Vegan cuisine is on the rise. For some, it is just a fashion, for others it is a lifestyle, but the undeniable fact is that every self-respecting restaurant has the needs of vegan customers in mind.
Only a few years ago, many chefs did not distinguish between vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and had problems with composing dishes without animal-based ingredients. With time, their awareness increased and many restaurants opened their eyes on vegan cuisine. Easier access to plant-based equivalents for dairy and meat has made it easier to prepare these types of dishes. Every chef I spoke to about vegan menu items confirmed that it is a wildly growing trend, and more and more guests show interest in vegan dishes.
Vegan fine dining in Biały Królik
The undisputed king of vegan cuisine is the chef of Biały Królik restaurant in Gdynia, Marcin Popielarz. His respect for the culinary tradition, combined with an innovative approach, are guaranteed to turn any visit to this place into an unforgettable experience. For three years, the restaurant has offered a 100% vegan tasting menu that has been attracting more and more interest. At a time when vegan meals account for, at best, a third of orders, half of the restaurant guests choose this menu. Anyone who thinks that vegan cuisine is boring, sterile or insufficiently filling should visit the vegan tasting of dishes composed by Marcin Popielarz. I am convinced that there is no palate that would not succumb to the beautifully composed flavours that come out of the kitchen.
On a recent visit to the restaurant, I sampled the winter vegan tasting menu and it was a delicious journey through seasonal flavours. “I try to make sure the dishes we serve are close to the season we are in. The food on the plate should reflect the aura outside the window. In winter and during the so-called hungry gap, the menu needs to be heavier, more filling and this also applies to its vegan version,” said Marcin Popielarz.
And now get ready for a sprint through the wonderful vegan menu, fasten your seatbelts! Amuse-bouche: a wonderful, delicate, crispy mini tart with swede and fermented corn, snack: roasted aubergine ice cream with compressed cucumber, starter: “Greek-styled” selerRyba (celeryFish), i.e. slices of delicious celery with tofu, with a delicate ajo blanco garlic sauce, soup: smoky cabbage soup on smoked shitake mushrooms, intermezzo: wonderful quince ice cream with parsnip chips, insane main course: Brussels sprouts with vegan brown butter and caramelised garlic. A small break here as we move on to the dessert: filo pastry with salted caramel and sea buckthorn sorbet (the intense sweetness and acidity of sea buckthorn make your head spin with delight), and finally – little sweet wonders, petit fours. You can try this menu until April.
Fukafe’s vegan desserts
Staying in the subject of sweets, I also visited Wajdeloty street in Gdańsk. This is where Fukafe is located, whose founder, Agnieszka Sierac, specialises in vegan desserts. The legendary café was opened seven years ago. Its shop window will make your heart beat faster, because every day it gets filled with over a dozen pastry masterpieces. Starting with donuts, through cream pies and wafer rolls with cream filling, to chocolate cake, meringue and lemon curd cakes.
Each pastry is vegan but, as the owner said: “from the very beginning we haven’t flaunted the veganism of Fukafe. In fact, nowhere does it say that the desserts available here are vegan, because we want them to be universal, so that no one is discouraged by a label. It’s meant to be a place for everyone, with delicious desserts and coffee. Flavour is everything.” The delicious coffee, which you can order with the cake, is of course also served with plant-based milk equivalents, the selection of which is so wide that even the most seasoned milk drinkers will be satisfied.
I got some help from the boss herself when selecting desserts: “I like all our desserts, but my favourites are cashew and “regular” cheesecakes. Deciding what to choose makes it easier to decide whether you prefer fruity flavours or the more intense, chocolate ones. The former is our lemon curd, while the latter is undoubtedly our double chocolate cake.” So I decided to go for the refreshing lemon curd, and then the chocolate cake. It’s hard to believe that these are vegan desserts, that such wonders can be conjured up without eggs, cream and butter!
Vegan cuisine on Ogarna street
Canis Restaurant is yet another place on the culinary map of Gdańsk where vegan cuisine is doing very well. The chef, Mateusz Janusz, has an excellent feel for meatless dishes. He skilfully mixes flavours, textures and colours of food, creating top-quality vegan dishes. So, it was with great curiosity that I sat down to taste the vegan menu. I started with a beautiful and delicious starter: roasted cauliflower, served with filo pastry pouches stuffed with pineapple, red onion and chilli salsa. Chef Mateusz pointed out that salsa came in two versions: hot – as a filling for the pouches and cold, alongside the cauliflower chunks. “Our guests like to be surprised visually, but also with flavours, so being able to try two versions of the same dish is the kind of culinary fun we want to smuggle into the kitchen.”
