Friday, 27 September 2013

Ten reasons why vegans should visit Manchester's Northern Quarter

 

NQ=Vg.


I've been making the case why I think Manchester's Northern Quarter is one of the UK's best vegan destinations. I've finished my 20 Vegan Mofo posts and there's even more places with vegan offers that I've not managed to fit in! So, here's a shout out to places I've blogged about before - Earth Cafe, Oklahoma, Simple and Odd who are all well worth a visit too if you're in the area. To finish up Vegan Mofo 2013 here are my top ten reasons why the NQ is amazing for vegans.

10. Soya milk is everywhere
Loads of cafes in the Northern Quarter have soya milk so no matter where you are you can pop in for a brew. Or treat yourself to an incredibly good soya latte at places like Eastern Bloc or Icelandic coffee shop Taak.



9. Fab fast food
Even the dreaded fast food places are vegan friendly! Get a mexican treat at Barburrito or Panchos or visit the 100% vegan Go Falafel. And every knows chips are better up North.


8. Arts and crafts
It's not all about food you know! The Northern Quarter has a Vibrant arts scene. You'll find vegan musicians, artists and poets. There are great galleries and music venues. It's a haven for crafts, art and design. There are music and food festivals (including in 2012 the Northern Vegan festvial) and the craft centres, galleries and record shops have cafes that will welcome vegan culture vultures.


7. Cheap Curry Cafes
Indian food that is cheap and friendly to vegans. Say farewell to buttery ghee and creamy sauces and say hello to tasty spicy curries. These cafes are part of NQs charm and cheap as chips.

6. NQ is best but so is the rest
The Northern Quarter is just one tiny district in a bigger city. Step outside and Manchester can offer up legends like Mod's veggie/vegan cafe, high end veggie restaurants like 1847 and Greens, fabulous Middle Eastern food, Jewish deli's and Chinese supermarkets where you can buy 10 different kinds of tofu and stock up on vegan prawns! We even have a 100% vegan supermarket in the Unicorn Grocery.
 

5. Raise a glass
We've a long way to go with the labelling of vegan booze. Most places aren't doing it yet but in the NQ you'll find some who are leading the way. Try a vegan wine at Bakerie, use Barnivore to search out vegan beer from around the world at Beermoth and Port Street Beerhouse or try a locally brewed vegan beer from Marble Brewery at 57 Thomas Street.

4. It's radical and revolutionary Manchester!
The NQ is in a world heritage site within the city that brought you socialism, co-operatives and feminism. Manchester was the birthplace of the industrial revolution and led the way for votes, democracy and political change. Visit the People's History Museum or the Working Class Movement Library. Manchester was also critical in the development of modern computing and the world wide web, so Vegan Mofo wouldn't be happening without it!


3. Great places to eat with your non-vegan friends
Do your meaty mates refuse to eat vegan? Fear not because the NQ is full of brilliant mainstream restaurants that also quietly cater for vegans. Step forward Dough, Bakerie, Pie and Ale, Kosmonaut and Ning.


2. NQ = Cake Central
Sod the diet because Manchester's NQ is full of sweet treats. There's cheesecakes from Earth, baked goods from Fig and Sparrow, chocolate cake at the Craft Centre, hot chocolate at Bonbon or the beautiful creations of Lily and Dilly. And if you bake your own then you join the Cake Liberation Front!

1. V Revolution!
If you only need one reason to visit the Northern Quarter then make it this cafe and vegan lifestyle store. Sit back in the fifites style diner and indulge your fast food fantasies with a towering burger, juicy hot dog or a coke float. Join the V Revolution. It's all vegan and it's all gorgeous.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

V Revolution


If you've been following my Mofo posts where I've been blogging about vegan eats in Manchester's Northern Quarter you'll have noticed one name that keeps cropping up again and again. All of the people I interviewed picked out this place and it's dear to my heart so I wanted to save it for my final Mofo post. V Revolution initially opened as a record shop selling some vegan groceries. As time has gone on the shop has evolved and become a cafe too. It can be found right at the end of Oldham Street. Alongside the vinyl, zines and t-shirts you can pick up all manner of vegan cheeses, faux meats, snack bars, icecream, chocolate, marshmallows etc. And the burgers, oh my, the burgers......How about a mini mac?


