for big rainbow plates of raw veggies – and there should certainly be an even bigger place in our diets for them – but that doesn’t mean that every vegan hopes to find such salad-laden platters whenever they are presented with the opportunity to eat out at a plant-based establishment.
And that’s not to say, either, that vegan fast food isn’t becoming more and more readily available – new plant-based burger bars and street food vendors are popping up all the time. But since Happy Friday Kitchen is Oxford’s first (and currently only) fully vegan restaurant, I am more than happy to find that they are proudly offering straight up, no-nonsense comfort food, as opposed to overpriced pots of chia seeds floating dismally in a thimble-full of almond milk.
Yes – Oxford’s “casual dining” eatery is the perfect remedy for the post-wellness generation. Offering up fully loaded burgers, sloppy chilli dogs, and cheesecake flavours changing every month, Happy Friday Kitchen is right up my very greedy, plant-guzzling alley. Here’s my review!
The first time I visited HFK, I knew immediately I’d be back. Furnished simply with sturdy tables and chairs, bearing a huge avocado in the window, and with plant pots hanging down from the ceiling, it’s the sort of place you can settle into comfortably – just knowing instinctively that you won’t be judged when you spill mac-and-cheese down your top, most of your face and, somehow, your purse.
The menu excited me further – it’s the sort of place with enough options to warrant repeat visits, and to make bringing a party with varying tastes a safe bet, but not so many that you feel completely overwhelmed, and quite unsure as to how much of it could possibly be fresh. There are pizzas, hot dogs, burgers, starters, desserts, drinks, a short specials menu, a kids menu and even one or two salads – but each of these lists are a reasonable three or four items long.
Despite the wealth of options, my partner and I both opted for the burger on our first visit. I had the Mac Daddy burger, and he had the California burger. Both were seitan-based patties – mine coming with mac-n-cheese and special sauce; his with a whole host of toppings including aubergine bacon and dairy-free cheese. Chips were included in the meal, and we opted to upgrade one of our portions to loaded fries, which came topped with pulled jack fruit, queso-style cheese sauce, jalapenos and red onions.
I wouldn’t personally bother to order the loaded fries again – jack fruit is a bit hit or miss for me, and I found the big hunks of raw onion a bit off-putting – but everything else was delicious enough that we audibly moaned our way through dinner.
It really would be practically impossible to leave this place hungry – so there is no picture of dessert, given to the fact that it was consumed in a highly undignified manner in bed several hours later. But the deep fried “notella”-covered cookie dough balls we couldn’t resist getting to-go were wildly delicious, too.
If one was to somehow find themselves still peckish after their meal, they could stock up on a few sweeties from the pick-n-mix in the back – a stand which, although I did not end up buying anything from, gets extra points nonetheless, for the simple fact that I have wanted to find a vegan pick-n-mix place for as long as I can remember.
Onto a slightly less sweet topic: the HFK toilets are, somehow, delightful. They are clean – which is not sexy to write about, but which is certainly important – and they have big black chalkboard walls, on which customers are encouraged to scrawl a review or a happy thought, leaving them looking like a rather more pastel-coloured, positively-affirming version of a pub bog.
Returning inevitably for a second visit, I opted to try the “Meat Loathers” pizza – a deep-dish affair topped with a host of faux-meat and dairy free cheese, the name of which amused me so much that I had spent the entirety of my first visit pointing at its place on the menu and grinning maniacally.
I shared the pizza, plus a side of the cauli-wings and bleu dip, and I still managed to hit the metaphorical wall towards the end of my meal. Seriously – arrive to this place hungry!
Whilst I left with a very full stomach, I didn’t leave with an empty purse. HFK is definitely not student-eating cheap, but the most expensive items on the menu come in at £13, and there are various deals on from Tuesday-Friday, plus the option to a get a burger for five quid on all weekday lunchtimes.
Finally, it’s an order-at-the-bar sort of place, so there is minimal interaction involved with waiters, but the staff there were friendly and open people.
By far the stand-out member of staff, however – and naturally the thing I have chosen to save for last – is Buddha the dog, who hangs about the place wagging his tail and hoping just casually for a little crust of pizza, or a chip or two, and being an all-round good boy.
I mean – look at him! Why aren’t you currently planning your next visit to chow down on a fully loaded burger, grab a slice of vegan cheesecake, draw big smiley faces above the loo, and most importantly… pet Buddha?! I know I’m ready to dine there again.