Another vegan dish is a minestrone soup with a light miso base. A real umami bomb with firm vegetables, finely cut into cubes, it is served with stuffed mince. After this extremely light (but full of intense flavours) dish, I try a heavier dinner dish: mushroom cassoulet with beans and tofu. This protein-rich dish has a strong “meaty” overtone, thanks to the distinct taste of portobello and oyster mushrooms, the smoky note of tofu and the delicious sauce. This is genuine comfort food, but here too the chef has prepared a surprise: on top of the cassoulet there are mushrooms prepared in such a way that they deceptively resemble scallops (both in shape and texture). And to freshen things up, the dish is topped with crunchy pickled carrots. Another interesting dish is the homemade ravioli with a smoked plum and tofu filling, served with artichokes in tempura. Crispy, sour artichokes and sweet, smoky ravioli are dipped in foam of Jerusalem artichoke, which still hides the artichoke puree underneath.
The true value of vegan dishes in Canis restaurant can be seen in statistics: almost half of the guests order these kinds of dishes. This version of vegan cuisine will be available until the end of April. You may want to know that every Tuesday there is a 20-30% discount of vegan menu.
Vegan spring in Fino
Another place for sampling vegan cuisine is Fino restaurant in Gdańsk, “child” of the talented chef Jacek Koprowski. Visits to Fino are culinary fun of the highest order, each dish is a very well thought-out composition of flavours, colours and scents, based on seasonality and regionality. First, I tried a delicate, beautiful spring composition. But let me have the chef tell you all about it: “I came up with this dish thinking of early spring – the melting layers of snow and the plants sprouting from underneath. The snow is celery espuma. I served it with tapioca marinated in parsley oil. The green elements are cress, an obvious reference to spring, as well as crispy breadcrumbs with green oil and a refreshing element – lemon balm gel.” This was the most beautiful early spring dish I had tasted, and the amazing taste of the lemon balm emulsion will stay with me for a long time.
The second plate is a classic play on flavours: confit, grilled aubergine served so that it resembles steak, combined with pleasantly bitter chicory with a hint of orange (enhanced by orange puree) and a wonderful, velvety pepper puree full of unobtrusive sweetness. But the shiniest star of the dish is the amazing… faux gras, which is a vegan version of foie gras. While the original foie gras is a controversial product, faux gras is a wink to the gourmets. The texture, colour and taste of faux gras really does resemble its animal counterpart, but it has the distinct advantage over it of being ethical. The dish is ‘tied together’ in flavour and colour with parsley oil.
If you’re ready for more plant-based adventures, Fino has an entire vegan tasting menu for you. What an unforgettable experience!
Classics with a vegan twist
All right, but what about vegan options in restaurants that serve classic, Polish cuisine? Michał Faliszek, chef at Gdański Bowke, came to me with an answer. “We are seeing more and more demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes. Of course we try to meet it, we have long had vegetarian dishes on our menu – potato pancakes, pancakes or glazed carrots, but we are also slowly introducing strictly vegan dishes. We are also open to “veganising” individual dishes at the customer’s request, of course if it is physically possible,” he said.
And so, a beautifully composed, colourful and filling dish without any animal elements arrived on my table: buckwheat chops in tomato sauce with a hint of coriander, served with grilled vegetables, flavoured with garlic and thyme. The second dish I try is vegetarian: a delightfully browned, roasted cauliflower layered on a velvety cauliflower puree with creme fraiche, broken by the sweetness of caramelised walnuts, served with chive oil and chanterelles. This is the most popular meatless dish at Gdański Bowke.
Vegan cuisine is no longer an “invention” of a handful of lunatics, but a trend that is growing stronger every month, forcing chefs to broaden their offers and horizons. It encourages you to break the mould, to change your culinary outlook and to experiment in the kitchen. We all benefit from it – the guests who discover new flavours, the chefs who broaden their horizons and, of course, the planet. To paraphrase a famous English saying: keep calm and go green!