Or a jack fruit based pulled pork sandwich with home made coleslaw.


Or a Schnitzel Royale with extra bacon.


This one is the Towering Inferno.


There's even a loyalty card for their specials.


In their unwavering dedication to produce the finest vegan junk food there's also lovely made on the premises pre-packed sandwiches in flavours like Chicken and Sweetcorn and Jerk Beef and Pickle - take that Boots Meal Deal! And of course let's not forget cake supplied by Lily and Dilly.


As well as sandwich cakes like this Ginger and Chocolate one there's often things like bakewell slices and brownies. On a special occasion like Manchester Pride you may even come across something like this!


The guys at V Revolution do a fantastic job of running this place and keeping us all well fed. They are also really supportive of local community and DIY stuff. There's a huge community noticeboard and leaflet table and regular gigs and art exhibitions in the shop. They also allow the space to be used free of charge for initiatives such as Manchester Vegan Pot Luck and Cake Liberation Front meet ups. We're really lucky to have somewhere like this in Manchester and it's a recommended must stop for any visitor to the city.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bonbon Chocolate Boutique


I'm going to let you into a secret. The BEST hot chocolate in the world isn't in Paris or Oaxaca or Barcelona though I've had pretty good ones in all those places. It's to be found in a tiny shop on John Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter and the best news of all is that it's naturally vegan. Bonbon Chocolate Boutique is a magical place and has to be seen to be experienced. It originally opened as a pop up shop last Christmas and luckily for us Mancunians it's stayed around.


The shop both smells amazing and is also beautiful to look at. There's a big cauldron of hot chocolate which is made from Valrhona Chocolate, cocoa, spring water and a little muscovado sugar. It is completely dairy free and you can get flavourings such as orange or chilli added to it most of which are vegan too. They also serve icecream, cakes and chocolates that are made on the premises. I can highly recommend the raspberry beer ones!


Bonbon also sells that finest of vegan treats - Booja Booja. They will even allow you select a range of flavours which they will then hand wrap and box up for you. It's an amazing shop and a must visit for chocolate lovers! Just remember to check opening times you go as they're not open every day.

All pictures from Bonbon Facebook page.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Mofo Interview : Nathan from ONSIND



When I was at Glastonbury festival this year, I met two lovely vegans from the North East called Nathan and Daniel. They were playing on the Leftfield stage with their band ONSIND and Nathan was sporting a "I love Vegan Junk Food" sticker on his guitar. With the band due to play in Manchester's Northern Quarter in a few weeks time, I caught up with Nathan for a special Vegan Mofo interview.

Tell us a little about the history of ONSIND and the sort of things you guys write about?

Onsind is a punk duo from Pity Me, Durham! We've been really good friends most of our lives, and have been in this band together for about seven years. In that time we've toured all over the UK, Germany and USA, and have released three albums, as well as several EPs and other releases. We write about all kinds of things, but I think everything we do is imbued with politics, in the sense that we are a DIY, vegan band and so even when we're singing about personal stuff like depression, it still fits into a wider context of alienation. Some topics of songs are heartbreak, sexuality, representation of gender in films, borders, nationalism, mental health, and  animal rights.

You're playing Manchester at the vegan-friendly Bakerie Tasting Store, as part of A Carefully Planned Festival in October . Do you have any shops or hang outs that you're planning to check out?

We love the Northern Quarter for a variety of reasons, but V REVOLUTION is one of the biggest! It combines our love for punk and hardcore music, with our insatiable hunger for vegan junk food. The Earth Cafe is amazing too, lovely cake and friendly people! There's also a little indian buffet place that's great and cheap with lots of veggie options! We've never been to Bakerie before, but we're excited to go!



