We catch up with Robyn Marsh, co-founder of Herbivorous, on this new Withington opening
When it comes to vegan "lamb" kebabs, artsy interiors, and bossing the plant-based food game, Herbivorous can be likened to the Michelangelo of the Withington Renaissance. Opening its first permanent venue in Withington, sparked by its mammoth success at Hatch, Herbivorous has got loads to rave about.
With a funky, festival-inspired interior and a vegan street food menu ranging from "chicken" to "cheesecake", Herbivorous is set to open its first bricks and mortar venue on Thursday 14 October.
Ahead of Withington’s introduction to saucy seitan, I decided to pull chef and co-founder Robyn Marsh aside for a Love Island-style chat next to the plant wall.
Aside from seeing Rashford’s face on the side of a greasy spoon and a man strolling past the Co-Op with a ferret, my trip to Herbivorous’ new full-time spot was the highlight of my Tuesday afternoon schlep to south Manchester. It wasn't just me drawn in by Withington’s wonders. Robyn tells me that the business’ popup success at Stretford Foodhall and the vibrant community feel of the area, meant that Withington was a no-brainer of a location.
Herbivorous has already been a long-term fixture at Hatch on Oxford Road. Giving massive props to the venue’s student visitors and diverse traders, Robyn explains that the spot was an ideal start-up for the chefs to develop the menu and nail the demographic, whilst also proving that Herbivorous is no “small fry” in the Manchester food game.
Moving on up
However, like a headstrong vegan graduate, Herbivorous is moving on from its parents’ gaff into its own place. The new pad’s houseplants and eclectic wall art fit the brief completely. Following on from a rebrand earlier this year (it’s not a phase mum), Robyn says, “Just to have a space that reflects the brand, doing even more dishes than we've ever done before because of having such a big space, and really getting a chance to showcase all the different things that we can offer is so exciting.”
Herbivorous isn't ready to give up its single bed at home just yet though. Referring to the space at Hatch, the chef explains, “It’s a fantastic little spot that we are going to continue to run as our city-centre location. We're also going into a bigger unit over there. It’s all going on.”
Indier than indie
Although plant-based proteins are definitely on the up, some would still liken fake chicken shwarma and mushroom patties to Bloc Party’s first album or a Pretty Green polo shirt. Robyn and the Herbivorous team are taking it one step further as their homemade meat alternatives and substitutes are all completely unique and original. It's indier than indie.
“You won't go to any other place and find the products that we're serving here because we almost exclusively make everything in house," says Robyn. (Alexa, play Inside Job by Pearl Jam.)
Priding themselves on giving the average Joe “vegan food envy”, the new move for Herbivorous also means a new menu. We’re talking rum punch and lemon bonbon cocktails, lambless lamb kebabs, and a range of desserts that include a sticky toffee pudding and a creamy cheesecake. Old-school classics like the Big Kahuna burger and a whole section devoted to loaded fries, buffalo wings and sweet 'n sour "chicken" are also likely to induce you into a vegan food coma.
Herbivorous will be launching Manchester’s second-ever vegan bottomless brunch (hot on the heels of Vertigo) with the promise of lots of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and vegan "smoked salmon" and tofu bagels every Saturday and Sunday.
Whilst boasting a new menu that’s more diverse than Affleck’s Palace, Herbivorous hasn't allowed moving out of town to distract it from its local loyalties.
Working together with the likes of Burton Road Brewery, Pomona Island and Red Bank Cider, the new drinks menu will feature some bangin' locally sourced beers and ciders, and a potential collab with neighbours The Ice Shack (the North’s first all-vegan dessert parlour) sounds like a duet that’ll give Nelly 'n Kelly a run for their money.
With the big C word also creeping up (Christmas not COVID, hopefully), Herbivorous is ready to whack in a nut roast and start prepping for festivities – plans for the festive season and lead-up to Veganuary to be announced very soon (we’ll let them get through the opening night first).
The green stuff
In terms of suppliers and the brand’s sustainable ethos, Robyn explains that Herbivorous works with small-boi local suppliers to grab the goods for its homemade meat alternatives.
However, like a blackout-drunk vegan tucking into a cheesy garlic bread at four am, Robyn admits Herbivorous isn’t perfect but is doing its best, “We’re always striving to think about what’s in our ingredients, I think we’re largely palm oil free and just always trying to be better”.
Robyn and her partner Damien always wanted to start a food business.
“We've always loved cooking," she tells me, "We've cooked together for the 13 years that we've been together. It was something where we thought that we could really bring something different to the table - and had a passion for”.
The staff at Herbivorous range from a long-standing "professional vegan" who has been plant-based her whole life and has "gone through lots of years eating beans and rice”, to a member who has just turned vegan in March, straight into a world of Linda McCartney and jackfruit.
Does Robyn have any celeb chef idols? "The main one that comes to mind is Alexis Gauthier", she says, “He was a classically trained French chef, but several years ago now he turned vegan himself, and has just been really part of the fantastic wave of veganism - we love his food."
Alexis Gauthier has now duly been added to my list of chefs to stalk on social media.
Finally, Robyn tells me that Herbivorous is going to be relaunching its popular seitan cooking masterclasses, so look out for details on those in the next few weeks if you want to soup up your vegan culinary repertoire.
Bookings for the new Withington restaurant can now be made on the Herbivorous website. The first few nights are already booked up so be quick.
Herbivorous 445 Wilmslow Rd, Withington, Manchester M20 4NW
You can also find Herbivorous on Instagram @HerbivorousFood
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