(Dining) Hall of Shame: Vegetarian Horror Stories

I’ve been a happy, healthy vegetarian for about 12 years now – I love my food and I love to eat out.  Unfortunately there are a handful of restaurant meals that I’ve been served over the years that still stick in my memory, for all the wrong reasons.

Restaurant-owners please take note – if there is only one vegetarian meal offered on the menu, its not strictly accurate to describe it as a “choice” or an “option” for vegetarian diners (unless you are referring to our “choice” to eat that or eat elsewhere).

Here’s my countdown of Top Five vegetarian meals out I’d rather forget:

5. Vegetable lasagne

This first entry does not refer to a specific meal experience in a specific restaurant.  My ‘beef’ with vegetable lasagne is that it is everywhere.  It has become the favourite lazy-chef’s idea of a vegetarian “option” on pub and restaurant menus across the country.  Not only lacking imagination, these are rarely homemade or well-prepared – order vegetable lasagne in most eateries and brace yourself for something sloppy, watery and ‘fresh’ from the microwave.

4. Tomato and Basil Pasta

Slightly boring, but acceptable if you mean freshly made pasta served with a well-seasoned, thick and delicious roasted-tomato homemade sauce.  Not acceptable if you mean some pasta twists from the packet with a tin of tomatoes dumped on top.  True story.  And to add insult to injury, this was the main course at a London hotel’s £35+ vegetarian Christmas menu – Merry Christmas it was not.

3. Breaded Mushrooms

Unfortunately one awful hotel in Wigan (I was only there because of a work conference, trust me) seemingly ‘forgot’ to cater for any vegetarian diners.  When I asked if there was a meat-free alternative to the carvery, the staff looked a little confused.  But after a lengthy wait, they did come up with something for me – five mini button mushrooms in breadcrumbs, rolling around looking lonely on a large and otherwise empty plate.  Of course, I could ‘fill up’ on the potatoes cooked in goose-fat or the beans wrapped in bacon, but that wasn’t really my kind of thing…

2. Cheese with Rice on the side – aka Parsnip and Goats Cheese Risotto

Now, I’m not a big fan of goats cheese (although its frequent appearance as a vegetarian ‘option’ on menus suggests I should be).  However, I was staying in a very nice fancy hotel where this was the only vegetarian meal available – and I really do enjoy a good risotto.  Stomach rumbling and taste-buds tingling, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my meal from the kitchen.  The waitress arrived and placed down my plate – a large wedge of cheese surrounded by some parsnip crisps.  The rice (boiled, not even risotto) came in a small bowl as a side dish.  I was actually rendered temporarily speechless and was still staring aghast at my plate when our waitress returned a moment later to ask “is everything okay with your meals?”  I managed to blurt out “this isn’t a risotto!” to which she instantly agreed and whipped it away, leaving me to repeatedly check the calendar to see if it was April Fools Day (it wasn’t, and that meal was no joke).

1. Chicken

A noodle bar near Camden Market, on the day my friend went to get a tattoo (the tattoo isn’t especially relevant to the meal, but I just remember the occasion – probably because we both felt a bit faint and needed a good meal).  I selected a tofu chow mein dish from the menu.  When it arrived, I thought the first bite didn’t quite taste right – and looked more closely  – yes, I had been served meat by mistake.  I called over the waitress, and explained – “this is chicken”.  Her reply – “Yes.  You ordered chicken”.  Not exactly the apology I’d been hoping for, and it took me longer than it should have to persuade her that – especially as a vegetarian – it was highly unlikely that I’d ‘accidentally’ ordered chicken and that she should correct the restaurant’s mistake.  I got a new meal – but the apology never arrived.  A poor show, that left a fowl taste in my mouth.

Please – hit the ‘reply’ button and share your own horror stories – vegetarian or otherwise.  This is your chance to submit your nominations for my Dining Hall of Shame.  Or, even better, let me know of any vegetarian experiences you’ve had that are memorable for the right reasons.

Original art by Josephine Scales

6 thoughts on “(Dining) Hall of Shame: Vegetarian Horror Stories

  1. Oh God, the vegetarian lasagnes I’ve had….Up there too is nearly every nut roast I’ve ever been given. Worse is the things like the pasta in place of Christmas lunch. What says hearty winter fare better than a dish mainly consisting of a summer vegetable?!
    But the absolute worst is the carvery I have to go to with the grandparents (cos it’s cheap). It’s in blackburn and hasn’t even a token veggie option. So it’s a plate of overcooked veg. Mmmmm. At least it’s cheap though.
    Fancy restaurants charging the same for some artfully placed veggies as for a rarebreed chop certainly leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Why does the wierd idea that vegetarians aren’t that bothered by food still persist? Come on people, it’s the 21st century!

    • Your carvery sounds like it deserves to enter the Dining Hall of Shame for sure. And yes, over-charging vegetarians is my other pet hate!

  2. Great post.
    I do have a couple of bad experiences with vegetarian food.
    I tried vegetarianism for a couple of months about ten years ago when a girl I dated got me into it, yes, she was beautiful (and kind of hippie) so, she persuaded me really fast.
    To be honest, if she would have offered me to eat ants, I would have said yes, but that is another story under the tag “crazy-stupid things I´ve done for women”.

    Anyway, among the bad there is the classic: “it is fish is not meat, we don’t have anything else” , a vegetable lasagna with (why not?) bacon, or “green beans with battered eggs” which my mother made me hate since my childhood, and this girl happened to love.
    On the other side, I discovered great dishes, for example I love anything with aubergine or pumpkins.
    My point is that is hard to be a vegetarian in Mexico among great meat dishes .
    I guess I am not disciplined enough or I just like meat-tacos too much.


    • Yes, I’ve experienced lots of restaurants who assume fish is okay for vegetarians – NO! This happens a lot in Spain, where they consider tuna a vegetable (its very hard to pick flaked tuna out of a salad, believe me). And even at the Italian Club on Bold Street, where I’ve learned the hard way to specifically say “no fish” when asking for their (otherwise very nice) “vegetarian antipasti”. I did find lots of vegetarian food that I really enjoyed in Mexico… I guess its easier because I have absolutely no interest in meat.

      Oh, and I’d love to hear the rest of your “crazy-stupid-things-you’ve-done-for-women”stories soon, over a pint! 🙂

  3. Hi Lindsey,

    Great Post! Being vegan can be even more challenging. I am grateful to all the vegetarians that came before me, so that most places know what one is, although I agree tuna seems to throw people? When I first became vegan I used to feel like such a pain but now I just try and negotiate as nicely as I can and to be honest I am grateful if I can go out and eat anything, even the default mediocre lasagne! I love lasagne but I agree with your synopsis! I used to not be vegan because I felt it would be too difficult to eat out but then I realised that it will only get easier if people do it. I guess it’s the same with vegetarianism still, although it is a lot more mainstream now. I think Liverpool is really missing a nice vegetarian restaurant, maybe someday……

    • I can imagine dining out as a vegan must be very challenging indeed! It would be great for people to share any their recommendations for restaurants that do cater well for veggies and vegans… maybe I’ll get a chance to review some places in the future.

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