Vegans in Oxford have been anxiously awaiting the opening of Happy Friday Kitchen, the latest food lover’s addition to Cowley Road, and the city’s first fully vegan restaurant. On offer on the menu is a range of plant-based comfort food including pizzas, burgers, and Buddha bowls, alongside the diner’s offering of indulgent baked goods, and a mini-market where you can pick up a range of other sweet treats, including a cup of ‘accidentally vegan’ pic n mix.
I visited with my non-vegan boyfriend in their opening week to fill our boots with tasty vegan junk food. We entered the cosy restaurant and noticed already that a few tables were reserved, but luckily managed to get seats as it was fairly early in the evening. As the restaurant is still so new and quite a novelty in the area, I’d recommend booking a table, particularly on weekends, if you want to guarantee yourself a seat (though if all else fails, they do takeaway too). Inside is a very relaxed atmosphere, with fun music playing, and a light and open décor.
To try as much from the menu as possible we decided to order a few dishes to share. We placed our order at the counter and first to arrive was the ‘Meat Loathers’ pizza (£14), a stuffed crust pizza topped with BBQ sauce, BBQ chicken, maple bacon, sausage, red onion, mushrooms and green pepper. My boyfriend is a Domino’s fan, with his order always being the meat feast, and this was incredibly close to the real thing in terms of flavour and texture (though the vegan cheese does stick to your teeth a bit). It’s a decent size pizza for one person and I found even a couple of slices quite filling because of the richness of the cheese. The stuffed crust adds to the decadence, and although vegan pizzas are being offered at a number of places now, with all the mock meats, this one is something you can’t find anywhere else in Oxford.
We also opted for the signature ‘Happy Fryday Burger’ (£12.50), a fried chicken seitan burger topped with lettuce, tomato, cheddar style cheese, and pickles served in a soft bun. The fried chicken was spot on in terms of texture and the seasoning, making it a very convincing alternative to something you’d get in a chicken shop. It’s a messy thing to eat, but thoroughly enjoyable – as ashamed as I might be to admit it, I’ve tried an awful lot of vegan junk food in the last year and a half or so and I think this is up there with the best. The burgers are served with crispy french fries, which we upgraded to cheese fries for an extra £1.50. They were very salty, but if you want to go all out I think treating yourself to that liquid cheese topping with a dash of chilli flakes is the way to go. The burger was probably my favourite thing I tried during our visit, and can’t wait to work my way through the other ones on the menu with their various tasty-sounding toppings.
Along with our mains, we ordered the hot wings (£4.99), and mac ‘n’ cheese (£4.50) on the side. The ‘wings’ are also made from seitan chicken and come covered in a generous amount of buffalo sauce, served with a garlic mayo. The mayo is a welcome addition as the wings are definitely hot, so the creamy, cooling dip goes really nicely with the flavourful seitan. Despite obviously not coming on a bone, it’s a very good replacement for its meat counterpart, again both in texture and flavour. Though a little spicy for me, my boyfriend polished them off with no trouble, so they got the meat eater’s seal of approval. The mac ‘n’ cheese was rich, filling and comforting, with a crunchy breadcrumb top adding a nice bit of texture. I wouldn’t say it had an extremely cheesy flavour, but when we realised quite how much vegan cheese we’d ordered and consumed throughout our meal that wasn’t too much of a worry, as it was still delicious.
We visited at around 6pm and although we would’ve loved to have picked up a cake or brownie to finish off our meal, with what’s on offer changing daily, they were sold out! We did have to waddle home with very full stomachs though so perhaps that was for the best. Happy Friday Kitchen is open throughout the afternoon for tea and cake so I suspect that’s where they all disappeared to. On offer, in addition, is a hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows if you’re so inclined, which I know I’ll be making the most of during these winter months.
Aside from the food, one of the best things about Happy Friday Kitchen for me as a vegan is knowing that absolutely everything they serve is safe to eat. No need to interrogate the staff about every ingredient in the dish, no need to refer to confusing (and often worryingly inaccurate) allergen menus, and no putting up with having to pay for an overpriced off-menu stir fry. For vegetarians and meat-eaters alike though, I think that Happy Friday Kitchen offers something that everyone will thoroughly enjoy. The service was also wonderful, the food came out quickly, and the staff that we spoke to were incredibly friendly and welcoming of any feedback. We told them very honestly that we’d be back again soon.
Happy Friday Kitchen says on their website that they aim to show being vegan doesn’t mean missing out, and I certainly think they’re achieving that.
Heather Saunders, an East Oxford resident, is enjoying devouring all the vegan food she can find in the city whilst running the blog Vegan Eats Oxford. Follow her on Instagram for daily foodie inspiration.