How do you manage eating vegan when you're travelling around gigging. Do you take stuff with you or research places before you go?

It can be tough, especially when you're doing long motorway drives, and you're having to stop at big corporate service stations, which are overpriced and have very little variety. Providing you plan well enough, it's avoidable though. Tour is a great excuse to visit various veggie spots around the country so it balances out. We try to keep our ear the ground and check out new spots!

What three vegan food items would you hate to live without?

1. Chimichangas from Tias in Durham!
2. Yum Yums (from Coopland's bakery in Durham!)
3. Nutritional Yeast!

As well as the festival in Manchester where else can people catch you playing in 2013?

We're playing a show at an art space in Durham on 28th September (the venue is called Empty Shop). And we're playing the North East Vegan Festival at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland on November 16th. We're also planning a little weekend tour in December with We Came Out Like Tigers from Liverpool.

Photos by Joseph Towns

More info about ONSIND
http://facebook.com/onsind
http://onsind.bandcamp.com/
http://twitter.com/onsind 
Email : nathanisacynic@gmail.com

Monday, 23 September 2013

Ning


Ning is a Malaysian restaurant and cookery school that has been in the Northern Quarter since 2006. They must be doing something right as they've recently opened branches in York and London. and in 2012 they won Best Malaysian Restaurant at the Asian Curry Awards.

Ning is right next door to V Revolution and has the vegan 'V' symbol proudly displayed as part of it's branding. But how does that translate to the food? Well the menu is very clearly marked as vegan. It also makes it clear what is gluten free and what is nut free. It's a brilliantly clear system which offers quite a good choice for vegans.

Nyonya Lime Curry with Thai fragrant jasmine rice

I will say straight off that Ning isn't budget eating. Obviously the vegan dishes are cheaper than the fish and meat offerings but even so it's in the region of £5-6 for a starter and £10-14 for a main course once you add in rice or noodles. However there is a special deal on the menu where you get two courses for £14.95.

It's really good value and I'm pleased to say the offer includes several of the vegan choices. For example the starter choices included Gado Gado Salad and Masalodeh. The mains offered up either Spinach, mushroom and tofu or a vegan Nyonya lime curry. You can have these with either Thai fragrant jasmine rice or plain rice noodles.

I've despatched Matt, my roving reporter, to this one. Here's what he had to say.

Matt Hill writes : It's quite a shock in this economic depression, to walk into a restuarant in a northern city at 7pm on a wet Tuesday evening, and find it packed to the gills. It was a good job I'd been warned and booked a table, but I took it as a good sign of the food to come.


Masalodeh

I went with the special £14.95 offer and for my starter I had Masalodeh which are crunchy lentil fritters with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. They were delicious and I especially loved the fresh curry leaves within the mixture. For the main I had Nyonya Lime Curry which was delicious - big chunks of tofu in a spicy, citric and nutty sauce. The fragrant rice was really nice and I dumped the lot into the sauce. This is really high quality food - packed with flavours and exceptionally well executed.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Mofo Interview : Poet Dominic Berry


Dominic Berry is a poet who has just completed a run at the Edinburgh Festival with his show "The Dragon who hated poetry". He's also well known as a vegan poet, not just a poet who happens to be a vegan but someone who writes poetry about issues connected to veganism. Dominic lives and works in Manchester's Northern Quarter so he was a perfect choice for this years Mofo theme!

How long have you been vegan and what brought you to make that decision?

I was a real jonny-come-lately to being vegan. In 2008 I 'came out' proud as vegan to the world (that was a not-so-subtle self reference to my 'hit' poem, 'I'm Coming Out as Vegan'. Us poets gotta plug our 'hits' whenever we can. I say 'hit' with inverted commas cos I'm not sure poets really have 'hits', but if they do, that is mine. If I was Lulu then that would be my 'To Sir With Love'. Or my 'Independence', depending on your age and depth of understanding of the works of Lulu, in which some vegans is, it must be said, sadly lacking. I mean, we're all fine for B12 but ask us about nineteen sixties girl singers? How many vegans can hum the tune to 'I'm a Tiger'? Or quote all the words to 'Boat That I Row?')


