Nicole Pilcher laments the lack of imagination in the average vegetarian menu…
Following a family meal one evening last week, I found myself broaching what I thought was a fairly innocuous subject with friends at lunch the next day – fellow vegetarians as it so happened. The subject was the mushroom. I was taken aback by their responses – which included vehement grunts of agreement, vigorous nods and defeated sighs – as I aired my feelings regarding this most drab of herbivorous menu options, found in various forms in any given pub or restaurant.
The master of the masquerade, the mushroom is often carefully dressed up to give diners the impression that they are consuming something far more intricate than a glorified fungus. And to persuade us darned vegetarians – perhaps a section of the market resented by some restaurateurs – to once again select this tired yet fail-safe option. Even more upmarket eateries are guilty of it, often taking the easy way out, albeit with a cherry on top.
However, the truth is, whether drizzled in the tears of unicorns, or served on a bed of angel’s hair, a mushroom risotto is a mushroom risotto. I’m often left agonising over humdrum choices, gingerly attempting to select the lesser of two evils while waiters politely hover next to the table, pens poised; dining partners rolling their eyes. Worst-case scenario, the mushroom will arrive amongst a medley of lettuce leaves strewn half-heartedly around the plate – in such cases I can inevitably be found surveying the table for a stray chip at the end of a meagre meal. Speaking as a self-confessed culinary catastrophe, sometimes I think even I could do better.
It does seem a little like laziness on the part of the people who, even in this day and age, ask incredulously: “But what do you eat!?” when you tell them you are of the vegetarian persuasion. Especially when I hear deputy editor Emma – a recently turned vegan – regaling tales of brand new dish discoveries and an ever-expanding culinary repertoire, which sounds anything but limited.
Admittedly, for someone who generally suffers from a descending mist of panic on beholding a restaurant menu – words wobbling and warping at the thought of making a decision – it is sometimes rather nice to spot a trusty old friend like the stuffed Portobello, and order within two seconds flat.
However, familiar, comforting cooking is what home-cooking is all about. When we dine out, most of us want our palates to be surprised and tantalised. I’d hate for my enthusiasm for my meat-free pledge to wane due to pure tedium at the dinner table, and to be forced to catapult my tastebuds into the meaty abyss of the average menu.
For now I’ll make do with my toadstool-themed options, but I fear the adventurous vegetarian within may soon demand appeasement in more exciting shapes and sizes. I await my next dinner date with bated breath…