Sunday, 18 October 2015

Dining and w(h)ining in (vegetarian) Helsinki: Just Vege

In case it's vegetarian restaurants you're after in Helsinki, Hakaniemi and Kallio seem to be The Neighbourhoods to head out to. The street that houses Soi Soi is also home to petite Just Vege for which I received several recommendations as I was looking for the next vegetarian restaurant to try after Silvoplee

For a resident of a decidedly bourgeois neighbourhood of Töölö, Vaasankatu street is Kallio at its roughest (or most authentic?)




Restaurant owner's Zeev's wife's reaction after hearing about her husband's desire to open a vegetarian restaurant in Kallio was that of dismay - "you're crazy" being the exact words. Two years in she still thinks that, but is willing to admit he is onto something. Just Vege has never done any advertizing - its popularity is all down to word of mouth.

The growing number of vegetarians has kept the restaurant busy, but more and me meat-eaters venture through its doors, too. The opening hours are very user-friendly: they're open 7 days a week, during weekdays until 10 and during weekends up to 2am. 

There are plans to expand to the city centre (yes pleaaaaase!) and even to Estonia. 





The menu consists of stuffed pitas, burgers and salads and offers a culinary journey to the Mediterranean countries and Middle East - my favourite places in the world (matbuha! s'chug! kibbeh!). And all his without hours on the plane, hassle of trying to get understood in a language you don't speak or pending intifada. 

Pricing is very reasonable: apart from one dish everything on the menu is €10 or less. I, ever grammatically fanatical, must say the menu would have benefited from some proof-reading...




Originally from Israel, Zeev has extensive experience in the restaurant business and tells me he was the first person to bring shawarma to Helsinki.

His passion for food and his pride over the restaurant is evident in everything he does: from the way he looks after his customers and the quality of food on offer. 

Tastes are spot on, but the health benefits are every bit as important a part of his food philosophy. Next week they'll launch a range of mood and energy level- boosting super food salads. 

Majority of drinks are organic, too.





According to his own words, Zeev was never big on meat. His daughter decided to become a vegetarian already at the tender age of three and was eventually joined by her Dad. He praises the lightness of the diet though missus still eats meat.

Soy-based meat substitutes are being used to make their burgers as Zeev loves their high protein content and meaty texture. That translates to burgers with such amazing consistency even some of the customers have refused to believe they're not made out of meat.





We started our lunch with meze platter (€10), which my companion, the Spaniard behind El Mercado loved every bit as much as I did. Hardly surprising, considering meze is the oriental equivalent of tapas feast.

Great, fresh and authentic flavours - by far my favourite. The place clearly pays attention to details and quality of the ingredients - pita for instance is imported from Israel. 

According to their website, Just Vege's falafels are the best in town and that could very well be true. You can tell they're made to order: both flavour and the texture (crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside) are first class. 




Next up was the apple of Zeev's eye and something he wishes more people would discover: seitan kebab (€12). By the way: did you know seitan's been made in China since 6th century?

(Can I just say I can't get over that name. Imagine this: "more tea, vicar? How about some seitan?")

The seitan at Just Vege is the result of lengthy product development with the goal of being as close to shawarma as possible. The texture is bizarrely meat-like - my companion couldn't believe he was eating vegetarian food. Taste-wise only comes second to B-Smokery's version. 





And as we just had to try the burgers, too, we opted for the only one with no cheese in it: Hot and Spicy (€8.50, as a meal €10). Matbuha (spicy, tomato-based pepper and chilli paste) and s'chug (coriander, garlic and jalapeño dressing, originally from Yemen) gave it a wonderful kick. The texture of the patty was very good indeed- you'd easily mistake it for meat.

I also loved the accompanying clear coleslaw for which fresh dill gave a surprising and fresh twist.

There are no desserts on the menu just yet, but that just might be about to change. Zeev's working on a vegan cake featuring some interesting ingredients (chickpeas!).






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ANYONE FOR SECONDS?



      


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