I meet many older vegans who became so when it was way more difficult to get stuff. It is dead easy now. That's up there with the number one reactions I get when outed as vegan - 'oooooh, it must be hard....' The other thing folk say is 'Vegan? Really? You look well for it' ...which I think means they think I'm fat. Hmmmm... Vegan cake? Vegan pizza??!! VEGAN MAYONNAISE??!!?? Lotsa folk reckon its all dust and cardboard and I can honestly say I have never eaten dust or cardboard once in my whole vegan life. I mean, dust and cardboard might taste great and all but swedish glace looks nicer.

I went veggie when I was at school after moving from London to the Welsh countryside. City kids don't often see where their food comes from or, more to the point, how it is treated. It has always been the 'how it's treated bit' that got me.

I get really angry by stuff like 'happy eggs' - 'happy' isn't really a legally definable term, is it? The conditions of so-called free range chickens can be horrific.  I love being vegan - the food is great, you meet cool people and there's ever increasing amounts of awesome vegan events. Even vegan poets! Did I mention I am a poet?

Yes I think you might've mentioned it! So as a professional poet you travel a fair bit. How do you cope with eating vegan whilst you're travelling?

I have always loved eating out so if Happy Cow can recommend a place online I am in. I often stay over folks houses on the road and the number of hearty home cooked meals I get cooked is humbling. Most hotels will get you in soya if you ask nice. Anyone who can get me a strong, milky coffee will get me at my best.


Do you have any favourite places for vegan food on your travels or have there been any places that you've travelled to where it's been difficult?

Vita Organic (I think its still called that, mighta changed its name) in Soho In London is excellent. One of the healthier places I love. Its right near Beetroot which is also top notch. All those smoothies full of weirdly named berries and seeds and stuff that doesn't make it that smooth at all.

But V Revolution in Manchester - right on my door step - that is my all time favourite place. 100% vegan - burgers as big as a mountain - vanilla fudge ice cream float milkshakes - sooooooooo good! The breakfast burger - a burger with hash browns, sausage and bacon in it - in a burger! A burger - that is a work of art. More beautiful than the Mona Lisa. More beautiful than TWO Mona Lisas... covered in Tofutti.

I can't think of anywhere that's been difficult. I went for a meeting in a small village in Cheshire today and so just took a wrap from 8th Day Cafe with me. I didn't check the village's vegan credentials - very possibly I did it a disservice by not giving it a chance.

You live in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Which shops or eateries  would you recommend and why?

As well as V Revolution - I have always loved Earth Cafe - great healthy mains and then stunning, creamy cakes for that essential naughty / nice balance. If you're out with folks who simply cannot eat without having meat, Dough is great for vegan friendly stuff too - they got the dairy free cheese and the staff are lovely. Oklahoma not only has vegan cake and hot tucker but their shop has enough tat for every Christmas and birthday gift you'll ever need for the rest of your life! The Indian takeaway next door, Little Aladdin's, is top for vegan curries. Nexus Art Cafe have a few vegan options and of course Odd Bar has its amazing fried breakfast which is vegantastic!

Where can people catch you performing live during the rest of 2013?
I'll be performing my children's show 'The Dragon Who Hates Poetry' at Sale Waterside Arts Centre Sunday 6th October and Bury Met Tuesday 29th October (the accompanying book has two vegan poems in it, 'Oh Sandwich' and 'Vegan Elle'.) I'm in Manchester Literature Festival on Sunday 20th October. At East Midlands and West Midlands vegan Festivals with both adult and kids verse. Come over and say 'Hi', always good to meet new vegans and folk who are interested in this funny ol' vegan way!

