When we, as a nation, talk about vegan food, it is not uncommon for the chat to come back to burgers. Or sausage rolls. But it’s usually something of a similar ilk. Vegan convenience food aggravates people. It is likely because this field is a confluence of so many things: a food that everybody eats, a junk food being made of nutritious ingredients and something that traditionally contains animal that has been made as a perfect replica.
The Filth Burger Patty
I am neither vegan or vegetarian, but I am now a solid fan of the Filth burger. While, aesthetically, it matches what we know as a burger, and while it gives you that same feeling of fullness, it is far less heavy and significantly more funky. The patty gets that mix of soft and crunchy that we love from an excellent meat burger and does something different. It’s crumblier, more engaged with umami and all-round a Filth burger patty is just more of a complete taste sensation than a single, naked burger patty.
Both the standard and Seoul burgers provide the same feeling of something ticking off every check box on your tongue and it does not have that problem I sometimes get when relying on plant-based protein in which I feel really satisfied for three hours and then very empty until dinner. The nori on the fries didn’t provide the salt kick I wanted, but both sweet potato and standard chips are delicious and the sauces heavenly: the beetroot ketchup almost has a pomegranate molasses vibe and the aioli – while less claggy than you’re used to – has a creaminess, garliciness and lightness of a toum sauce.
The surprise revelation? The milkshakes, which shouldn’t be this good for you and this delicious at once. In a sense, and this is very reductive but hopefully useful, the burger gives you all the things you like most about a really good falafel wrap, with a bit more oomph.
With this burger, as with all its (very different) predecessors in this same conversation, the question remains: if you love burgers so much, why don’t you just eat meat then? Why do you want something you’ve purposefully removed from your diet? Why does a healthier, plant-based diet, want to indulge your guilty pleasures too?
A Vegan Burger that is Affordable for Everyone
All of these questions are well known to Gizzi Erskine and Rose Ferguson, who have just returned to London with the latest iteration of their plant-based burger pop-up, Filth. Filth – Pure Filth once upon a time – last tested out its top-secret brand of dirty but nutritious junk food at the Tate Modern, where responses were strong.
“When we first made it it was more expensive than a meat burger,” explained Ferguson. “We were trying to affect everyone, so it had to be affordable for everyone.”
After another year of clever tips and tricks designed to keep the burger nutritious but bringing the price down with a top-secret recipe – “It’s one of those things where if I told you what was in it I’d probably have to kill you,” half-jokes Erskine – now they’re back in Shoreditch, in the sort of prime location that won’t help accusations of trendiness or faddishness and with a burger that will set you back a very reasonable £8. Shake Shack eat your heart out.
Pop-ups! Shoreditch! Vegan food! All the things that angry critics would like us to stop encouraging, fortunately Erskine and Ferguson’s business is not interested in the fads, the zeitgeist or in taking your money with a substandard product. All Filth wants to do is make food that’s good for you, that people want to eat, at an accessible price point. The rest, really, is just a bit on the side.
First thing’s first: the Bethnal Green Road pop-up opened in Veganuary, but that was never the plan and both Gizzi and Rose couldn’t even bring themselves to say that particular portmanteau (“Is there a worse word?” said Erskine.)
Second: neither Rose nor Gizzi are vegans themselves, but are both interested in cutting down their meat intake, eating well and providing accessible ways for other people to do the same.
“It’s plant-based and vegan, but it’s not really been in our sights to sell it like that,” said Erskine. “It’s not just plant-based eaters or vegetarians, so it wasn’t essential for us to open in vegan January, but it is, and it’s been good timing really.”
Rose and Gizzi met two years ago and quickly discovered they had a similar approach to food. “We both felt like the health food industry… was just a bit insipid,” explained Erskine. “We were just like, ‘It has to be more fun than this.’”
“There’s no point making food people won’t eat,” added Ferguson. “Health food is this sort of higher echelon of food and it doesn’t appeal to everybody. We wanted something that appeals to everybody and that’s why we ended up with the burger.”
It’s not an attempt to replicate meat like the impossible burger – “I know a lot of people who feel uncomfortable that the burger bleeds,” explained Erskine – but it has the same umami base you get from beef and the same caramelisation on the outside. It’s also, Erskine says, got a bit more “bite”.
“Your average veggie burger is often made using fillers – potato flour, gram flour – they’re thick with that, almost waxy. What we have is really exciting and we knew it was going to change how people perceived vegan food.”
The pop-up in Shoreditch goes until March, but Filth will be spreading itself all over the shop afterwards: Soho House’s new motel type diner Mollies, and Shoreditch House, have both taken them in. Then, everything is up for grabs.
“We’re trying to nail our own site, which is proving more complicated than we thought with the competitors that are out there,” said Rose Ferguson.
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