The Owl Vegan Café

Vegan Owl painted shopfront

Barnstaple, North Devon’s main town, now has a vegan ‘caff’ down Maiden Street (an alley filled with pirates’ ghosts, I wager).

Opened in December (pic above added in March), the Owl Vegan Café serves dishes that make me happy such as braised tofu with roasted carrots and three greens.

I am not a vegan because I love organic cream, cheese and fried eggs.

But not in excess. Too much dairy and I end up hallucinating cows and butter churns (thank you, Raymond Briggs). My body has a tantrum and gives me a runny nose – a classic sign of dairy sensitivity.

Luckily I love eating plant foods. For some reason, when I am munching on brown rice (with olive oil and fried garlic) or my favourite vegetables, I feel soothed as I eat.

That’s how I felt eating the trio of spring greens, kale and spinach. Grown in nearby Tapeley Park with organic principles, they were served braised.

I confess I do a lot of butter-smothering to my veg – need to know more about this vegan alternative.

I love an eatery with something to read. I read a witty gritty piece by Andrew Murray in the Morning Star. I liked it because it agrees with my (anti-war and dubious about Nick Cohen from the Observer) point of view.

I had to order a vegan trifle to celebrate.

The Bird’s custard was made with soya milk, the vegetarian lemon jelly crystals were from Just Food and the fruit was real and fresh cut-up cherries, kiwi, and juicy pineapple. Kind of healthy kid’s food.

Time to catch my bus to the Atlantic sea coast. I strode off feeling light.

17 responses to “The Owl Vegan Café

  1. Your post puts me in mind of an ongoing problem in my food choices: organic v non-organic cheese. From my very early years, cheese has played a large (probably too large) part in my life choices. Short of being a paid professional cheese taster, I can confidently assert that there are few with my breadth and depth of experience (still wearing a size 14 since the age of 18 though!) One of my favourite organic brands is Yeo Valley – but when it comes to their extra mature cheddar, it certainly doesn’t do what it says on the packet. How dare they misrepresent a dull, rather waxy cheese as a thing of delight? I keep meaning to write to them… Meanwhile, my favourite cheddar (you know who you are) won 2 awards in 2007 as Best Cheddar AND Best British Cheese. It was – sadly – not an organic cheddar.


  2. Thanks for that. You were sure you would leave something behind, and you left the the enjoyment of your visit – you also left your hat, which will wait for you.

    Despite my reply to your tomato rant, I take your point. There will be no tomatoes in the tofu any more, and probably not in nut roasts or lentil bakes (although it’s best to ask – depends who cooks them). The tomatoes will stay in the bean caserole, simply because I love it like that (hell, I also cook for myself). I do carrots, when I do do beet I will do it well, I can’t get any good local beetroot at the moment. Greens is greens, so long as you don’t wreck them – my cooking decisions depend on what I’ve got.

    The vegan alternative to butter is – don’t use butter. OK don’t use crap oils either, but it doesn’t have to come in a block. The real reason butter works (once upon a time, in my misspent youth I cooked dead animals, and used dairy derivatives in my cooking) is that it is not just fat, but also water, and is loaded with sugars – the moment you start cooking with it you are caremelising those sugars – it is the burnt sugars that give that dream taste. Butter works because you are burning the lactose almost instantly, so it is the easiest way of getting there (and its just butter and the veg). But with not much trouble you can get there and beyond with straight oils and, possibly, some exciting additives (molasses are good, so is mustard, horseradish, most herbs – then you can go spicy to you own inclinations…).

    My prefered (easy, but slow – and maybe only works if you are at the stove for other reasons) is to use a good oil (usually olive oil, but some of the nut oils can add a sort of sublety) (and you can probably do it using a crap oil as well, I don’t see why not; I just don’t) is to bung whatever you are cooking in a pan with some (more than you think) oil and let it cook and sweat (the sugars are released to the bottom of the pan). Let the sugars start to burn on the bottom, then add water and mix that lovely brown stuff in – and just keep that going. If I am not going to be standing over the stove I use the oven to do what is sometimes as good a job.

    Yes, OK, there is no lactose in the oils I’m talking about, so there is a particular flavour that will never come across. But (I think you could be sympathetic to this); the tastes of animals (and fish – and birds) tend to overpowering, and so the gluttons for this sort of eating have confused their tastebuds and cannot excite themselves to the subtleties of such bland foods as chard, swede, carrot, beetroot….

    My daughter (a meat eater) used to love her grandad’s fried onions (he wouldn’t dream of using anything but butter). Now she can’t be bothered with his but will eat a plateful of mine. (My father-in law is jealous).


  3. Thank you for explaining how you get that dreamy taste without butter. In due course, (a few things in the way before I can make slow cooking time), I hope to try making the delicious caramelised unction, and report back.


  4. RE: Vegan Cheese

    I was converted by the meal that I had at the owl cafe, it had vegan cheese in it, it was smoked cheese, very yummy, like the rest of the dish which had some salad and roast veggies, mmm. I just can’t remember what it was called.


