I’m nearly the world’s worst vegetarian (regional finalist 1999, 2006 and 2015), so invariably my diet can revolve around processed awfulness. Often this is down to laziness and lack of inspiration, so a stricter regime might demand greater dedication than I’m able to give. If you’re vegan, eating out options drop off quite steeply, unless you’re a big fan of salads and potatoes or like sneaking packed lunches into restaurants. It’s ludicrous that a city as boisterously cosmopolitan as Brighton & Hove could offer so little choice for the vegan palette. This hasn’t escaped the attention of Lynn Nicholson. Better known as The Vegan Food Pimp, she’s a woman on a mission to prove eating well doesn’t mean compromising on taste. She’s now opened her first kitchen at The Marlborough Pub & Theatre, a large, mixed, and friendly local landmark just by The Old Steine.
Plenty of interesting things have happened through her travels around the world, but cooking and animal welfare are her main passions. “When I became vegan, it became obvious there were hardly any vegan chefs,” she tells me. “So, I wanted to take the food people eat on a daily basis and veganise it.” A trained holistic nutritionist, she shies away from ‘plastic meat and fake fish’, as they have little place in a truly healthy lifestyle. “I went to loads of vegan restaurants and everything was bland. So I worked on new menus all the time. It was so lovely to see people go: ‘This is amazing!’ I love it…”
Her experimentation and refining resulted in a Vegan Food Pimp Cookbook, with profits going towards supporting Jacobs Ridge, an animal sanctuary Nicholson co-founded. “I came here [The Marlborough] to do my book launch, and they said ‘would you like to take over the kitchen?’” It’s been just over six weeks, and the response has been great. This is a kitchen devoid of animal products – for once vegan dishes are not merely ‘an option’ or begrudging after-thought. “It’s making people think… and understand that the food vegans eat is really good.” There’s no arguing that vegetables are better for us than animal products. It is a distinct step, eating this healthily and ethically, but Nicholson demonstrates that it needn’t be a difficult one. “My pleasure comes from showing people what you can do. My thing is spices and flavouring. If I get something bland, it really upsets me.” The focus is purely on taste, well-being and value. Everything is made from scratch, with nut-free and gluten-free requirements easily catered for.
We’re presented with a typically beautiful dish, a vegetable chilli piled high with riotous colour. Alongside homemade tortilla strips, there’s potato, tomato, sweetcorn, kidney beans and peas, all lightly bathed in a rich and spicy sauce. Individually everything retains its distinctiveness, which is further boosted by delicate seasonings. The potatoes are emboldened by turmeric and soy sauce, while the tomatoes benefit from the overall flavour of the dish. It’s honestly the tastiest meal I’ve eaten for weeks.
With lunch prices starting at £4.95 for the dish of the day, your wallet will also be feeling healthier. The Marlborough’s proximity to the Grand Parade means it’s increasing in popularity with students. “I look at them getting a sandwich for £3, and think ‘that’ll last you ten minutes before you’re hungry.’ So, we do a proper big lunch. It’s all healthy, and they come back saying ‘I feel so good!’ For the students and the NUS, we subsidise everything so they can eat well.” Sunday sees the city’s only 100% vegan roast dinners, its friendly vibe akin to visiting Nicholson’s own house for lunch.
There might be a perceived effort with adopting veganism, but now there’s a holistic and hassle-free destination for anyone concerned about what they’re eating. “Some people do know why they should be vegan, but they don’t want to go about it just yet. But you can’t make someone vegan, I don’t want to force anyone – I just want to say: ‘This is the food, how do you feel?’”