Kate Ryrie prefers the food over the vegan puns at this plant-based place
As far as making a vegan lifestyle easy goes, Leeds has been doing pretty well. Falling in line with the pace of most UK cities, options have expanded massively over the past few years – and the craze of vegan ‘junk food’ is all part of the fun.
The venue has the attitude of a late night bar and the ambience of an art collective
Personally, I’ve never been convinced by vegan junk food. All too often, it overcompensates for the lack of meat by leaving a greasy film on the roof of your mouth and a stodgy lump in your stomach. And that’s before we’ve even started talking about the terrible puns. For these reasons, I was cautious about my first trip to Cantina, the vegan food offering from Vicar Lane’s Old Red Bus Station.
The venue has the attitude of a late night bar and the ambience of an art collective. It’s chilly, apart from one outdoor heater scorching one of the long bench tables to the side of the bar. Other tables are low, and unobtrusive, and there’s a cordoned off area into which bar staff come and go frequently. Mysterious.
We arrive around 7pm on a Friday. It’s quiet, and the barman is wearing a ski jacket. We’ve just missed the everyday 5-7pm happy hour (two for one cocktails from a decent selection), but there’s a good list of wines and a range of lagers and ales on tap as well as in the fridges, so it’s all gravy.
The food menu has its puns, but they’re few and far between, and self-aware enough for me to let them fly. And the selection is good – something for those on the burger hype, something for the snackers, and something if you’re in need of some vitamin C.
We order ‘Over the Grainbow’ (£6.50) – a grain bowl of quinoa, tomato, cucumber, and slaw, all topped with squidgy maple tofu. It could do with a bit more of the sesame and balsamic glaze, but that aside, it’s fresh and wholesome.
To chaperone the salad, it seems only right to go for something a bit more ‘get your hands dirty’. BBQ Jackfruit Wings (£4.50) are the answer to that softly-worded prayer, arriving smothered in sticky BBQ and soy sauce, with tender jackfruit pieces under layers of deep-fried but not-too-greasy goodness.
The other side of the menu offers up a list of ‘Big Bites’, with several seitan and tofu-based options recreating classic meat dishes – think fish finger butties, cheese burgers and beef chilli stacks, all served with salty fries and a pile of fresh salad and slaw. We order the Seitan Sizzler (£8.50), and it’s damn impressive. Big on flavour and texture, it’s filling, moist and spicy – a thick seitan patty a giant onion ring, habanero dressing and iceberg lettuce encased in a soft bun.
The accompanying fries are hot and crispy, and the menu gives you the chance to take them one step further, with a selection of loaded fries, topped with everything from mushroom chilli to katsu gravy – all for a fiver or less.
Other gems on offer include a range of ‘milk’ shakes at £3.50, plus a changing selection of cakes if you’re still peckish. Students get 25% off the food menu on Wednesdays, two mains will set you back £12 Tuesday to Thursday, and you can get a main dish with a house pint for a tenner every single day.
The atmosphere might be slightly lacking – the music goes on and off throughout the evening and the staff seem a little distracted – but for top notch vegan grub in a chilled out, low price setting, Cantina at The Old Red Bus Station’s got you covered. Well worth a chomp.
Cantina, The Old Red Bus Station, 104 Vicar Ln, Leeds LS2 7NL
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Seitan Sizzler 8, Over the Grainbow 6, BBQ Jackfruit Wings 7
Long waits at the bar, but friendly when you get there
On the chilly side, and they need to get the playlist sorted