The Alley Cafe, Nottingham


Sitting down to write this, I was pretty convinced that I’d spent yesterday as an accidental vegan, until I remembered that the bean and pea salad I had for breakfast came with a yoghurt dressing which dragged me a few steps back down the path towards animal cruelty. Many of you might be thinking that anyone who starts the day with a pea and bean salad deserves everything he gets, but breakfast wasn’t included with my hotel, and I had decided to turn the lack of choice at the local Tesco Express into a virtue before I realised I was compromising a lifestyle choice I hadn’t actually made.

I do have a sneaking admiration for vegans, mainly for their consistency, not to say bloody-mindedness, and probably above all for their patience. The stereotypical worthiness and what my father always insists on referring to as the ‘rope sandals and muesli’ element I can do without, but in my experience, most vegans are simply committed to something they believe in and don’t wish to appear hypocritical by shoveling down mung beans whilst wearing a parka made of baby goat. On the other hand, as I have said before, I do love meat, and I’m afraid I’m unlikely to give it up for anyone, no matter what their consistency.

Morally, I do feel this means I somewhat surrender the high ground. Why should something die, just because I’m hungry? Well, frankly, it shouldn’t, but if I want to get my protein fix, it inevitably does and I think it’s important to at least accept the reality of that, if not, in all probability, the responsibility.

I was in Nottingham for the weekend, appearing at The Glee Club with a reliably excellent bill that included one of my favourite comedians and Cutting Edge colleague, Roger Monkhouse. As I said when introducing him on Friday, if there was any justice in the world he would be a household name, but there isn’t, so he’s not. Also appearing was the quite new and therefore annoyingly impressive Micky Sharma, and the marvellous Michael Legge with whom I have worked many times and who once memorably described my stand up as “like watching Have I Got News For You, on Dave”, which is exactly the sort of comment I would normally get massively stroppy about if it wasn’t so funny. And accurate.

An angry vegan (This is what they’re all like)

Michael is hilarious company, and considerably more thoughtful about whom he offends than his infamous blog sometimes suggests. He is also, in his own words, ‘an angry vegan’, a subject about which he claims, completely falsely, to have no sense of humour whatsoever. When I asked him why he became a vegan, he replied with the words ‘Adam Bloom’, which is already quite an amusing answer even before you hear the explanation. Adam is a good friend and brilliant stand up, but when Michael saw him doing a routine that elicited cheers for calling vegetarians ‘self-righteous’, after twenty years as one, he decided, on the spot, that he wasn’t ‘doing enough’, and immediately became vegan. The fact that this happened at the Edinburgh Festival, where many people are living on offal deep fried in animal fats only adds to the comedy value of the story as far as I’m concerned.

I only discovered Michael was vegan when I suggested we went for lunch – I’ve already blogged about the rather good Waiting Room just outside Newcastle, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect another meat free meal to pop up on Food Ponce every now and then. Michael discovered the Alley Cat Cafe on the internet, which I imagine is an invaluable resource for vegans, (the Alley Cat is actually vegetarian but offers vegan options) and so we arranged to meet Adam Crow there – another comic, who was in town playing Jongleurs. It was, as you might expect, down an alley, just off the main square.

Passing a cheerfully painted wall outside, we went upstairs to order. The room itself was light, and quite wood beamy and casual, or, as Michael put it “this is what they’re all like”. We were cheerfully served from behind a bar with a very reasonable selection of beers, including the rather good Freedom lager, which I haven’t seen for a while. As I’m booze free at the moment I ordered a ginger beer and had a look at the fairly limited menu. That is not a criticism as such – they are clearly more cafe than restaurant, as evidenced by the large number of wraps, bagels and homemade cakes and biscuits on offer, but I wanted something a bit more substantial, so opted for the marinated tofu steak, as did Michael. Adam went for a cream cheese bagel and what turned out to be very good wedges as he’s “trying to be good” and “lose some weight”, which we all know is best achieved through the medium of bread, cheese and potatoes.

Marinated tofu ‘wodge’

We sat outside and waited for the rain to start falling as it’s June, but luckily our food arrived first. My main problem with my meal was the use of the word ‘steak’, because what arrived just wasn’t one. I guess ‘wodge’ doesn’t scan so well on a menu. What I did have though, was a big wodge of char-grilled tofu sitting on top of some very tasty root veg mash with a commendably rich and spicy red wine and tomato sauce, finished off with a few sunflower and sesame seeds. I must admit I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about the marinade, but the sauce, and the rather nice side salad made for a pretty good lunch, even if I felt the weak point was, inevitably, the tofu. It was at this point, as we’d run through the usual gamut of veggie jokes, that Michael pointed out that the one I’d just made, about how it would have been really good with some actual steak, was the one they all really hated.

The rain then inevitably arrived, so we nipped back inside for a very good cup of coffee. My meal had come to just over a tenner, which you really can’t argue with. By accident, my supper consisted of Tesco cous-cous which I’d picked up as part of a two for one offer with the earlier pea and bean salad, and I have to say I did feel rather good about myself and my intake for the day, although whether that was down to the health giving properties of what I ate or its smugness content is debatable.

Having said that, I had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, partly down to the company, but also because of the food. I’m extremely unlikely to find myself turning vegan, or, if I’m honest, going out of my way to eat vegetarian all that often, but at the same time, I’m not going to criticize people who choose to consume a lot of pulses, just because they’ve decided not to eat something that used to have one. Which is a very good vegan joke, although I’m sure Michael will tell me it’s a very old one, which was probably heard on Dave, last year.


July 2012

5 thoughts on “The Alley Cafe, Nottingham

  1. Well done, Alistair. You made a brand new vegan joke. Might be the first new one in decades. Can’t wait for you to witness Adam Bloom do a joke about “Self-righteous” non-drinkers and watch you furiously give up all fluids forever.

    Nice to see you, mate!

  2. Your writing being admirably precise in its content, I can’t help but assume you’ve oh-so-casually left the reference to Teesside as being “just outside Newcastle” in this piece as a red rag to a bull in the same way as you might review a restaurant serving, well, a bull steak as “vegan” simply because it described the dish as “red ragout”. Pls advise.

    • Having just checked my northern geography Martin, I find that Eaglescliffe is 44.5 miles outside Newcastle. Considering how angry people get between Newcastle and Sunderland (dist: 13.8 miles) I will concede you have a very good point. In my defence, the person I was with at the time makes such a fuss about being Geordie, I completely forgot to take this into account. Apologies. Eaglescliffe is of course Teesside, but I think to change the review now would be to fail to acknowledge a mistake. Whether you should be allowed to get away with what looks suspiciously like an attempted pun on ‘red ragout’ on the other hand, is a completely different matter, but many thanks for the correction. Best – Al

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