There’s a revolution going on on Smithdown Road. Amid the gastronomic renaissance there’s another story-within-a-story. Over the last six months Smithdown has gained a vegetarian restaurant – and now a vegan restaurant based in Craft Taproom: Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen.
Chefs Kally and Mikey took over running the kitchen in July 2019 (Guac’n’Roll was Kally’s name in roller derby) and decided to make Craft’s food offering fully vegan. But Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen is no hair shirt, none of the ‘lentils-and-lettuce’ food that meat-eaters often deride vegan food as. Instead there’s vegan food with attitude: stuffed burgers, loaded fries – all your fast-food favourites. In your face, then in your belly.
Kally says the Guac’n’Roll Kitchen food is an easy veggie option for meat-eaters and people who want to reduce their meat intake. Just don’t call it dirty…
“I don’t like to think of food as ‘dirty’! I think everything’s allowed as long as you don’t overdo it. Our food is a treat.
“Our food is American-diner style food with some Asian fusion influences as specials, particularly at the weekend. We have vegan sticky pork with tenderstem broccoli served in a banana leaf, chicken katsu curry, fish-and-chips…”
It’s not all fried, stuffed and slathered though.
“We do have healthier food. Our shawarma is stuffed with salad and vegetables. When we do our Sunday Roasts once a month there are lots of lovely vegetables on there alongside the faux meat.
Ah, the faux meat. Fake chicken, pork, beef, bacon, kebab meat, even fish – Kally and Mikey make it all using a mixture of wheat gluten, vegetables and seasonings. Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen aren’t unique in making their own vegan meats in Liverpool, but it’s not common either.
“Restaurants that aren’t wholly vegan tend to buy their vegan foods in. The only things we buy are bread and fries. Everything else is made from scratch. Depending on what style of ‘meat’ it is there’s different seasoning. We have a kebab one with lots of cumin and paprika, which is on the shawarma wrap and Kapsalon fries – and we’ve started making our own bacon.
“Meat eaters are really surprised especially by things like the chicken – that really surprises people who eat meat because I think it’s pretty close to real chicken. We spend a lot of time on the coatings, so we have a traditional southern-fried chicken batter.
“We have a guy who comes in with his wife and he eats meat, whenever he comes in he raves about the faux meat. He comes in on his own sometimes! We do have a lot of regulars and they’re not just people who come from the area. That’s a real confidence boost – we have people who keep coming back again and again.
“Vegan food with attitude: stuffed burgers, loaded fries – all your fast-food favourites. In your face, then in your belly..”
“The buffalo burger is also very popular with people who eat meat. It’s a beef-style patty with buffalo sauce and ranch dressing. We serve everything on pretzel buns, which have a lovely flavour and good texture, so you can stuff a lot of things in there!”
Kally says putting the fusion-y menu together brought together the couples’ experiences of travelling.
“We like to bring recipes back from around the world, so when we had them in Amsterdam I wanted to bring these Kapsalon fries to the menu: Donner-style meat, garlic mayo, crispy onions, cheesy sauce, spring onions. It’s a loaded kebab/fries dish but I wanted to pimp them up. We’re going to do a currywurst as we lived in Berlin for a while too.
“New on the menu at the moment is a new chicken burger with buffalo sauce on the chicken, cheddar-style cheese, our homemade bacon, house mayo and hash browns. The frickle dippers – gherkin spears with beer batter, with BBQ and ranch dressings – are my thing!
“The salt-and-pepper onion rings are on of our best-selling dishes – they’re beer-battered with Chinese salt-and-pepper seasoning with sweet chilli sauce and spring onions.”
Kally believes the explosion of veganism in the UK over the last 18 months is down to a range of factors.
“I’ve been vegan for 16 years – back then you couldn’t eat out unless you wanted chips and salad. Veganism used to be niche and now it’s very widespread. When I used to tell people I was vegan they wouldn’t understand what it was.
“A lot of people who come into eat here now are buff gym guys who you wouldn’t expect to eat vegan, but for lots of people now it’s a normal part of how people stay healthy.
“We’re not fine dining, we’re not health food, we’re quite over-the-top”
“Also people are becoming more aware of environmental issues; they’re becoming aware that it’s not sustainable to keep eating meat. Documentaries such as The Game Changers – about sport stars who have adopted plant-based diets including Lewis Hamilton and Novak Djokovic – have helped people understand there are more options to eating meat.
We wonder about the ‘punk rock’ aspect of the kitchen – the words frequently adorn social media posts and the style of Kally and Mikey certainly reflect that ethos.
“We’ve both grown up in the punk scene, which was an early adopter of veganism – there’s a big crossover. Veganism in the UK wasn’t really a thing before punks started looking into anarchism as a set of beliefs in the early 80s. Instead of it just being ‘fuck the system’ it became a lot more well-researched and there was more of a philosophy behind it. It became about looking after people who were marginalised, animals, the ecology.
“Veganism has always been part of the punk, DIY community because it’s about doing your best for marginalised people and animals as a marginalised species. It’s mutual respect between species as well as people and not simply ruining the environment and exploiting animals for our benefit.”
That punk ethos makes perfect sense in Craft Taproom, a friendly, slightly wonky dive bar.
“We’re not fine dining, we’re not health food, we’re quite over-the-top – we’re in a pub and we wanted to fit in with the style of the bar: Very curated, very individualistic…”
Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen’s menu backs up that idea. And brings together a myriad of delights from around the world – most of them stuffed with faux meat, cheese, onion rings, fries and dripping with a range of sauces.
For meat-eaters and plant-eaters alike the food is likely to come as a surprise. Filling, flavoursome and indulgent, it couldn’t be further away from the popular idea of vegan food.
“I really felt what we should be doing here is as good as we can do it, all made from scratch and a bit over the top!” says Kally.
“It’s not healthy-vegan, it’s indulgent-vegan and it’s accessible.”
• Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen opening times are 4-9pm Thurs/Fri and Noon-9pm weekends. The Kitchen is occasionally open Wednesdays – see social media for details.