Dominic's website is dominicberry.net

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bakerie


Bakerie is situated on Lever Street in the Northern Quarter. Since it opened a couple of years ago it has had great food and wine options for vegans (one of the owners is vegan). The menu changes every few months and currently there's a Superfood salad, puy lentil and vegetable stew, a falafel and humous sandwich and a fancy beans on toast. All of these come with bread made by the Bakerie chefs and things are clearly labelled as vegan. For my most recent visit my friend Siobhan and I went for a glass of white wine and one of the famous Bakerie boards. Apologies for the quality of the i-phone photos, as it's a bar the lighting is quite low.


All of the vegan boards come with a pot of home made hummus, a pot of beetroot puree and some green leaves. You then get to choose three other small dishes. There are six to choose from in total so we went for all six to share. Usually as a vegan tapas style eating is a no-no with there being very little for us on the menus at Spanish restaurants. However, here were we able to feast on stuffed vine leaves, bombay potatoes, roasted vegetables, falafel, garlic mushrooms and a tomato and mixed bean salad.


This also came with a basket of mixed bread. The food was all fresh and delicious and we actually struggled to finish it!


On the way out I picked up a flyer for their Christmas menu. If you work somewhere that has Christmas meals out it's always good to know places to suggest where you'll actually get something decent too. Their vegan offer this year is a starter of winter roasted parsnip and thyme soup with fresh bread, cashew nut, sweet potato and cranberry puff pasty parcel with the trimmings for the main and winter berry strudel with dairy free vanilla icecream for dessert. Gluten free options can be available on request. What a lot of places don't realise that Bakerie do is if you offer something interesting and of good quality for the people with dietary requirements they will bring others with them too. In my last job I used to organise a Christmas meal every year for 35-40 people. I got the final say on where we went and I wasn't going to settle for salad and chips, no way!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nexus Art Cafe


Nexus Art Cafe can be found in a basement at number 2 Dale Street. It was started by the Methodist Church and is mainly staffed by volunteers. They say of the space 'Nexus Art Cafe is a non profit organisation working towards building community and celebrating creativity in Manchester's Northern Quarter'.


There's a focus on Fairtrade products, free wi-fi and changing art exhibits as well as a selection of locally made craft products for sale at very reasonable prices. There's soya milk available for drinks and they also take part in the Suspended Coffee initiative where you can buy a coffee in advance for someone who really needs it. Foodwise there's things like falafel, humus and roasted vegetables available in sandwiches, as salad, or with jacket potatoes.


I've always found Nexus to have a really relaxed feel and it's the sort of place where you could quite comfortably sit and relax on your own with a good book or using their free wi-fi. My friend Steve does their books and website one day a week and we often meet up for an after work brew. We are both big fans of the Teapigs tea that they sell (particularly the liquorice and mint) and their vegan flapjacks.


I think the thing that I love the most though about Nexus is their outdoor courtyard. This is an enclosed courtyard at the back of the building and I think it's one of the hidden gems of the Northern Quarter. It's a lovely little space with loads of character that my photo just doesn't capture.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Appeal - please read .......

I'm interupting my Mofo blogging with a completely unrelated post but one that is really important to me. The woman in this photo is my friend Jan. If you read the blog regularly you'll know that the organisation I work for has just had a big restructure. Jan was one of the people who took redundancy. She used her money to go out to Uganda. She has a son who lives there who she goes to visit as often as she can and she's also started making connections with artists and musicians out there with a view to setting up exchanges with artists in Manchester. Jan is a photographer and artist and has done great work over the years in our local community and is very supportive of other artists.


Just over a week ago Jan was in a really bad road traffic accident where the motorcycle taxi she was travelling in was hit by a car. It was a hit and run and both Jan and the driver were very badly injured. She has a shattered pelvis and it looks likely she'll need a hip replacement. At the moment she's in tremendous pain. Friends here are working with the British Embassy to get Jan back to England to be operated on here. Outstanding costs for her treatment and a medically assisted flight are £8,000. A fund has been set up to raise this money. I know you don't know her but she is the sort of person who would be the first in line trying to help if this had happened to anyone else. She's been a great friend to me especially when things haven't always been so good. There a numerous times when I was having a bad day and I'd return to my desk to find a paper bag containing a vegan muffin or there'd be some glittery stars sprinkled round my keyboard or she'd send me a link to an amazing piece of music or artwork. I know times are financially hard for everyone but if you could spare even just a small amount I would be incredibly grateful. xxxx
http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-for-jan-hanson-medical-and-post-accident-expenses/87472

Update 27 September - A huge thanks to everyone who donated, shared on Facebook + email and retweeted. An incredible 182 people pitched in and together raised the funds. Jan has flown back to the UK this afternoon.

