I like the Vegetarian Butcher. A Dutch farm boy who changed course. Not because he doesn’t like meat, but because he realized that the meat industry is an unsustainable system. He had experienced it up close. The Vegaslager did not stand with a raised finger along the line. He built a flesh-replacing empire from the ground up. His products are available in supermarkets throughout the Netherlands and in a large number of European capitals. And now there is even a Vegaslager restaurant: the Vleesch Lobby in The Hague.
It has always amazed me how excited people sometimes reacted to those meat substitutes. By frightened meat lobbyists, for example, who jumped to the rescue for helpless, unsuspecting consumers. They could be very confused by the term ‘vegetarian chicken pieces’. God forbid they mistake “vegetarian chicken pieces” for regular chicken pieces. That’s why he has to write chicken pieces, and tonyn. An ugly solution to a non-existent problem.
The taco el pastor is a cardboard tortilla with cold pieces and sunflower seed paste that tastes like sawdust
From the other side came the complacent whining: “If you decide you don’t want to eat meat, why do you need something that resembles a sausage?” Listen, if you have the culinary talent to keep a cauliflower interesting for a fortnight, good for you. But other people have different priorities. Leave those people. In the end, isn’t it about us all cutting back?
I like some products better than others – I’m not a big fan of the chicken pieces, but the tonynsalad is quite decent and you can fool anyone with those mini frikandels, especially after a few beers. But whether it really tastes like meat is actually irrelevant. The goal is to offer people an alternative.
Enter the Vleesch Lobby: a restaurant as a flagship showroom. To silence the critics. To show that you can make tasty, appealing, full-fledged dishes with meat substitutes. Very smart and nice idea.
But then you have to do it right!
The tent is nicely decorated, with white tiles and plush charcuterie along the wall, tables with red checkered tea towels as napkins, spotless Berkel cutting machine in the corner. Everyone walks around here with the best of intentions. But without good management, it’s all worth nothing. Then it literally continues to play restaurant.
We are looked straight in the eye three times before someone catches us. Jackets are not accepted. Our table is next to a long sofa, exactly where two firm cushions meet. Then you sit with your seam on the seam all evening. We choose another table, which is only set when the first course is already on the table. We’ll never get napkins. Empty glasses are not removed. The service is sloppy. It’s slow. The women’s toilet is a mess (I hear from a reliable source). The wine list is one long sentence without prices. They don’t have three of the twelve dishes tonight (that’s 25 percent), including a dish with white asparagus. Oh yeah huh?! It’s Sept. Print out a new map.
The only advantage of this incredible amateurism is that the large wine glasses are served way too full. We need it tonight.
The menu is a collection of standard world dishes: paella, spring rolls, stew – that works. Smartly chosen. Those dishes no longer have to prove themselves. This offers solid frameworks to show that you can cook tasty and versatile with meat substitutes. But also here, especially here: do it right. Please. it is not that hard.
You can at least expect a chef who works for the Vegetarian Butcher to know how to handle that stuff. That, for example, you should not serve those chicken pieces cold. They suck on fat and they get tough. Then you get Vietnamese spring roll with styrofoam. Those pieces must be warm and especially hard-baked, as with the paella: then they are a bit softer on the inside and the taste only comes out well with such a hard edge. Unfortunately, the paella is nothing more than pearl barley in watery tomato sauce with smoked paprika. Those pieces are so full of flavourings, I think you can easily make vegetarian chicken broth from that. The taco el pastor is a cardboard tortilla with again cold pieces (this time in a sweet marinade) and sunflower seed paste that tastes like sawdust. The seeds on it are not even burned. The tony filling is very nice, but the ravioli is a limp slippery wonton skin, the excellent antiboise (delicious with very small raw cubes of zucchini) floats in the olive oil. The sauce of the stew is sour with alcohol, like lean beer.
Then the roockwurst comes on the table with a lot of fuss: “A first, we launched it three weeks ago.” I’d also like to launch that thing towards the kitchen. From two sides a pink dog’s penis sticks out of a piece of baguette with dry sauerkraut, with a skin around it as if it is still vacuum-packed in plastic.
Dear Vegaslager, hospitality is a profession. For such a project you need a catering tiger, who hires and educates good staff, regardless of his or her dietetic beliefs. Create a seasoned diner chef who has the basic skills to prepare simple, tasty dishes. The Vleesch Lobby thus misses the point. This is a big missed opportunity. And I really regret that.