Vegetables’ turn from supporting player to center-of-the-plate star is one of the most salient menu trends of the past several years, across foodservice industry segments. In fine-dining restaurants and supermarkets alike, vegetarian choices have risen in prominence as consumers have turned on to the ideas of Meat Free Mondays and occasionally choosing meatless meals out of health, environmental or budgetary concerns.
The National Health Service reports that only around 2% of the U.K. population observes a completely vegetarian diet, but last summer the British Dietetic Association threw its support behind an alliance that supports a less meat-centered diet, and sales of meat alternatives have grown steadily in recent years (especially in the wake of last year’s horsemeat scandal).
Technomic MenuMonitor data bears out the trend of restaurants becoming more flexitarian-friendly. At U.K. restaurants, pubs and hotels, entrées in the “other vegetable dish” category—examples include The Florentine’s Roast Butternut Squash with pumpkin-seed and truffle-oil risotto and Crussh’s Superfoods Healthpot—saw their menu incidence rise more than 15% from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. (Eggplant-based and stuffed-vegetable dishes saw significant menu growth during that time, too.)
In the past, cheese-soaked choices and ho-hum garden salads may have accounted for the lion’s share of meatless options on menus, but restaurant operators have elevated the level of craftsmanship of vegetarian entrées—witness the Happy Cow falafel burger with tzatziki sauce at Henry J. Bean’s and the Thai Green Vegetable Curry at POD. And they’re creating dishes designed to satisfy different groups of meat-avoiding diners: those amenable to richer choices accented with dairy and eggs, and those seeking more health-focused options.
Here’s a sample of vegetarian selections introduced on menus in the fourth quarter of 2013:
- Vegetarian Sausage and Red Onion Ciabatta, Fat Cat Café Bars: Grilled vegetarian sausages with caramelised red-onion marmalade on toasted ciabatta
- Focaccia con Verdura, Zizzi: Freshly baked focaccia filled with goats cheese, roasted peppers and rocket and topped with slow-roasted tomatoes
- Roast Vine Tomato and Vintage Cheddar on Ciabatta, The Florentine: With pickled onion and apple slaw
- Houmous and Red Pepper Wrap, Walkabout: Thick and creamy houmous with a red-pepper, lime and onion chutney, wrapped with mixed leaves in a soft flour tortilla
- Mature Cheddar, Celery, Apple Chutney and Watercress, Old English Inns: Available in multigrain bread, ciabatta, wraps or non-gluten bread
- Three Cheese and Baby Leek Burger, Handmade Burger Co.: With Bramley apple chutney, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and red onion
- Cauliflower Fritter Burger, Pitcher & Piano: Spiced cauliflower fritter with lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce in a brioche bun
- Cajun Vegetable Burger, Lintot Square (Horsham): Combination of mixed peppers, sweetcorn, kidney beans, black beens and mozzarella cheese, flavoured with Cajun spices on slices of tomato and crisp gem lettuce; served with a garlic mayonnaise dip
- Halloumi and Courgette Burger, The Black Horse (Bedfordshire): Served in a toasted English muffin with skinny fries, paprika-dusted haystack onions, tomato relish, dill pickles and English mustard mayonnaise
- Cauliflower and Chickpea Tagine, Blubeckers: With apricot-and-date Israeli couscous and crispy okra
- Phad Phak, Busaba Eathai: With French beans, broccoli, courgette, baby corn, cashews and pine nuts
- Beluga Lentils and Honey-Roasted Sweet Potato Salad, C&B Bars: Served with peppery rocket, edamame, pomegrante, lightly toasted walnuts and rosemary-mint dressing
- Woodstock Pie, Giraffe: Roasted vegetables and three-bean ragout topped with sweet-potato mash and a cheesy garlic crumb crust
- Thai Green Vegetable Curry, POD: Green curry sauce with Thai vegetables served over low-GI mixed rice with a fresh side salad and freshly chopped coriander; a gluten-free and vegan choice
- Mushroom Ramen, Wagamama: Noodles in a vegetable soup with Thai basil; topped with a variety of exotic mushrooms and garnished with asparagus, silken tofu and a sauce of chili, garlic, sesame and soy
Menuing a variety of hearty, flavourful vegetarian choices can help operators avoid a “veto vote” not only from dedicated vegetarians but also from consumers just looking to avoid meat on a particular dining occasion.