This 'n' That Café



The Northern Quarter is famous for it's 'rice n three' cafes. This is Indian food but not as you know it. These are basic, no frills, cafe type establishments that serve up a selection of different currries for a cheap price - usually in the region of £3-5 for a big plate of food. They cater for a lunchtime crowd and most don't stay open past 6pm. These curry cafes are huddled around Thomas Street and High Street but the one that everybody raves about is This n That, hidden away down a dingy back alley called Soap Street.

Spinach/potato, kidney beans/new potatoes, dhal. 
With Indian food there is often a question of whether it is vegan. Many indian resturants use butter ghee to fry with and often add yoghurt or cream. The food in the curry cafe's is different to the sauce based dishes you see in restuarants. It's simpler, less rich, less sauce and more veg. They almost all use vegetable ghee, although it's good to check first. But you are unlikely to find cream or yoghurt added.

I have to confess that due to my chilli allergy, I haven't eaten at This n That. But the Curry cafe's are so iconic of the Northern Quarter I had to feature them, so I sent my partner Matt out to sample the food. To be honest this wasn't hard as he eats there at least once a week, sometimes more! Here's what he said

Matt writes :  'This n that' is not just my favourite curry place in Manchester, it's my favorurite anywhere. I've eaten amazing Indian/Pakistani/Bengali food all over the world (including India) and I'd put this place up against any of the rest. 

Cabbage, chana and mixed veg
The menu changes each day but basically you get three vegetable curries on offer each day. Rice and three for about £3.50. All the veg curries are vegan. It is possible to go every day and get a different plate each time. My favourites are the chickpeas (Chana) the spinach and potatoes (saag Aloo) the cabbage and the best of all the Dhal. I can honestly say the Dhal is the best I've ever tasted. I've no idea how they do it but it is amazing. 

One downside for some people is that it's hard to judge heat. Some of the curries are fiercly hot but mostly they are mild and full of flavour, but you never quite know what you're going to get. That's also part of the attraction!

This is a lunchtime place, so although it opens late it's best to go at lunchtime when the food is hot and fresh, otherwise you might just be getting warmed up leftovers.  There's no table service. You queue up, choose from the pots and they dish it out there and then. A bit like school dinners. But the staff are friendly and they do understand vegan, so don't be afraid to ask if you're unsure. The only things I've seen that are not vegan (apart from the meat dishes) are the Naan Breads, the Raita (yoghurt) and the potato patties. 

So I think we can safely say that Matt enjoyed his trip to This n That. The curry cafes really are an established part of the Northern Quarter's foodie scene and no trip to Manchester is complete without a trip to one.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Pie and Ale


I am tormented by Pie and Ale on a daily basis. The bar is directly behind my office and I sit near a window. The said window has been open a lot this summer and my colleagues and I have had our senses assaulted on a daily basis by the wonderful aromas of freshly baked breads and pies drifting upwards and into our workspace! We even have an office tradition of Pay Day Pie Day. I've yet to indulge on a pay day but I did manage to make my first visit to Pie and Ale a few Fridays ago after work. 


Pie and Ale is owned and run by the same people who started Bakerie which is just next door on Lever Street (Pie and Ale is set back from the road in the arcade behind the Hive building). The pies are served with mash and gravy with a changing daily menu. There are vegetarian and vegan pie options and I'm pleased to say that the pastry, mash and gravy for these is vegan friendly. On the Friday evening we visited the place was packed and they were even having to turn people away! We managed to just snag an outside table. If you're going at a busy time I'd recommend booking if you want to eat. The venue is also a nice bar with a changing selection of ales from local micro breweries.


