Yesterday, a friend and I travelled to Hove to visit a friend and her two children. We needed coffee and cake. Where to go? It’s always a conundrum when you have a buggy, a 2-month-old baby and a boisterous 2-year-old. She suggested ‘VBites’, the newly-opened vegan restaurant on the seafront, which is the new venture from Heather Mills-McCartney. Vegan food served up by ex ‘Lady Mucca’? Hmm, I thought. But then I remembered reading an intriguing review in the Guardian newspaper not so long ago which spoke of decent lattes and surprisingly palatable vegan meat substitutes. The reviewer (Polly Vernon) really wanted to hate it, but she didn’t. I was itching with curiosity – would we see Heather reclining at the bar? My friend had caught sight of her on previous visits…
We arrived at a newly-converted seafront building that used to be home to an old fish and chip shop. It looked a little bit like an Alpine chalet from a distance. There was a posh sports car parked outside. I wondered if this might be Heather’s. Long-gone were the deep fat fryers: in their place was a modern open-plan kitchen and a room with a kaiten sushi conveyor belt whizzing round pretty cupcakes and flapjacks under plastic domes. In an adjoining room, the ceiling over the bar area was prettily dotted with pinprick LED lights. We sat at a funky pale wooden table and reclined against beautiful cushions. The staff were young and good looking. They smiled a lot. The atmosphere was buzzy; bright light flooded in through the windows. But no Heather to be seen.
I scanned the vegan menu. There were carnivorous substitutes on offer with strange faux meat names such as ‘chicky’, ‘hammy’ and ‘rashers’. I was a bit afraid of what ‘fishy’ might entail. I opted instead for a cappuccino made with oat milk and an almond and plum cake. My friend (who has a myriad of dietary restrictions) attempted to order a sugar-free cake – if such a thing exists, surely this was the place to find one, as the menu advertised all kinds of dairy/wheat/sugar-free options. The waiter wasn’t certain they had anything sugar-free that day. But he didn’t seem to know one way or the other, to be honest. She ordered chips instead and asked for houmous. Surely not such an outlandish request in a vegan restaurant? But no, houmous wasn’t available either. How perplexing. The chips were brought over almost immediately. They were definitely oven chips – they had that very specific ‘oven chip’ taste and were lukewarm. So far, not so good. Our coffees still hadn’t arrived. We saw them on a tray, forlorn and cooling on the bar, where five staff were chatting amongst themselves. I was tempted to jump up and get them myself, but then the cake arrived. It was pretty, but looked like someone had already taken a bite out of it:
Sadly it tasted of…nothing much at all. It had a gluey texture and a faint aroma of wallpaper paste. Not even a hint of plum. We ploughed on with it, hoping it would improve. “Should have known a vegan cake wouldn’t taste the same,” remarked my friend. Our coffees eventually arrived. My oat milk cappuccino wasn’t as scary as it sounds: the coffee tasted like a decent blend, but it wasn’t very warm. Baby L’s ice cream was the tastiest option, but when I asked at the bar for a paper cup to rescue his half-chewed cornet, I was told to go and ask in the adjoining room as ‘they weren’t in charge of the takeaway service’. I was a bit shocked: four staff idling and chatting at the bar, telling me to go and do the fetching myself. If Heather had been in residence, I’m pretty certain this wouldn’t have happened.
So come on, Ms Mills: we loved the look of the restaurant. It was vibrant, fun, stylish and child-friendly. But why so many staff all standing around doing nothing? And have a word with your chefs, will you? Vegan food can be delicious – I often cook it myself. But why are you serving oven chips? I can eat those at home, but I don’t expect to be offered these in a restaurant that prides itself on fresh, healthy eating. Tsk!