Veganism is a very different beast to what it was 20 years ago. Heck, even just four years ago; The Vegan Society now estimates that 600,000 people in the UK stick to plant-only diets, which is four times as many as in 2014. This shift in eating habits has no-doubt been informed by the recent communal realisation of just how harmful intensive animal farming and high rates of meat consumption are; harmful not only to farmed animals, but also the planet, and even our own health. Right now, we’re at a point where people are taking more notice of what they’re eating and where it’s come from than they ever have in their lives. Feeding into this shift – and being fed by it in turn, of course – is the proliferation of vegan dishes being proffered on our restaurant scene, both in meat-serving eateries and increasingly popular plant-only joints.
If you’re trying to avoid animal products these days, you’re not forced to search on the menu for the one sole, sorry dish labelled (vg), or awkwardly ask the staff to adapt something for you. The choice of vegan meals is becoming actually very exciting, with plants being used in ever-more imaginative and conscientious ways. It’s almost as if fruits and veg are rolling their eyes and saying, “Finally; that’s what we’ve been trying to tell you.” Indeed, colourful, imaginative plant-based food is what you’ll find at Persian mezze bar Koocha – the creation of Noda Marvani. She took over the site from her dad, who decided to close his gaff, Number 10, after more than a decade in business. The menu here is inspired by the huge Persian spreads that Noda remembers from her childhood; the small plates are intended to be mixed and matched to create big sharing feasts. Inside, the restaurant is simple and rustic, with dark wooden floors, festoon lights reaching across the ceiling and Middle Eastern-style patterned tiles behind the bar.
Speaking of the bar, there’s a decent list of cocktails here (which are also vegan, and come in at two for £10), featuring the likes of the nostalgically named Number 10, with saffron gin, vodka, lavender syrup and lemon juice, and the Persian Rose, made from gin, rosewater and cucumber. It was the latter, along with a Bramble Patch mocktail, that kept me and C cool in the sweltering heat of a recent summer afternoon (any other year but this one, and that would have been taken as sarcasm)
A large selection of mezze plates – including veggie fritters, a traditional Iranian stew, and spiced, slow-roast cauli, as well as your dips, falafel and other more familiar Persian offerings – are all £3.50 each or four for £12, while sides of flatbreads, rice or fries come separately. Rissoles – little deep-fried patties that traditionally involve meat – were made from potato and yellow split peas. They had shells of golden-fried rice crumb, and were dressed with a rich roast tomato sauce. The koopa, meanwhile, were deep-fried rice balls that burst with Middle Eastern flavour, most notably a well balanced cinnamon kick. Our third plate was a dip made of roasted aubergine, caramelised onion and soya yoghurt; we bypassed the bread and shovelled it straight into our mouths by the forkful.
You may have already heard noises about the vegan kebab (£6.75) that these guys have come up with. Seitan (pronounced say-tan – yes, like the keeper of hell, but don’t let that put you off ) replaces the meat, and does a pretty good job of it, too. A natural substance that’s not come from a local lab, it’s actually made from protein-rich, gluten-based dough. Served here in shavings, it had a dense, meaty texture with a nice crust, and was well seasoned. Tzatziki and chilli sauce were dolloped on top, and it all came inside a warm, crusty pita served in a bright yellow (opinion-dividing) plastic basket. We had that with a portion of well-seasoned house special fries (£3), ’cause kebabs and chips go together like Champagne and strawberries (and are just as desirable in my book).
This is fun, colourful and authentic-tasting food might be Iranian in heritage, but feels right home in this thoughtful little independent restaurant in the heart of Bristol.
Koocha, 10 Zetland Road, Bristol BS6 7AD; 0117 924 1301