(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