Excellent restaurants in Florence that show it’s possible to deliver a vegan take on classic Italian cuisine

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Simple soul food: Shanti Bomb and chips, ravioli, and salad at Dolce Vegan in Florence

No greater is the divide between vegan and vegetarian food perceived, perhaps, than in the world of Italian cuisine. The thought of missing out on the culture of creamy cheesiness that this country has to offer and being confined to tomato-based sauces was not too appealing before a recent trip to Florence.

But thanks to the Happy Cow app (the only app I’ve ever paid money for and well worth the roughly £2.99 I splashed out a few years back), it was soon obvious that vegan recipes can be as deliciously Italian as any other.

Three places stand out. First, Dolce Vegan, which was the first wholly vegan restaurant to be established in Florence. Their mission statement and rationale behind the restaurant is stated clearly on their website:

It’s called “VEGAN” to give a clear and precise message of our choice. Because milk and eggs cause more suffering than meat, and so the vegetarian choice is no longer acceptable either from an ethical point of view or from a healthy and environmental point of view.

It’s called “DOLCE” because it “gently and serenely” chooses to be vegan. In fact, being vegan does not mean giving up something or depriving yourself of the pleasures of the table, but acquiring awareness of your actions and enriching your life also through a healthy and tasty diet, full of news and surprises. We want to make everyone aware of the beauty and sweetness of living respecting animals, the environment and their health.

The menu is extensive and rather incomprehensible to the non-Italian speaker, and the serving system is also confusing. If you sit long enough someone will come and take your order, but long enough was too long for us on our first visit and so we opted for counter service, which speeded things up considerably. On our second visit, we chose our table strategically, so that not noticing us was not an option.

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Sweet treat: The superb cheesecake at Dolce Vegan, Florence, a perfect accompaniment to postprandial coffee

The staff are lovely and the place has a really pleasant vibe. The food ranged from burgers to pasta to salads. I tried a wrap, and the ravioli. Both were good, if not particularly special. My companion had the Shanti Bomb (burger) and chips, which he confirmed as being as hearty, tasty fare that really “hit the spot”.

Their links with a nearby animal sanctuary are displayed everywhere, and there are leaflets about volunteering there as well as the chance to donate cash to help with looking after animals.

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Classic flavours: Fried potato side dish with gnocchi in pesto sauce at Universo Vegano, Florence

Universo Vegano has a very different feel to it. It’s part of a glossier franchise chain, with no table service and reliably good food. For me, it was reminiscent of the Swing Kitchen restaurants in Austria. The environment is clean and modern, with a relatively authentic menu of burgers, pizzas and pastas.

I avoided the pizzas in both restaurants, as I didn’t see any reviews online anywhere that convinced me to try them. Universo Vegano’s gnocchi in a rich and flavoursome pesto sauce was amazing. The ravioli was superb too, as were the salads we tried, and the fried potatoes. There was a steady stream of people coming in, and it was good to see so many solo female diners settle in for a series of courses.

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Back for more: Strawberry and cream cake, smothered in nuts, Universo Vegano, Florence

The strawberry cream cakes, rolled in crushed nuts, were so fresh and delicious that we came back for more the next day.

Also mention-worthy from our recent trip to Florence was the hotel we stayed in, Residenza Magliabechi. We scored a superb deal, staying here for three nights for a ridiculously low price, because we went completely out of season, two weeks before Christmas. The location is perfect; it’s really central and within walking distance of everywhere.

But the biggest relevance here is the way they took our plant-based diet totally in their stride, and provided us with an excellent breakfast of fruits and bread and vegan croissants every morning.

One of the classiest places to get superb vegan food in Munich

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Fluffy and full of flavour: the chickpea omelette at Max Pett in Munich

Restaurant review: Max Pett, Munich

For a really laid-back atmosphere and delightful plant-based food in Munich, Germany, Max Pett  is a first-rate bet.

I truly loved this place. We went for brunch on a Saturday morning, shortly after opening time, as seems to be our habit. Me, I had the chickpea omelette, which was so full of taste, fluffy and light that I’ve been trying to recreate it in my own kitchen (with little success) ever since.

In fairness, I made the better choice. My companion plumped for the white sausage with brezl, which when it arrived – two pale sausages paddling in a bowl of boiling water and a large pretzel on the side – confused us both so much that for the first time in my life I had absolutely no idea how he should approach it.

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Baffling: Max Pett’s white sausage and brezl should come with eating instructions

There was no spoon, so we figured it wasn’t a soup, and the sausages came in what seemed like an inedible skin from which they required freeing. Listen, he did the best he could; after a bit of squeezing, the flayed little blighters plopped out onto the saucer next to the provided mustard, and he assures me that the bread was good. Before we left, we spotted the young woman next to us ordering the same meal, which she greeted with equal perplexity.

