The great vegan Christmas taste test: mains, desserts and party food – The Guardian

Restaurant News


Reviewed by Meera Sodha

Not long ago, anyone who wanted a plant-based Christmas dinner got little support from supermarkets. With almost everyone opting for turkey, the best you could hope for was a nut roast for one and some boiled sprouts. This year, you can’t move for options – which vary from meat substitutes to real vegetables, delightfully transformed.

Wherever you sit on that spectrum (personally, I prefer food from a real plant, rather than an industrial one), what is not in doubt is that, at Christmas, everything needs a little more sparkle. That sparkle can come in many forms – a dish could really look the part, be made with special ingredients, such as truffle, or using a fancy technique to elevate it from the everyday – but, above all, it needs to taste great and as if it were made with love.

Morrisons layered vegetable tarts, £4 for two

Puff-pastry-wrapped, barely seasoned and barely identifiable stodge that, according to the packaging, is a puree of spinach, squash and chestnuts. The mixture is perched on a layer of thick, jammy beetroot chutney so sweet that it would make a jelly baby rethink their purpose in life. Barely edible.

Tesco Finest butternut, mushroom and chestnut wreath, £4.50 (serves two)

Tesco’s vegan wreath

Oven-cooked butternut squash and mushrooms tucked neatly into a filo pastry wreath. Flavour-wise, it took me straight back to the school canteen and food that was neither awful nor wonderful, but somewhere in the middle. There is not much in the way of festive flavour here – no stuffing, for example, to elevate it to something special enough for Christmas. Call me Scrooge, but this is the sort of food that forms the forgettable layers in the great sandwich of life.

Tesco Finest carrot tarte tartins, £10 for four

This is a clever idea – a bullet-proof tarte tartin for the home cook – that falls flat. It looks pretty enough, but it is just chunky boiled carrots layered over some quite vinegar-laden onions – which are not, as the packaging suggests, “caramelised”. The flavours are unbalanced, there is too much acid and, overall, it is one-dimensional.

Waitrose root en croute, £5.99 for two

These are pretty, golden-brown latticed pies that can sit solo, but will also play nicely alongside some Christmas trimmings. The pastry is crisp and inside is a rich and wonderful creamy, cheesy spinach sauce, which gives way to sweet paprika and dill carrots. I can spot the vegetables! There is plenty of flavour and good times to be had here. Sing it loud: root en croute!

M&S Plant Kitchen festive roast with cranberry and chestnut stuffing and a vegan gravy, £12 (serves 4); in store from 20 December

M&S festive roast

Glory be! What a delicious thing this was over and over again: my husband and I could not stop eating it. Given that the nut roast has been relegated to the foods of Christmas past, I applaud the cooks at M&S who bravely brought it back in 2019, updated with a merriness of flavour and texture. This is herby, rich and sausage-y with notes of chestnut, spice and a naughty smattering of cranberry stuffing in the centre, plus a vegan gravy so good I swear I heard angels singing as it slipped down. It does look like a big, fat brown log, but who cares? I’d be prepared to take out my contact lenses just to eat it all over again. Pure joy.

Aldi root vegetable and cranberry sauce pastry crowns topped with pumpkin seeds, £2.99 for two

Horrifyingly sweet. The sugar laced in the onions that top the “crown” was enough to make my teeth crawl up inside my gums and beg for it all to stop. Underneath the sweet onions was another layer of gloopy, sweet cranberry sauce and the odd (sweet) vegetable – parsnip, carrot or beetroot. Overall this is confused: pudding masquerading as a main.

Co-op festive roasting joints, £5 (serves two)

The glowing fake bacon, artfully wrapped around the side of what looks like a circular slab of half-digested stomach contents (sorry) was enough to kill my festive spirit, but I took a hit and ate some. The “bacon” tasted like flabby, spammy Frazzles and the insides were an oily smoked mixture of sweet rice and herbs. I managed only a couple of bites. It is the vegan Grinch roast that stole Christmas.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference no beef wellington, £7 (serves two)

This parcel-shaped pastry, to its credit, looks like something you would want to bring to table. It suggests to the vegans that they are loved and cared-for members of the family. Until, as in a good thriller, a knife appears and things start to go wrong. When cut, the insides are like the sludgy brown bottom of the Thames, gushing out on to the plate, encouraging the central “no-beef sausage” to lurch forward. Despite all the drama, it tastes quite nice – like smoky mushroom pate wrapped in pastry. I would not complain if I were served it – but I might hope for something better next year.


Reviewed by Anna Jones

Anna Jones

There is a lightness to a vegan dessert that I really appreciate. While I love cream and butter, it is not what I crave at the end of a big meal. So even if I have the choice, I will often plump for the vegan pudding in a restaurant, because it will be the thing on the menu that pops out.

That said, you want a certain level of indulgence – creaminess without a cloying texture; a jelly that has the right level of wobble. And texture is crucial; a topping of demerara sugar or pumpkin-seed brittle, say, scattered over a ginger cake.

Asda Extra Special raspberry torte, £4 (serves six)

This is lovely in appearance, with a good dusting of cocoa. But for something billed as extra-special, it really could have tasted more chocolatey. It has a nut base, which adds a nice bit of texture, but it is just not indulgent enough.

Iceland No Moo chocolate snow flakes, £2 for two

These are pretty small – halfway between a chocolate and a cake. The hard chocolate exterior gives way to a very liquid caramel filling that is much too sweet.

