Without a doubt, Essex is a far cry from Brighton in regards to being Vegan friendly. However, as with most cities and towns, Veganism is on the rise and more places are offering an option for the cruelty-free citizens of England or an adaptable vegetarian choice at that. Colchester seems to be the first in line for premiering an ‘all-vegan cafe’ called The Den at 23. Established in 2015, this all vegan joint situated on Crouch Street is run by married duo Robert and Jennifer Dunn. Having stumbled across the page on Instagram and seen their Vegan take on McDonald’s Big Mac, we knew we had to make that 25 mile trip.
The Den offers a wide range of options to choose from. If you’re looking for a raw kale salad or spirulina smoothie, you’re in the wrong place. The Den is home to mock meats, fake cheeses and dairy-free ice cream. It is a place where you can satisfy those meat cravings without animals being harmed and enjoy the warm and light atmosphere that comes with it. Reasonably priced and with such variety, the menu offered burgers and hot dogs all the way through to toasties and paninis too. For dessert there were waffles and ice cream or delicious cupcakes made by Jen herself, that can also be bought from her bakery business at Ps.. it’s Vegan!
To be honest, we were rather spoilt for choice! Luckily for me, Chris had made up his mind weeks prior to the trip and that he had decided to try the Vegan Big mac, also know as The Den Stack. The combination of gherkins, white sesame buns and the big-mac-style sauce, you could have fooled a Maccer’s addict that this was the real deal. The thin soya patties topped with dairy free ‘fake cheese’ completed the dish and it was gone in only a few mouthfuls. Unlike a meat and dairy laden fast food burger, this left you feeling lighter and looking slimmer due to the decrease in calorific value.
After a lengthly internal debate between a mock McChicken Sandwich and that of the organic Tofu kind, I finally made a decision. I chose the Desert Island Burger, an organic smoked tofu patty with vegan mayo and a roasted red pepper. Wholesome, full of flavour and dense in all the right ways, this was a pure delight for the tastebuds. The accompaniment of tortilla chips made the meal nice and light, making the satisfaction just that little bit more satisfying.
With our tummies satisfied and our conscious clean, I couldn’t resist a treat. The image does not do the Chocolate Mocha Cupcake justice, purely because I had got impatient on the way home and stole a lick or two of the butter icing. Having craved buttery and chocolate laden cake for some time now, this ticked all the right boxes. Creamy, indulgent and delicious, I could happily order boxes of the stuff from Jen! Chris and I got an Oat Flat White to go on the way out which gave us the much needed boost to get home.
Aside from the fantastic menu, The Den sells a few vegan products too. Amongst the Vego Bars and tinned sausage and beans, I stumbled across the soya milk portion cartons. This was a product that appeared in my wildest dreams, imagining dairy free milk in a portioned container and maybe one day appearing in a hotel room. These are incredibly handy to keep in your handbag at any given time save the embarrassment of sipping on black tea or coffee and pretending to enjoy it. These are an invention of a life time of which I bought a couple and now plan on investing in a box!
Overall, the cafe was a great success. The staff, in particular Robert and Jen were very welcoming and hospitable. The place was busy throughout the short time we spent there, customers popping in for takeaways and other staying for a sit down lunch. It was wonderful to see a cruelty-free eatery doing so well and to hear such fantastic reviews about. We will certainly be back!
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