In recent years Manchester has stepped up its veggie/vegan culinary game with a host of dedicated venues, menus, food festivals and events. You might be forgiven for thinking that eateries are jumping on the bandwagon as veganism’s popularity continues to soar.
I reckon that’s a cynical view. I welcome restaurants, especially pizzerias, that include a range of dishes to suit everyone’s dietary requirements. Long gone are the days when a barely-palatable, soggy margarita was as good as it got for us non-meat eaters – we’re now granted entire menus.
I’ve sampled my fair share of pizza (and beer) at PLY, in the Northern Quarter and, as a veggie, I can attest that the team there already produce a delicious selection of scran to suit any herbivore’s taste. But I was intrigued to try their new dedicated vegan and vegetarian friendly menu. As a fan of cheese in its many, gooey, stringy, delicious forms, I was initially a little sceptical of the faux-dairy situation. My last encounter with vegan cheese left me feeling a little underwhelmed and like I was chewing on a bit of plastic. Housemate, my lunch date and a self-confessed advocate for all things cheese and meat, felt the same. With such a mouth-watering list of pizzas on the regular menu (I’m a sucker for their Portebello) would this new vegan/veggie menu be up to scratch?
The answer is a resounding yes – although we did encounter a couple of minor snags. Booked in for lunch just after the Bank Holiday, the vegan cheese order had not been delivered so we were limited to just a couple of choices. Despite the lack of vegan cheese, and fewer options than the menu suggested, we manage to sample a couple of the new additions and the staff were extremely apologetic and friendly (I’ve always thought the service in PLY is fantastic).
We opt to share a couple of pizzas (wrongly believing we could easily scoff one each) and choose a Capra (v) – tomato, goat’s cheese, basil, pesto, confit tomatoes, and rocket – and a Chorizo and Squash (vg) – tomato, mozsarisella, smoked mozzarisella, vegan chorizo and roasted squash.
“It doesn’t taste like chorizo,” remarks Housemate, as she takes another bite. “It’s more like sausage as it’s thinly sliced, but it’s really tasty.”
I end up picking off the vegan chorizo because it resembles meat in both taste and texture – but I suppose it’s a good thing when a meat substitute tastes like the real thing. I reckon if you gave this pizza to a non-vegan and didn’t tell them, they’d wolf the lot and have no clue. The roasted squash is delicious. The Capra is my favourite – tasty, fresh and a little peppery from the rocket – and I scoff a fair few slices. We also order one of the smaller plates (because our eyes are clearly bigger than our bellies), a crunchy beetroot carpaccio with walnuts, goat’s cheese and maple. Yum!
As it’s a sunny day (excuses, excuses), we swill our food down with the delightfully-named Juice Springsteen, a 4.5 per cent tropical fruit juice session IPA from Alphabet Brewing Company, which was an excellent recommendation from our fab waiter.
The wonderful thing about PLY, apart from the fact that the pizza oven is a shiny disco ball, is its simplicity. Now I don’t mean simplistic in a negative way, rather it favours flavour over more ‘adventurous’ ingredients. In my opinion, this is what makes their sourdough pizza so great.
The restaurant is typical of the Northern Quarter, yes, but it’s got that little something extra. From long tables to small booths and sunny window seats, quirky pizza box exhibitions and artwork, PLY has always been something of a freelancer’s haven. I often nip in and set up camp with a coffee (and sometimes a pizza – what can I say? It’s my weakness) and see a host of other people doing the same.
So, if you’re a veggie, thinking of going vegan or just looking to try some seriously delicious pizza, I can’t recommend PLY highly enough.