M&S chocolate and cherry dessert, £10 (serves six)

M&S chocolate and cherry dessert

The only way to serve this, it appears, is to spoon it out of its plastic container like a mousse, which is a pity, since it looks like a layered cake. The cherry topping is reminiscent of a pie filling, not too sweet, with pieces of fruit. The chocolate ganache beneath is a tiny bit grainy, but with a lovely strong chocolate flavour.

Tesco Finest chocolate ganache and brownie bites, £4 for six

These look quite sweet and Christmassy, with gold dusting on the top, and they are not too big, which is always good because it means you can have a bite of something else, too. You get a big chocolate hit at the beginning, and a cleaner, fresher flavour – because they are dairy-free – at the end. They have a slight tiffin vibe, with dates for sweetness and pumpkin seeds for bite.

Waitrose elderflower, raspberry and blackcurrant jelly, £4 (serves 6)

Waitrose jelly

This looked so beautiful when it first came out of its tub and would have been marked higher if it hadn’t collapsed almost instantly. The jelly has a good, soft consistency, which is hard for vegan jellies. Nice sharpness from the fruit, although I would prefer more elderflower.

Sainsbury’s raspberry and clementine snowflake jelly, £4 (serves four)

This is pretty amazing-looking – a fancy gold star that holds its shape beautifully. I can imagine people being impressed with this one. But it all tastes a bit too much like orange squash – or the middle layer of a packet jelly trifle.

Party food

Reviewed by Miguel Barclay

Miguel Barclay

Party food has to look appetising. You don’t want to feel embarrassed handing out platters.

Co-op Asian style sharing selection, £2.25 for 11 pieces

It looks tasty. I like the stars on the vegetable twists, and the filo candles with their festive red tips. It tastes fresh and fragrant with lemongrass; nothing greasy and, crucially, no soggy pastry.

Co-op Indian style sharing selection, £2.25 for 10 pieces

These are golden brown and crunchy. The curried jackfruit in the samosas is intense. Delicious.

Tesco sticky chilli cauliflower bites, £2 (serves four)

Reheating tempura batter in the oven doesn’t really work, especially since you are putting the sauce on it, which makes the pastry bland and soggy. Depressing.

Tesco Plant Chef pigless blankets, £2 for 10

These take an age to golden-up, but they are worth the wait. The pastry is flaky and the filling (pea protein and roasted mushroom) is better than the real deal.

Tesco Finest Thai inspired butternut squash, coconut and lime spring rolls, £4 for eight

Tesco spring rolls

The prettiest of the lot, and the flavour is excellent, too: the taste is like Thai green curry, with a powerful lemongrass flavour.

Asda Extra Special rainbow vegetable filo tarts, £2.50 for nine

I like the fact that the veggies are on show here, and not enclosed in pastry – it is refreshing for them not to be beige. Flavour-wise, the gooey filling contrasts nicely with the crispy filo. More lemongrass, though – definitely the ingredient of the moment.

M&S Collection mushroom steamed buns, £14 for 24

These look interesting and mysterious and, as long as you don’t taste them, they will be a talking point. But the pastry tastes like doughy, cheap white breadcrumbs you have smashed into a ball. And if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t even know there was a filling in there.

M&S Plant Kitchen no pork pigs in duvets, £5 for 12

The pastry is doughy, and while the sausage looks decent, it doesn’t taste like one. It is made with seasoned mushroom and soy, but tastes a bit like cheese. It is definitely savoury, though – almost too savoury – and it gets better with every bite.

Iceland no duck Chinese selection, £3 for 12 pieces

The sweet plum gyoza with jackfruit taste vaguely authentic, although the tartness of the plum is a bit overpowering. Otherwise, they are a bit bland. I don’t like the hoisin pastry cones, which taste like stale, stodgy curry wrapped in soggy pastry. If they sold the Sichuan filo crackers separately, though, I might buy them – but they don’t redeem the whole pack.

Iceland No Bull Burger Sliders, £4 for eight

Iceland’s vegan sliders

This is fun finger food. The sliders look great and taste great, as if fresh off the barbecue. I like the fact that they come with mustard, and that the burger is a very close replica of a beef burger. To the untrained palate, they taste like beef.

Iceland no duck hoisin spring rolls, £2 for 10

Very run-of-the-mill spring rolls, the kind you get at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The pastry is a bit tough and thick, most likely to compensate for skimping on the filling.

Aldi vegan cauliflower bites, £1.99 for 10

They have an offputting watery consistency, a bit like curdled milk. And the flavour is unidentifiable. Asian? Indian? Tex Mex? British? No good.

Waitrose Christmas vegan mini beet wellingtons, £7 for nine

There is no food with red crumbs on the outside except for red velvet cake, so the white puff pastry dotted with red here is immediately unappetising. Also, they look difficult to eat. Taste-wise I don’t like them. They are so sweet that they are almost like a dessert – but not a wellington.

Waitrose vegan Moroccan mushroom and chickpea pittas, £6 for 12

They are so cute! They certainly look one of the most interesting offerings. They taste nice, too, with a bit of Moroccan tagine vibe. But that is only in the first mouthful. After that, they get drier and drier, and in the end it is just thick pitta.

Waitrose Christmas vegan mushroom and chestnut paté, £2.50

This looks good, with a lovely glossy finish from the red onion and balsamic chutney on top, but the bottom layer is so bland that caramelised onion is all you get by way of flavour. This neither tastes like, nor does the job of, a paté. It is a condiment, not a snack.

Miguel Barclay’s Meat Free One Pound Meals is published by Headline. Miguel Barclay and Anna Jones were talking to Dale Berning Sawa

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