My mum had a significant birthday recently, so I said I'd take her on holiday, just the two of us.
Anywhere, I said: you choose, I'll pay. (With hindsight, this is the kind of offer you only want to make to people you really trust; thankfully that's not an issue between us!) There's a lot of world to choose from, so she understandably took a while to make her mind up -- by the time we set out, it was a good sixteen months after her actual birthday.
In the end it was an article on Happy Cow that tipped the balance, highlighting the recent, rapid rise in the number of vegan restaurants opening up in Warsaw. I thought it might be more fun to travel overland rather than flying straight there, and I suggested breaking the journey with a couple of nights in Berlin, which also meant we could fit in a special birthday dinner at my all-time favourite vegan restaurant (see my notes from my first visit, here).
We met up at Euston station and started as we meant to go on with lunch at Vantra, a vegan buffet restaurant in central London. Honestly, we were a little disappointed with this one, everything looked great and really fresh, but the flavours were a bit bland -- which may have been because, we spotted on our way out, the menu includes no garlic or onions. Which are two of our favourite things.
Still, it filled us up, and we'd wanted to be sure of a decent lunch because we were going to spend the evening on the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. This is one of my favourite routes: the cabins are really comfy, and if you take the overnight sailing, you can sleep as you cross the Channel and wake up in the Netherlands ready to start your day.
I'm not such a fan of the food on the ferry, though, so we packed our own generous picnic for the evening, complete with a selection of tomatoes from my mum's garden, and a nice bottle of wine to wash it all down.
We hopped on the first train into Amsterdam in the morning, and we'd hoped to have time to get some brunch before our onward connection, but everything turned out to be just a little bit further apart than we'd hoped. Still, we got a bit of fresh air (slightly marjuana-scented, this being Amsterdam) and then it was time to head on to Germany.
Our first morning in Berlin we found our way to Geh Veg, a dinky vegan restaurant near our hotel, where I had a tempeh bagel and a cup of strong coffee, and we shared a popped quinoa flapjack-like cake just because.
Our tour of the city started with a visit to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed in the war, and now stands as a reminder to all who pass its broken spire. We were generally trying to avoid the more depressing sights, since this was to be a happy holiday (and I've sobbed my heart out at the Berlin Wall before), but this was a fascinating spot that I didn't know about before we found it in the guidebook.
We strolled through the city, took in the Brandenburg Gate, and narrowly avoided getting pickpocketed on Unter den Linden (the less said about that, the better). Around lunchtime, we came across Soy, a vegetarian Thai restaurant with a set menu that was incredible value for any city -- and certainly for somewhere as pricey as Berlin. It was also excellent. I'd go back there just for the frozen watermelon smoothie, but the whole plate was a mix of perfectly balanced flavours and textures.
In the afternoon, we took a lengthy walk in and around the gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg. I could bore you with hundreds of photographs of flowers, but I'll settle for just one, since I'm trying to focus on the food here.
And then, in the evening, I'd booked us in for dinner at Lucky Leek. I figured the best thing to do was to have the tasting menu, with the accompanying wine flight, which gave us plenty of variety without having to make many decisions along the way.
We started with canapés: one bite of a quiche-type beetroot tart, and a tiny bruschetta with vegan chorizo. A bit experimental (and slate is always slightly too trendy for me), but the chorizo was surprisingly nice, and the bread was homemade.
The proper starter was a sweet potato soup, served with a slice of baked apple, which was coated in caramelised nuts and smelled of childhood fairground memories. This was just lush. Warming and comforting and delicious all through.
I was actually a bit disappointed in the main course, I think they were trying too hard. Pea ravioli, and 'feta' rolls, and wilted greens, and sweet pepper sauce, and a fruit coulis, and decorative curls of what I think were purple carrot. Every element was yummy in its own right, but put together, it was just too much. The vegan feta-alike was amazing, though, really convincing with just the right amount of sharpness.
And then there was dessert, which is always immaculately presented. This included an elderflower ice cream, blackcurrant sorbet, a mini fruit salad, a chocolate layer cake, and even a slender macaron.
The next day we had a relaxed morning wandering the streets of Berlin, and for lunch, we were surprisingly impressed with the range of veggie and vegan options at the Chinese buffet at Berlin's Ostbahnhof. And then it was time to catch our train onwards, to Warsaw.
To be continued...