Vegans love this place, but choose your dishes wisely - Ruth Allan
If your social media looks anything like mine, you’ll be under the impression that Manchester is totally vegan. From Stockport’s upmarket Allotment restaurant to street food fairs, beer festivals and even supermarkets, vegan food is everywhere. Yet, in my experience, the food can be a bit hit and miss.
A case in point is Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen. Bright and cosy, this two-storey restaurant is a lovely place for a night out with friends, and conveniently located just up the road from the Red Lion pub. Food wise, it’s good in parts. But eating here is probably only going to get you really excited if you’re on a meat-free diet.
For vegans, however, Lotus’ ‘veggie meat and fish’ Cantonese-style menu is a lure. Love eel? Try the ‘Grill Veggie Sesame Eel’. Splash out on ‘Sticky Peking Ribs’, ‘Chilli Tomato Veggie Fish’ and pretty much anything else you can think of. Takeaway classics include ‘Salt and Pepper Chilli Veggie King Prawns’ and ‘Szechuan Crispy Veggie Beef’. Several dishes are even served with an authentically bland, MSG-style gloop.
Tackling the fake flesh first, I opt for the deliberately dry and crispy ‘lamb’ with a sweet soy dip (£10) and the ‘BBQ Roasted Veggie Duck’ with a plum sauce (£9.50). The smoky ‘duck’ meat has a stringy texture I quite like. It brings to mind lazy afternoons in Manchester’s most unlikely celeb haunt, Wings – plus pancakes and cucumber matchsticks offer wrap-making fun for all the family.
Sides are solid, too. Tapioca flour ‘prawn’ crackers (£2.50) are indistinguishable from the real thing. The light pancakes (£1.50) served with the BBQ duck a delight. Stir-fried ginger rice, replete with red, brown and white grains, is a treat too, at £2.90.
I have less affection for ‘Veggie ribs in Peking Sauce’ (£9.50). Sweeter than Ribena, coated in a reduced orange gloop, the ‘ribs’ look like square, fatty fingers. Bleurgh. Plus, when you bite them in half, there’s a hairy vibe going on, which reminds me of asbestos.
Moving away from the fake flesh, other choices include rice dishes, soup noodles, sizzling plates and much more. The menu is massive - but again, it’s a mixed bag.
Spicy caramel tofu (£5, pictured top), a flavour hybrid of popcorn, marshmallows and the deep, molasses hit of roasted beetroot, is a must. Conversely, the ‘Lotus House Special Curry ‘(£10) is a mess. Old fashioned curry powder mixed with gloop is splurged over slimy mushrooms and firm cauliflower florets. Textural contrast is the most this dish has going for it. Ginger broccoli (£9) with sesame could have been fresh and feisty. Instead this classic serves up more gloop and less flavour.
Despite the ups and downs, a key factor in a meal out is fun, and everyone enjoys themselves. I take a teen, a man and two four-year-olds and the meal holds the table’s attention. My favourite Middle Eastern restaurant, Aladdin, winks at me now and then from across the road, but that’s fine too.
The twins devour crisp chips and apple slices for pudding, and although we don’t actually try them, there are vegan ice creams and fritters (£3 each) for dessert.
I’d say that Lotus is a winner if you are a vegan (the vegans I know love it) and a fun and relaxed night out if you are not. It’s not cheap, but the vibes are good. Just steer clear of the gloopy curries and the ribs. Oh, and did I mention it’s BYO?
Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen, 536 Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 4BY. Tel: 0161 445 7457
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.
(Lamb 7, duck 8, caramel tofu 9, veggie ribs 2, ginger broccoli 4, curry 4, ginger rice 7)
Good vibes and BYO