  5. Doesn’t really matter what I called it; I don’t really follow recipes when I put things together – so something with the same name may taste totally different next time you drop in (Owl Cafe cook)


  6. I tried the caramalised unction last night – and it worked! I stewed cut up onions and mushroom in lots of olive oil. Then added water…and to my amazement it melded together. I customised the sauce with a teaspoon of mango chutney (probably because I didn’t trust it would go all burnt-sugary otherwise), balsamic vinegar and dried chilli. And served it on purple sprouting broccoli grown by the wonderful people at Marshford Organic Foods. Thanks Cap’n Vegan. Am gonna try that cheese next…


  7. But on Vegan Cheese substitutes; I like a lot of it, I can see what I can do with the various flavours and textures. But I am cheating, I don’t intend to be next year! Cheesly and Sheese are just easy. But tofu (or dofu, or the various other bean curd derivatives) are the true vegan cheeses, and have been made in Asia for thousands of years (way before Cheddar, Cheshire, etc were invented; around the time that cheese was that stuff the Barbarians ate to hide their bad breath and sweaty body smells).

    It’s almost impossible to get any halfway decent tofu in this country (Cauldron! – crap), and all of it is made from dried beans, rather than fresh (we ain’t growing much soya in this country, but we could), and all other beans do the job (with different flavours!). Much ahead of us to develop these subtle bean cheeses that the Chinese have been enjoying for millenia.


  8. Thats an interesting cheese factoid! ‘To hide thier bad breath’ tee hee, i’m sure cheese gives me bad breath.

    Anyway, i’m going to be working in Barnstaple soon so i’m going to have to come in for some tasty lunch, or dinner.


  9. Yes Chloe, I do sometimes bite my tongue, but occasionally my games are closer to the truth than the accepted truth.
    Just remind us, when you next come in, that you really want a taste experience. Give us the time; we can oblige.
    On bad breath; I, as a country lad, used to (hell not used to – I still do!) love chewing on wild garlic. I never found a problem with the smell of my breath – it was always fine to me.


  10. Am quite put out to hear the tofu I’ve been eating is not the real thing, but made from dried beans when it could have been made from fresh. Harrumph. But am heartened I may taste the real thing at the Vegan Owl Café one day. Book me and, if not presumptuous, Chloe, in for tofu made from fresh beans. Two questions: Can you use sprouting beans to make tofu? And are dried beans so dreadful? Surely a nutritional powerhouse? We need guidance, Captain!


  11. Sorry, good tofu can be made from dried beans. The crop ripens during one (or two, depending where you are) seasons and beans are only fresh at that time; so to use beans throughout the year they are dried – a less detrimental process than freezing or canning. Even better tofu (or a tofu with a fresher flavour) can be made when the beans are fresh; I have tasted the difference in Japan, and have been assured that much of Eastern Asia relish the soya harvest for this.
    Any bean (and probably any grain – most definitely any sprouted grain – and assuredly any sprouted bean) can be easily converted into bean (or grain) milk (a mechanical process, which can use food processors, or can be done with mashers and whisks). (So you get some interesting milks along the way).
    To cheesify the milk you have to make it curdle; lots of things can be used for this, and whatever you use will affect the flavour (the curdling is a chemical reaction). Most Japanese Tofu is curdled using Nigari salt; a by-product of sea-salt production, extracted from the sea salt because it has a bitter flavour. Somehow they discovered that it was perfect for making tofu. Also (particuarly in China) they use what we call Plaster of Paris (used over here for making casts for statues). And in some places they use a rather obnoxious aluminium oxide – this has given tofu a bad name, particuarly in Australia. But loads of things curdle the milk – then you are just cheese-making.
    But I will be to busy for a while to do anything with this; be fun though and I’ll back anyone who wants to give it a go.


  12. •••••••••• when I am munching on brown rice ••••••••••

    Just for fun now …

    Have you ever considered measuring the decibel level of your brown rice consumption? Perhaps also its passage hence if you have time?


  13. Addenda on butter;

    Do you know why butter was invented? Because we didn’t grow aubergines in Western Europe back then. Butter is a poor substitute for my aubergine pate.


  14. Not forgetting the delights of nut butters, neither.


  15. Pingback: Haricot beans and pumpkin « Real Food Lover

  16. And I move on; (sorry Elizabeth that I had put sweet peppers in the sweet potato soup, I find it hard not to cook to my taste buds). Doing pasties & pies now, and often using non-wheat flour. Rye is easy – but we are now doing total gluten free; rice flour. And the ultimate – Chick Pea (or Garbonzo Bean to the Americans) flour; murder to work with, but worth it. Must see what can be done with other bean flours.
    Anyway there is a deal with onions, and raw they have to be so crisp, so perfect. For cooking it is so different; shallots & red onions excel because they take this over-ripeness better. But like so many vegetables (and I know that just about every chef in the land will disagree) true ripeness is close to what most call over-ripe. I would find much agreement in Italy, Spain and Southern France – but not much from those who buy manicured veg from Sainsburys, Tescos and M&S


  17. All i’d like to say is – the OWL CAFE is the best cafe i’ve ever frequented in my 47 years. Vibe excellent, service and food ditto. And thanks to you both for inspiring me from my lazy-veggie ways to being fully fledged vegan!! The guilt at being veggie was worse than the ‘ignorant bliss’ of meat eating days of yore. URGH
    Thank you, thank you!
    I’m now dedicated to spreading the word of your very good & talented selves.
    I’ll be in tomorrow – Karen


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