There was no confusion, however, surrounding the Kaiserschmarrn, an ample portion for two huge appetites of warm fruity cosy stodginess served with apple sauce, plus a creamy hot chocolate and a chai latte to drink.

The whole experience – we sat outside on the quiet street surrounded by greenery, but inside also looked like a place it’d be good to settle into and spend some time – was super-relaxing. Busy, but somehow still the vibe was very calm.

I was left with the feeling that I’d like to explore the rest of the menu. A little pricey perhaps, but friendly service and wholesome food makes it worth it.

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Sweet perfection: the Kaiserschmarrn at Max Pett is truly special

Forget the overpriced hotel breakfast – here’s one of the tastiest ways to start a day in Vienna

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Hot stuff: Gyros wrap and chips with wasabi mayonnaise at Veggiez, Vienna

Restaurant review: Veggiez, Vienna

Another burgeoning Austrian ‘chain’ of vegan restaurants is Veggiez, which began in 2015, currently has two branches in Vienna, and is on the lookout for potential franchise investors.

Veggiez  has a large menu, including a lot of gluten-free choices, from soups and toast options, through salads to a range of burgers, wraps and bowls. It bills itself as ‘your vegan dining rooms’ and takes pride in the quality of flavour and good quality organics ingredients. It caters for what it claims are the 13% of Austrians and 16% of Germans who lead a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle; the numbers are growing, it says.

Desperate for breakfast, and staying at a hotel virtually opposite the Opernring branch, where the €30 breakfast offered us little more than dry bread and a banana, we were pretty much standing outside the doors when it opened at 11 o’clock on a Friday morning.

Although we were the first people there, it quickly filled up. This didn’t affect our seat by the window, but meant things got a smidgen tight for some of the diners. That said, there are plenty of seats at this place, both inside and out.

Between us we ate the smokey burger and the gyros wrap, both served with absolutely amazing chips and a superb wasabi mayonnaise. The coffee was also great tasting: I had a latte with almond milk, my companion had a black Americano. Having read various reviews before going in, neither of us could resist the chocolate muffin with a crumble topping and cherry filling for dessert. We weren’t disappointed.

Add good service and decent prices to the equation and visiting Veggiez was an excellent experience.

Vegan food that sure means a thing (and it’s definitely got that swing)

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Fast and tasty: Swiss wrap and Vienna burger with fries at Schillinger’s Swing Kitchen in Vienna

Restaurant review: Schillinger’s Swing Kitchen

Schillinger’s Swing Kitchen was a consistently good source of top-notch vegan food during a recent European train trip, with a sufficiently varied menu to ensure that we returned to refuel on several occasions across a couple of different Austrian cities.

Started in January 2015, Schillinger’s Swing Kitchen  now has six Austrian branches, plus two in Berlin, Germany, and one in Bern, Switzerland, all with the same well-produced menu of fast food wraps and burgers, salads, and desserts. If ever a vegan chain were set to rival similar omnivore businesses, this place would be it.

The company is owned by the Schillinger family. Charly, whose family background is in the restaurant trade, worked for years in the financial industry, and turned vegan 20 years ago, and his wife Irene had a vision to recreate the flavours of traditional Austrian dishes in a plant-based menu, and this is reflected, for example, in their Schnitzel burger, and in an almond cake with chocolate-pudding cream topped with a nougat-icing and decorated with chocolate and almond-nougat balls. After the existing family business, the Gasthaus Schillinger established in 1793, successfully turned vegan, they began their Swing Kitchen, hoping to present environmentally-friendly burgers and other fast food to the masses.

And that’s exactly what they are doing. We visited the Opernring branch in Vienna, and later became serial customers at the newly-opened franchise in Graz. Between us we tried four of the seven types of burgers – honestly, they were all good and a preference would purely be based on individual taste – the Swiss wrap, which was my personal go-to meal almost every time, with its mix of hash browns and hot cauliflower, and, when we were in need of more vegetables and less fried food, the Nugget salad. The garlic dip was amazing, especially with the French fries. The meal deals worked out at around 10 Euros each and included a drink.

And all this delicious food was served in a crisp clean environment to a soundtrack of 1930s and 40s jazz/swing. Branches all have a live display above the counter of resources saved compared to a similar meat burger restaurant. Not sure how that works, but maybe it simply shows a heart in the right place, for a company that uses no plastics, Fairtrade ingredients only, and boasts that its foods all have 0% cholesterol.

We’ll be back.

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Eat with a beat: Schillinger’s Swing Kitchen in Graz, Austria