It’s the end of National Vegetarian Week! How did you get on? As a two-year old vegetarian (and still loving it) I’ve been playing around with my choices recently. I initially made this decision to switch to being a vegetarian after learning where meat really comes from. Now, I know what you’re thinking – meat comes from animals. Yeah, I know. But it’s the places those animals are housed in that really freaks me out, to the point of me likening the life of an animal raised for meat to that of a wrongly convicted prisoner (you can read more here).
However, after this decision, I learnt that my diet as a vegetarian is also healthier for me, and more sustainable for the planet. Did you know that factory farming is an industry responsible for incredibly toxic pollution? Not only are cows responsible for more greenhouse gases than transport1 but it also causes gigantic amounts of noxious sewage, water waste, and ammonia emissions2.
For this year’s National Vegetarian Week, I teamed up with Orso, a classic Italian restaurant tucked away in the West End of London. It might not seem like the most obvious choice, if you have a peek through their menu, but I was presented with the challenge to visit and try their vegetarian food.
As vegetarians, or anyone with dietary restrictions knows, this can sometimes be a pain. However, I accepted the challenge, and was impressed with not only the variety of options, but also the quality of the food. Forget the safe-bet national restaurant chains; it’s places like these that can really make anyone of any diet feel comfortable, and also enable them to try new foods and have a good time.
On the back of that, here are my top tips for eating out at any kind of restaurant as a vegetarian, with real-life examples from my visit to Orso.
1. Set your parameters
This is probably something you’ve done already, seeing as you’ve made the commitment to be a vegetarian. However, everyone is different, and it could be that you’re pescatarian, vegan, or simply not a fan of eggs. By knowing what you will and won’t eat, you can easily pick out the dishes that don’t fit your criteria, and do your research beforehand on grey-areas. A good example of this is vegetarian cheese – some cheese is still made with rennet (although rarely).
2. Speak up
Let all the relevant people know your meal plans. I don’t mean this in an arrogant sense – no-one likes being told vegetarians are “holier than thou” because they care about animals, our health, and the planet. But it’s no hassle to let the member of staff on the end of the phone know that you’ll be eating vegetarian food when booking, as well as the waiter that serves you. One of the nicest things about eating at Orso under this premise was the welcome from the Maître D’, who happily accommodated my vegetarian needs, pointing out which options I could choose on the menu, and bringing over some absolutely delightful zucchini fritti and Sardinian bread in rosemary oil.
3. Don’t hold back
Part of the fun of going out to eat is the option of trying new and exciting foods. I love experimenting with tastes, and will give almost anything a go once. While a cheesy pasta might seem appetising because it’s so familiar (and my goodness, Orso’s ravioli with spinach, ricotta, and sage butter was a delight), perhaps give something a little more extravagant a go. My number one recommended dish from their menu was the pizza with walnuts and spinach on a fired base – forget Pizza Express, this was a real pleasure.
This final step actually took me a little while to master. As soon as you’re hyper-aware of your food, you can become almost suspicious of it, especially when you didn’t make it with your own hands. In all honesty – by the time it’s on your plate, it’s too late to do anything about it. Enjoy what you’ve ordered, take in the delicious flavours, and make a memory of both the evening and food. Eating out is always a festival of flavour and friendship (if not family, or romance) and that goes for everyone, vegetarian or not. Even as a wellness blogger, I know when to take a night off, and this flourless chocolate cake definitely tickled my fancy!