Threatened with a good time, and with one glowing review already to their name, I tread once again to Portobello Market to make vegan history. A two minute walk away from Ladbroke Grove station, Plant Based Events Co. set up shop in an famous venue, we’re outside in the elements and open air. And given the promotional video Plant Based Events advertise this event with, you anticipate this to be a bit funkier, street. . . down with the kids. (He said with a gestation of the hands. . .)
Ever the enthusiast, and like an encore of last time, I’m over an hour early. So I bask in the wonderfully cool summery night, the sun shining without insidious heat. The mood is jolly for tonight’s vendors, setting up their vegan swag under a white dome. I sit (amongst the obligatory weed smokers and snogging couples) in the adjacent public garden, soaking up happy rays of a happy night, with not a hint of hay fever to hinder us. No need for trepidation this time, for all the grief that the weather threw at PBEC last time I visited, fortune has smiled upon them this night.
Welcoming us back to the fold, I notice organiser and founder of Plant Based Events Company, JP, directing stalls, levelling out directions and shaking beams that hold up the tent, checking for weakness. The preliminaries ticked and crossed off, and I meet this evening’s cohort, who begins this venture with the captive motto:
“Let’s Start with Pudding!”
Like the beginning of a good concert, there’s energy bristling, conversations that never seem to begin or end but flow. It’s got the feel of a nice communal space, bang on 6pm the people already fill the venue. The DJ sets up with a mix of raga reggae, solid textures and funky beats to get crowds moving.
“. . .I begin to get the impression the whole thing is a great communal environment. . .”
So, taking my cohort’s words to heart, we begin our culinary journey tonight with German vegan bakery Fine Schmecker, whose stall give off that lovely bakery smell, and are simultaneously impressed and baffled at my atrocious German (“Ich wurde gern eine Kasekuchen und eine Apfel Kuchen, bitte!“) – I get die Kasekuchen (£3.00)– cheesecake – and der Apfelkuchen (£2.00) – apple pie. Each are frothy and light, sweet and soft in the mouth. The apple pie’s fruit filling giving that slight citrus a nice edge to cut through the sweet dough. Their Bratwurst roll (£2.50), I guarantee, would fool you into thinking you were eating pork. Happily, you don’t need a lie to make you enjoy this soy based filling, spiced and seeded and tomato sauce-d, its a great little pastry snack for a lunch or a light dinner.
A lot of the crowd spill over into the public garden, which gives me the impression of a street party waiting to happen. The DJ also helps this appearance, thick rhythmic textures to help you sway through the gathering crowds. Amidst them we stand, the scent of cooking now really in the air; the fresh off the grills and bubbling away’s. My cohort, enthused, and now on fire with the zingers, comes out with:
“You had me at double carbs. . .”
Bar dei Baci sell food wrapped in delicious batter, the Frizza, a sort of fancy pizza pocket. They’re hand held and it’s street food and google translates them into the delightfully innocent “kiss bar.” Of the three meals on offer, we purchase the Wal’ognese Frizza, (£8.50) : aubergine, spinach, with rich tomato sauce, fresh basil and home made cheese rolled into batter, which was freshly prepped and deep fried with a less than five minute wait to cooked perfection. For seconds, we have A Little TMC, (£9.50); truffled cheese and traditional macaroni.
This batter is divine. Let me repeat that, this batter is bloody divine. It’s milky coffee brown and thin and crispy, with plenty of that satisfying fzzcchh crunch when you bit into it. Inside, I get the salted and soft-blended roast of delicious vegetables. And, well hate to pick favourites but the mac and cheese bursts with carb goodness, with all kinds of filthy goo and ooze going on. The cheese sauce is creamy and coats the pasta well, one of the chefs proudly explains he makes the homemade pro-biotic cheese himself.
It’s 7.15 now, queues are beginning to form, the crowd is much bigger and the DJ switches up with the occasional hip hop track as a back-beat. The crowds are getting bigger, and jollier. The tables fill up, people are standing around and doing the balancing-plate-in-hand-while-eating-act.
Situated in the far corner of the square is En Root‘s bright yellow van. Thankfully, under the circumstances En Root sell lighter meals – avocado and dahl crumpets (£3), with coriander and hot sauce, with avocado giving coolness to a hot paste of spices and lentils, with a crisp crumpet base to round off the rich texture.
It was also impossible not to notice next to them, Nature’s Natural Vegan Eats, who survived the first “to the Clodhoppers. . . ” review after a Sunday morning of getting battered by harsh breezes, having more luck this time with good weather and serving a queue of people.
My cohort has a Bento Buddha (£3), Korean style Inari sushi; it’s simple filling food, like a nice side dish, crispy batter with rice and a little of what I take of soy sauce inside for flavour. Washed down with a chai tea from En Root.
“We chomp down on brownies. . . richer than Bill Gates. . . “
To round off the evening, we have two helpings of more pudding. Osu Coconuts make pancakes based desserts with coconut milk, freshly fried to browned perfection on the hot plate before your very eyes. I choose Banana Choc (£6); caramelised banana, peanut butter and raw chocolate sauce. It’s overwhelmingly sweet in the best possible way, warming in the mouth, like the sort of treat you give yourself during the colder months, peanut butter sandwiched between the pancake slices giving it that much needed dryness in a moist pudding.
This market has the happy addition of tabling and seating, making the affair of getting through six different meals easier. While sitting I begin to get the impression the whole thing is a great communal environment; everyone’s chatting and smiling and kicking their feet to the beat of the Motown and R&B. There’s kids playing and Mums with prams amongst the just-got-of-work-Johns, a football gets kicked about, someone reads a book quietly in the corner and groups go in between vendors deciding what to have for dinner. To top it off, one bloke (can of Stella in hand, naturally) takes it upon himself to start a dance off by himself. You know what they say; dance like nobody is watching.
Not content with just selling food, this night market also has Nou Moon, selling exotic and nature inspired jewellery, where my cohort snaps up a pair of silvered serpent earrings. There’s also a CBD oil stand, (“sign of progressing times?” I jot down in my notebook) which I avoid, this being a week night.
“help help, my buttons are screaming!”
By this point my belly is beginning to ache as I fall into a carb coma. My stomach has called and cleared the schedule for the next ten days. My brain is screaming to stop but my investigative journalist integrity must not be called into question and I continue to sample the many edible delights.
Finally, and counter intuitive to my waistline, we chomp down on Mourish Gems brownies (“I wonder if they’ll double up with the CBD oil”); salted honeycomb and the cinnamon, orange, and chilli. (£3.50 each) Both of them richer than Bill Gates. My orange, cinnamon and chilli bun was fiery thick, good sweet consistency throughout.
We leave several hours later, exhausted and filled to the brim with carbs and delicious fillings (and my journalistic integrity unbesmirched) and I hope to come again. Too many sweet and savouries to enjoy in one sitting. All in all, a lovely summer evening. A night out with a little something for everyone, and you get the feeling Plant Based Event Co are aiming high with the communal feel. Everyone we spoke was friendly, and knowledgeable and passionate about what they were selling. The whole thing is a colourful affair and it’s easy to get excited about new food and new horizons. Tickets are free and everyone from London has gone to Portobello Market at least once. This could be your next best excuse. . .
Special thanks to my cohort for accompanying me and practically writing my sub-headlines for me.
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How many dinners can you have in one sitting? Think much of kissing bars and Fine Schmeckers? Been to Portobello Market before? Agree? Disagree? Let us know!
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