As you can see from the picture I really enjoyed my dish. The vegan option that day was a Caribbean influenced mango and chickpea pie. I wasn't sure when I ordered it how that flavour combination was going to work especially with mash and gravy but it tasted wonderful! There was some heat to the pie and I'm not great with chilli but it wasn't overpowering and I happily polished off the whole lot! I'm looking forward to going back and trying some of their other flavour combinations.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Mofo Interview : Singer/Songwriter Quiet Loner


The Northern Quarter (theme of my blog for this year's Mofo) is home to some of Manchester's best live music venues such as Band on the Wall, Night and Day, The Castle, The Roadhouse, Matt and Phreds and 2022NQ.
Someone who has played at all of the above venues is Quiet Loner aka singer songwriter Matt Hill.  Regular readers of the blog will know Matt is also my partner and a few of my blogs this year have featured some of the festivals and gigs Matt has played at. This summer we had an amazing experience when he was invited by Billy Bragg to perform on the Leftfield stage at Glastonbury Festival where he appeared in a songwriters circle alongside Billy,  Amanda Palmer and Sean MacGowan.

So you're a vegan?

I've been a veggie for almost 25 years, but I'm only recently back in the fold as an 'outed' vegan. Although it'd been a long time since I ate dairy, I didn't really want to tell anyone I was a vegan. I still feel a bit like it's no one else's business what I eat. When I was younger I was quite interested in the politics of animal rights, and that led to me becoming a vegan. But I really disliked some elements of veganism. I hate people berating meat-eaters and I don't like people with a misguided sense of moral superiority. I'm glad to say vegansim today is so much more positive and life affirming than it was back then. It's as much about health and planet as it is about animals.

You're a musician. How do you stay vegan when you're touring?

I cope just fine. I only really tour in the UK and it's such a vegan friendly place. Being a vegan today is great, especially compared to the early 1990s. You can even get Marks and Spencers salads at service stations. After gigs can be hard but you can usually find an Indian, a chippy or a kebab shop that does falafel. It's no substitute for home cooking but it gets you by. Last week I had a Manchester show in the Northern Quarter so I was spoilt for choice. I do think Manchester is the vegan capital of Britain!

What three vegan food items would you hate to live without?

Potatoes. Mashed, roast, fried, chipped, I couldn't live without potatoes. Baked beans are my second choice, so good with anything. And fake meat for my third. None of these are particualrly healthy but I couldn't get by without sausage, mash and beans. Although I would need HP sauce to make that meal complete. Can I have that as my fourth?

You've worked and played in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Which shops or eateries do you recommend?

V revolution is top of my list. Not only is it a vegan shop and awesome cafe they also support the DIY music scene, selling vinyl and tapes. But it's the food I go for. I love their attitude, it's all about the ridiculous pleasure and comfort of food. Their burgers are a joy, thick tasty slabs of fake meat with fake cheese and fake mayo. I love it. But there are loads of other places too - This n That Cafe, Earth, the Arndale Market, the Craft Centre - I'm a regular at them all. I try and support as many vegan friendly businesses as my budget allows.

Even though he's not currently in the Northern Quarter I must also mention Martin the Mod and his veggie/vegan cafe. He did start in the Northern Quarter, when he was chef at Cafe Pop. His vegan breakfasts are legendary. I love what he's doing at Meat Free Monday too, taking the "rice n three" approach but bringing in all kinds of flavours and textures.

Tell us your future music plans?

I'm doing a few dates in September and October around Manchester and London. I'm playing a fundraiser in Barnsley for the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign, which I'm really excited to be part of. The truth about Hillsborough has finally come out, but that was part of a pattern of Police cover-ups and State sanctioned criminality. Hopefully we can win justice for the Miner's who were at Orgreave.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fig and Sparrow


Fig and Sparrow is one of the newest additions to the Northern Quarter. I walk past it every morning on Oldham Street before it opens but until yesterday I'd never been in.


