In a new series, our resident vegans will be reviewing what the world has to offer for plant-based eaters as the lifestyle continues to be on a rise internationally.
Gaz Oakley has occupied a special place in my plant-based heart since summer 2019 for two reasons.
- I ate his vegan egg at Wagamamas on 9th July 2019, on a first date with a boy I was ever-so-slightly obsessed with – a meal I will forever remember and the starting point of my first summer romance.
- His cookbook sits on a shelf opposite my preferred table at my favourite restaurant (Luna’s Vegan Corner), and the photo of him splashed on the front has watched over every meal I’ve ever eaten there. My very own vegan guardian angel.
So when the Avant-Garde Vegan himself announced the opening of Nana O’s, a pop-up restaurant in Cardiff that would be open for just eight days, I entered the online scramble to get a reservation. Slots filled up within minutes of his announcement so securing one felt a little like scoring a Glastonbury ticket.
The pop-up resided at Neighbourhood Kitchen, a cute little restaurant-bar which plays host to a variety of guest chefs throughout the year. Splashed with bright-red Nana O’s branding, the restaurant was characterised by its American-diner style cosy booths and a list of biscuit-themed cocktails.
The pop-up’s tagline promised “comfort food” and it certainly delivered. Inspired by Oakley’s grandmother’s cooking, the menu consisted of four mains including mac ‘n’ cheese and fried oyster mushrooms and three desserts including a “doughnut of your dreams” and an espresso martini crème brûlée.
But how do you pick when faced with a whole menu of vegan dishes whose very titles make your salivary glands go into overdrive? With great difficulty, to put it mildly.
The mac ‘n’ cheese proved so popular that it had sold out, so I chose the “Summer Welsh Cawl”, a traditional stew which was served in a loaf of crusty white bread the size of a bowling ball. Brimming with leaks, courgettes, carrots and edamame beans, it came complete with a herb-crusted “lamb” and a burnt leek purée. It was so Welsh that Tom Jones played in my head with every bite.
My sister chose the “pizzetta” which, as its name suggests, was a miniature pizza. Topped with roasted aubergine, tomato and Monmouthshire rhubarb sauce and Welsh rarebit vegan cheese, it was a fittingly avant-garde take on the Italian classic. Both mains were beautifully-presented and bursting with flavour – we delighted in each and every bite.
Then dessert came along and catapulted our taste buds from Cardiff to the Caribbean. We both went for the pineapple crumble, which promised to put a tropical twist on our fave childhood dessert. With a generous base of caramelised, rosemary-infused pineapples, it was topped with a crunchy layer of sugary crumble and accompanied by a coconut custard. I didn’t even know coconut custard was a thing but now I want it on everything (Alpro, please help a gal out and create one).
Perhaps most excitingly, I had the chance to meet Gaz Oakley. I was expecting-slash-hoping to meet him at the end of the lunch slot but I actually met his eyes across the bar within the first ten minutes of arrival and probably terrified him with my starstruck vegan saucer-eyes. Luckily, he was really lovely and down-to-earth and appeared sporadically throughout the lunch slot, emerging from the kitchen to hand-pour chocolate sauce over the top of every dreamy doughnut.
I’ve heard that he’ll soon be taking Nana O’s plant-based pop-up on tour around the UK and I urge all vegans to swoop in for a reservation ASAP to taste the magic of Gaz Oakley’s restaurant experience. And when you go, remember this advice – order two desserts.