Great Vegfest Expectations (part 1)

It is not too huge an overstatement to say I have been looking forward to VegfestUK since last year’s edition, and I’m pretty excited about sitting down to write a post right now, so here is Vegfest London 2014 as seen through my eyes.

As soon as we entered the vast Olympia hall, we made an executive decision to head to the toilet. This is not actually a bad strategy, as you get to eye up a few stalls as you walk past, without allowing yourself to get sucked into any of them too early. The first one to catch my eye – apart from the Yaoh and Fry’s stall in prime location – was the Vega stall with their sleek array of vegan protein powders, meal replacements, and snack bars which I have read about on a number of North American blogs.

Vegfest 2014 - Vega

Unlike most stalls, they didn’t have readily snatchable samples of their products, so after hovering for a few minutes reading ingredients lists, I asked to taste their vanilla protein powder (mixed and displayed in a MyProtein shaker, which strikes the ex-marketeer in me as a bit odd). I was expecting my heart to be torn apart by the dilemma of falling in love with the most expensive vegan protein powder available to my knowledge.

Luckily, it was distinctly average by virtue of tasting very artificial. Although I didn’t get to try them, the bars were full of brown rice syrups and the likes and seemed equally unexceptional. The staff weren’t overly friendly or knowledgable, and so I walked away without looking back. A victory for me I feel.

Vegfest 2014 - Round-Up

I couldn’t not take a photo of the giant Round Up!

We wandered around a fair bit, taking in the vibe of the event, noting new names and questioning absences. This is my fifth vegan expo, so I’m starting to be a little bit better at sniffing out good deals and knowing what is worth sampling and walking past.

The first fistful of cash was left with the adorable ladies of ConsiderIt Chocolates in exchange for three of their small (40g) truffle bars, one of which wasn’t to last 24 hours… and the second of which only just made it past 48 hours after leaving the venue.

VegFest 2014 - ConsiderIt Chocolates

Chocolate was the last thing I had planned on buying at the event, but the first little sample of cinnamon truffle bar that I popped in my mouth pretty much sealed the deal. There isn’t really anything that quite fits the bill so closely for me. All the other flavours were equally good: sweet and smooth Madagascan Vanilla; voluptuous and rich Amaretto; juicy and warm Orange… I forget what else I tried, but they were all fantastic. Claire Baker was adorable and humble and exactly the kind of person I love to meet at these events. I am seriously considering signing up to their monthly chocolate subscription box.

VegFest - Rawwwsome

I tried some Primal Kitchen paleo snack bars which were tasty but nothing special, ogled the colourful Rawwwsome stall, and recognised the LifeFood stall from this year’s V Delicious. I feel that the trend continues to push towards the less-cooked side of things.

The continuous sampling was making it abundantly clear to me by this point that I wanted some real food. We had a look around at all the caterers (and the queues extending from them) before I finally settled on a lentil burger from Rainforest Creations, whose colourful piles of food had tempted me at the London Vegan Festival just weeks ago.

My burger was cut in half and smeared with hummus, and served with three salads of my choosing along with a dollop of hummus and some hot pepper sauce. I chose a kale salad, a mung bean and lentil salad, and a coleslaw and my lunch was delightful. Sure, the burger was a bit dry and the mung bean salad a bit chalky, but overall the whole thing hit the spot. And for £6, I would totally head there again for my lunch.

VegFest 2014 - Rainforest Creations

Ben returned from his hunting and gathering with some barbecue “pork” and rice from Gillie Food, which he very much enjoyed, and a highly disappointing curry from the Brownin’s stall (not photographed because it was covered with iceberg lettuce and, frankly, curry in a styrofoam takeaway carton is never too pretty). It tasted like watery packet mix and had very little going for it. Some you win some you lose!

VegFest 2014 - Gillie Food

We also got to enjoy some utter nonsense drifting my way from one of the talks while we ate, and I caught up on Instagram. I had actually resolved not to get too carried away with social media and photos during the day, but I actually had fun documenting highlights!

I very nearly cracked into one of my ConsiderIt Chocolate truffle bars, but I wandered towards more chocolate samples instead. I was drawn to Cacao Crudo, whom I had not heard of. I chatted to the super friendly woman behind the stall, who explained that they were the first raw chocolate brand in Italy, priding themselves on using only coconut sugar as opposed to other raw chocolate brands, and that they were hoping to expand into Europe. She was so lovely and passionate that I really wanted to love their chocolate, but it just wasn’t for me no matter how attractive the packaging. The goji berry varieties were by far my favourite, and I loved that they used locally sourced hazelnuts, but I hope they tweak the recipes a bit as I would love a little more sweetness and flavour!

Vegfest 2014 - Cacao Crudo

We halted briefly in front of the Paradise Unbakery stall which was just too cute! I was very tempted by a lonesome chocolatey rasbperry cake decorated with a fig (actually, I kinda just wanted the fig) but was wary of being over-chocolated. However, I couldn’t resist one of the little carrot cakes for a very reasonable £3.50. Turned out I wasn’t really in the mood for a raw cake after all and found myself hunting for the slabs of pineapple layered within, but hey – I have to fulfil my duty to support independent vegan businesses!

Vegfest 2014 - Paradise Unbakery

Next on the chocolate expedition was Pana Chocolate, whose sleek little blocks of chocolate I have seen in a few independent stores (they are also in Planet Organic) and whose intensely creamy and delicately flavoured chocolates won me over. I sampled each, and then spent about 10 minutes trying to choose two to buy on their 2 for £5 offer whilst everyone laughed at my indecisive torment. In the end I went with the Raw Cacao which was surprisingly sweet and soft, and after raving about the Orange and the Mint flavours I opted for the Sour Cherry and Vanilla which, although more subtle than the essential oil-based flavourings, was attractively different. I totally should have gotten one of each of their seven flavours for £15. Dumb.

Vegfest 2014 - Pana Chocolate

Well, apparently I did more sampling and tasting and chatting than even I knew! Looks like we need a Part 2 here as I am aware that not everyone has hours to spare reading about every morsel of chocolate that was sacrificed to my tastebuds… But come back tomorrow where there’ll be some more tasting, simple pleasures, and closing thoughts!