This lunchtime my sister and I went out looking for a leaving present for a work colleague. This person likes tea so we went in to check out their organic tea selection.


I hadn't realised before that the stuff in the shop is sourced from local artists. I've bought lots of brilliant tea towels before for Christmas presents from Mr Ps. Check out the link, they're good enough to frame! The handprinted baby clothes on the right make lovely presents too and are from Nell who has a studio in the Manchester Craft Centre. This shop is full of beautiful things.


I couldn't be in there without checking out the cafe bit at the back, you know how you do if you're vegan, just in case there's anything you could eat. I was pleased to see from the tea menu on the wall that they offered soya milk.


I was gobsmacked to see that these baked goods on the counter were either vegan or gluten free! There were three vegan options - carrot cake, a seeded muffin and a chocolate orange muffin. I bought the later to take back to work for my tea break and I can report that it was delicious. The crumb was really light and the dark chocolate and zesty orange perfectly complimented each other with a layer of melted dark chocolate on the top as a finishing touch.


I will definitely be going back to Fig and Sparrow. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere and I spoke to two really friendly members of staff. Honestly I think you should all book a day off in December and come to Manchester to do your Christmas shopping!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Interview with Helen Davies of Helen Makes


Today we're talking to Manchester based artist Helen Davies. I've known Helen for a few years and never cease to be amazed by the things she creates - from knitted pictures of dogs to wedding cake topper  monster versions of brides and grooms to knitted versions of Adam and Joe, Helen is an amazing talent.



You're a visual artist. Can you tell us a bit about your arts background and what sort of things you're currently working on?

I originally did a degree in Fine Art at Huddersfield, but afterwards I got really into textile crafts and in particular needlecrafts. I make crochet monsters based on real people, which you can see (and order!) at Helen Makes. I’m also currently working as part of Warp and Weft with my friend Jenny, making crochet masks of Mancunian women of achievement, to be exhibited at the Manchester Town Hall at some point in the future. Some works-in-progress are currently being exhibited at PS Mirabel.


 What's your vegan story. How long have you been vegan and what brought you to make that decision?

I’ve been vegan for 5 years. I wasn’t vegetarian before but I was a very sporadic meat eater, and I normally ate vegan stuff – lentils, rice, tinned tomato based things – because it was cheap and I was poor. I started being properly vegan after I read a few books like Fast Food Nation and felt uneasy with the way animals are treated, I just thought it would make more sense to give up all animal products so I just went for it. After about four days I noticed that my skin was a million times better than ever, and I had some weird withdrawal symptoms and thought I was getting the flu! So it really seemed to me that veganism is a much healthier and happier way to be.

What three vegan food items would you hate to live without?

To be honest I don’t really buy that much fancy food, I still subsist on lentil curry and salad and stuff most of the time. I definitely couldn’t live without boring old hummus, it’s a vegan godsend with sandwiches and whatnot, and I like to add a dollop to whatever I’m eating. I’m also a big fan of bananas, so versatile as an egg replacer in cake, or as part of a smoothie, or frozen and whizzed up like ice cream. Third thing… I guess bread would be hard to live without! I like to make my own sometimes, and Dan Lepard does this gorgeous naan bread recipe which is great for vegans because it doesn’t have yoghurt in it!

You have a day job in Manchester's Northern Quarter. The NQ is the theme of the blog this month for Vegan MoFo. Which shops or eateries that you would recommend and why?

I’ve only just really discovered Go Falafel, which is a naughty chain but they do lovely salad stuff and are great if I’m stuck for lunch. Plus they’re not stingy on the hummus. I also rate Eastern Bloc and Soup Kitchen for soups although they’re not always vegan. For proper meals Ning is really lovely and everything is well labelled, and This and That is really cheap and fills you up a treat. If I’m having a sugar crisis I nip to V Revolution for a flapjack – I’m not really a big junkfood eater but it’s a good alternative if I’m craving a sausage butty.