If the title sounds a bit dramatic then hear me out, as I have a tragic tale for you all. This is the saddening true story of Campbell’s Canal Cafe. Campbell’s was a vegan eatery situated in Camden. It replaced InSpiral, a vegan cafe and local institution. People were a bit put off by InSpiral as it all looked a bit hippy-dippy and hemptastic. The change to Campbell’s changed that. Campbell’s had a hearty menu with clear brunch, lunch and dinner options. The interior featured insta-friendly wooden benches and giant pot plants, whilst the entire back of the space was fitted with windows overlooking Camden Lock. The food was freshly prepared, cheap, and yummy. In short, it was bloody great.
Was. I heard yesterday that it had closed and been replaced by a non-vegan restaurant, some sort of meat-heavy buffet thing. About 90% of Camden Market is a meat-heavy buffet thing. Less than 10% of London is a warm, friendly, yummy vegan cafe. Why did Campbells close down?
In a weird way, I feel vaguely responsible. I went to Campbell’s at least twice a month – it was my no 1 brunch spot to meet friends – and it was conveniently located about 15 minutes away from my house. Yes, I took a lot of people there. But I am a vegan London blogger. I could have been sending people there. Why was I not shouting from the rooftops about it?
I have a weird block around food and restaurant posts; I understand that they are vital sources of information and yet I almost never write about eating out. Part of me fears my pictures are too terrible. Another part of me imagines my fairly substantial international audience won’t give a stuff about a new cafe in London. But that’s all changing now. There’s a new menu at TapeParade.
I don’t want places like Campbell’s to close. What other small vegan gems are there in London that are popping up, only to close months later due to small footfall? Yeah, it’s great that vegans can go to Zizzis and Spoons now, but let’s be honest, wouldn’t you rather be somewhere else? Vegan-friendly is great, but what I’m about is vegan-PROUD. Vegan-ONLY. Omnis, veggies, lactose free- everyone can eat at a vegan restaurant. I’m talking places that don’t have a seperate menu, because everything in there is vegan already. Places that make you feel wanted and not just welcome. Restaurants with a full menu of choice, not just a few options off the main menu with some substitute ingredients (vegan cheese pizza anyone?). Because honestly; carnivores have just as much choice at a 100% vegan place as they do anywhere else. The difference is I don’t have to feign excitement over a hummus wrap.
I don’t want a London overrun with crap chain restaurants, I want thriving independent local businesses. A part of me dies everytime I eat at Pizza Express or Zizzi’s; it’s not because their vegan options aren’t great but because seriously, is that the best London can do? You get a tiny menu of cast-off dishes and one potential dessert? I’m fed up of being grateful for beanburgers and sorbet. Fed up of waiters having to find p.43 of the “allergens menu” before they tell me the two options available for me. I want to go where I am celebrated and not just catered for, to places where I truly want to try at least half the menu instead of opting for what looks the least shit. The restaurants that seat vegans at the head of the table instead of trying to cram us in on the side with a flavourless curry and some raw salad.
So, that’s it. I’m going to start sending you places, rounding up where I’ve eaten and where you should go to. It’s going to be review central. The high street options are good, yes, and I can imagine they are a lifeline for vegans in rural areas. I don’t want to dismiss that or the progress we have made in getting vegans into the mainstream. BUT. London is the capital of the U.K. and we deserve restaurants where we are the main focus and not an afterthought. I’m such a big fan of supporting local businesses, of giving my money to independents and small businesses. To say “hey, thanks for making your whole restaurant available to me despite the risk of alienating narrow-minded meat-eaters. I appreciate and applaud your decisions and will trek to you even though you’re in Zone 3”. I want to hype those places up properly instead of the occasional Twitter mention. Won’t you join me? Let’s stop eating off the vegan menus, and eat in the vegan restaurants. Here’s to the menus without prefaces, and to the places where everyone can eat: vegan, carni, whatever. To the full dessert menus and the options for side orders with sauces. Here’s to Campbell’s.