Cook Daily is a restaurant in London’s Shoreditch that’s defying the hipster stereotypes and becoming the unofficial headquarters for a new tribe of proud vegan. Clare Considine meets chef King Cook to find out how
Vegan food gets street cred
It’s midday on Monday in a vogueish corner of East London. Shoreditch’s Boxpark – a complex of shipping containers housing small shops and restaurants – is rapidly filling up with a hungry crowd. Their options are a show-and-tell of 2017’s most photogenic food, all pulled pork and bubble waffles. But there’s one queue triple the size of any other. And it’s for … pause for effect … vegan food.
The restaurant in question, Cook Daily, measures two by three metres and its crowd is one of many faces. “What I wanted to do was create a vibe,” explains its owner, 34-yearold local boy King Cook. “A London eating culture that just so happens to be vegan.” Rambunctious teens sit alongside a couple of Hindu families, speed-shovelling office workers and creatives with ironic facial hair. They all eat from recyclable bowls at long shared tables. T-shirts line the walls – black and emblazoned in dripping red graffiti script, declaring “Vegan. No blood. No bones.”
A survey released by the Vegan Society in 2016 found a 350% rise in the number of vegans in the UK over the past 10 years; and 42% of these are aged between 15 and 34. In 2016, Shambala was the first UK music festival to go meat and fish-free; Pret A Manger recently opened its second vegetarian branch in the capital; and this March BBC iPlayer showcased Simon Amstell’s Carnage, a pro-vegan feature-length comedy.
Veganism 2.0 is officially booming. Cook Daily is neither a beanbothering hippy joint nor a Gwyneth Paltrow juice den: it’s the unofficial headquarters for a new tribe of proud vegan.
King opened Cook Daily in 2015 without a website or contact number, let alone a PR plan. But what he did have was the fevered backing of the UK music scene. King’s heavily scrolled Twitter feed is chock-full of love from the likes of Emeli Sandé, Professor Green and JME, chief rallier of the Boy Better Know grime crew, the brother of Mercury-winner Skepta, the poster boy for the #Grime4Corbyn campaign. He embodies a new trend for awareness amongst millennials – a pride in being armed with information and making considered choices.
For JME, who King describes as a former three McDonald’s-a-day man, his thirst for knowledge took him down an internet wormhole that led to veganism. To his 763k followers on Twitter he calls Cook Daily “my 2nd home”.
“All it takes is JME to tweet and say ‘I’m at Cook Daily’ and I’ve got 50 young boys in here,” says King. This introduces the lifestyle choice that he’s championing to a whole new demographic. “They think vegan means white, middle class,” he explains, “but I hope I challenge that. It’s just about making them know: bruv, I wasn’t born vegan, I don’t really know anyone that was born vegan. We’re in the same boat.”
At Cook Daily, 16 honed dishes offer the familiarity of comfort food while appealing to London’s multicultural fidgetism. You’ll find the Hard Bowl, a bright mountain of Caribbean textures and flavours – yams and dumplings, Scotch bonnet and thyme; the marijuana-inspired High Grade, all smoky and sweet vegetables topped with a hemp seed crumble. Or the house pad Thai, a nod to King’s Lao
roots, boasting his clever recreation of fish sauce using soys and seaweed.
A bowl at Cook Daily costs £8.50. “It’s too expensive, but I’m still here,” laughs local customer Danny, as he waits for his black bean sauce bowl. A Public Health England 2016 report found that only 8% of children aged 11 to 18 are currently getting their five-aday. Introducing young Londoners to plant-based food that isn’t perceived as “worthy” is an important first step in what King describes as “breaking the cycle”. Danny tells me: “The food’s proper tasty and I don’t feel like I’m missing the meat.” King says he gives kids that go to the chicken shop an alternative. “They’re not gonna go to a juice bar in Notting Hill! But they will come here, realise that no-one’s looking at them weird and learn that vegan food can be fun.”
Earlier this year, Cook Daily took over a second unit in Shoreditch’s Boxpark and opened a new spot in Croydon, offering an option in a less gentrified part of the city. Tomorrow he’ll be bringing vegan food to Boy Better Know’s hoards of fans for a pop-up at their Millennium Dome takeover. “Kids with tracksuits are eating Cook Daily rather than McDonalds,” he beams. “What more could I want?”
High Grade sauteed vegetables Serves 2
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ white onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
25mm fresh ginger, bashed
500g mixed veg (such as peppers, okra, carrots, mangetout, baby corn, broccoli) 2 tbsp cooked chickpeas
2 tbsp tamari
4 tbsp High Grade sauce (see below) 240ml vegetable stock
1½ tbsp nutritional yeast
A dash of sesame oil
For the High Grade sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
450g plum tomatoes
120ml cider vinegar
80ml rice vinegar
60ml maple syrup
3 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce 150g raw coconut sugar or maple syrup 2 tsp smoked paprika (pimentón)
2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp hemp oil (sold on Ocado)
1 First, make the sauce. Fry the onion in the oil over a medium heat until softened: about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until fragrant – 1–2 minutes.
2 Add the remaining ingredients, except the hemp oil. Stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer until slightly thickened– about 15-20 minutes – stirring occasionally.
3 Blitz the sauce until smooth, then add the hemp oil. Set aside to cool.
4 Meanwhile, fry the onion, garlic and ginger for 1-2 minutes. Add the veg and chickpeas. Toss for 2-3 minutes, then add the tamari and 4 tbsp High Grade sauce. Mix well. Add the stock. Cook for a further 1-2 minutes on a high heat. Add the yeast and a little sesame oil.
5 Serve over brown rice and garnish with coriander and hemp hearts, if you can find them.
Introducing young Londoners to plant-based food that isn’t ‘worthy’ is a big first step in what King calls ‘breaking the cycle’