By Chloe, 34-43 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HA
After a strenuous afternoon of exercise on a hot summer day, I wanted a cooling drink and some quick sustenance that was not too heavy. It seemed the perfect opportunity to try a new vegan fast food restaurant in Covent Garden hailing from across the Atlantic. By Chloe started off in New York and has built up a chain of 9 restaurants across several cities in the United States serving inexpensive ‘plant-based’ fast food such as salads, vegan burgers, sandwiches and pasta. With its first international foray in London, it has expanded the menu to include vegan takes on British comfort food like fish ‘n’ chips and roast beef.
The dining environment was actually fairly pleasant. It was clean, light and lacked the stench of hot oil that you would usually encounter in a fast food joint. The décor was clearly designed to appeal to the millennial crowd with neon lights and hanging basket chairs.
I started off with the spicy Thai salad. This is a melange of kale, romaine lettuce, edamame beans and bits of tempeh which is a fermented soya bean cake. The tempeh is flavourless, floury and covered in an apricot sriracha sauce which was overly sweet. I tried one piece and gave up. Having said this, I did enjoy the crunch from the almonds and crispy strips of wonton wrappers.
Afterwards, I opted for the ‘Fish ‘n’ Chips’, one of the Chloe-style British classics. The ‘fish’ was basically battered tofu and included a sheet of nori, cleverly made to look like fish skin. The crispness of the batter and the inclusion of the nori reminded me of agedashi tofu which is a dish I always enjoy at Japanese restaurants. It’s a pity that the dish was ruined by the chips and dipping sauce. The restaurant claims that the chips were air-baked which might explain why they were soggy and bland. Instead of having ketchup (I thought this is vegan anyway!), they offered a garish magenta beetroot dip and it tasted vile.
On the side, I had the Mac ‘n’ Cheese which was not too bad. The cheese substitute sauce was made of sweet potato with cashew, so the texture was a little thin. But the salted bits of crispy shiitake mushroom were quite nice. On the whole, the flavour was quite forgettable because it didn’t taste cheese-like at all. This was all washed down with a cold matcha latte made from oat milk. Although I miss the richness of real dairy, it was quite a refreshing drink and was what I needed in the sweltering heat.
“… maintaining good health is one of the key reasons why people go for vegan diets in the first place…”
This matcha latte was the only thing in the whole meal that felt vaguely healthy. Along with ensuring environmental sustainability, maintaining good health is one of the key reasons why people go for vegan diets in the first place so the vegan fast food I tasted at By Chloe seems to defeat the point of the whole vegan concept. Given the popularity of this chain though, it appears the customers are unfazed by this contradiction and it will continue to attract flocks of adoring fans.