Newcastle’s vegan and veggie community has been spoilt for choice over the past couple of years. For the discerning herbivore, the options just keep multiplying.
Nestled on Newcastle’s Westgate Road since November 2016 is Wildflower: Creative Kitchen and Event Space, the city’s latest vegan eatery to set taste buds tingling.
Set up by Ash Turnbull, the previous owner and head chef of Painted Elephant, Newcastle’s first vegan restaurant, and Jessica Salmon, a former Elephant waitress and local textile artist, Wildflower is a real find for anyone looking for some tasty vegan fare and a cheerful, cosy setting.
I initially thought the café was much further out of the way. On a snowy January evening in Newcastle, the thought of walking miles to the city’s West End was less than appealing, but we were undeterred and pleasantly surprised to find that, actually, Wildflower was a mere five-minute walk out of the city centre. Trudging up the hill in Doc Martens, as the sun started to set and flakes of wet snow began to swirl around us, the café appeared like an oasis of warmth, colour and eclecticism that was just begging us to step in from the mid-winter greyness.
It was 4pm by the time I sat down with an old friend. As we were both feeling particularly greedy, we asked for two separate menu items each: ‘cheese’ toasties, with falafel and hummus wraps and salad. A bit of an odd combo, perhaps, but it worked wonders.
The falafel was herby and tasty, cooked just right with a generous layer of hummus on the wrap, and the ‘cheese’ – made by the guys at Wildflower – was, hands down, the best non-dairy cheese I have ever tasted. I sometimes find that vegan cheese does not behave in the way you would expect; stubbornly remaining in shape in the face of any amount of heat that you throw at it. This cheese had melted with lovely, gooey perfection into the toasted bread, and was as tasty as any cheddar cheese toastie. This was also the first time I’d had a Guava juice. With a sweet taste, like lychee, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will certainly be hunting it down again. There was also a selection of loose leaf teas on the menu for those who fancied a hot drink to chase away the January blues.
As for the surroundings, the décor was eye-catching without being overpowering, and there was lots of attention to detail that made the café feel like a real labour of love. I spent a good ten minutes wandering about taking it all in. Each wall was adorned with local artworks – all available for purchase – and I spotted lots of fun little touches. One of my favourites was Quentin the Painted Unicorn teapot. The little fella poured tea from fused front hooves, and his entire head could be removed to fill him up with tea. Quentin was possibly the most hilariously kitsch item I have ever seen.
In a corner beside a comfy sofa were crates of records for sale. My post-Christmas battered and beleaguered wallet wouldn’t allow me to splurge, sadly, but a quick heads-up – there’s an excellent Bowie at the Beeb record currently on sale that would be a fantastic addition to any Starman fan’s collection. With lots of events to be held on the premises, including live music nights, themed menu events, record fairs and vintage clothes pop-up days, this is a small space with huge potential.
Most importantly, this café is run by two young people with a real passion for food and the vegan cause, who have the get-up-and-go to give running a café a shot. Newcastle, like many big cities, is thronged with big chain restaurants and university accommodation. It’s a city in flux, with the iconic Newgate Centre only recently torn down to make way for more student flats, and the beloved brutalist former Odeon Cinema the next to face the wrecking ball.
If we are to retain the little things that make our wonderful Northern cities special, unique and bursting with character, we need to continue to support and to nurture small businesses like Wildflower. Thankfully, they make that very easy to do.
By Lyndsey Skinner, North East Correspondent