It's no secret that "vegan" doesn't always have to mean "healthy".
While once plant-based diets were synonymous with wellness and detoxing, they can be just as gloriously calorific and indulgent as any other — especially when it comes to fast food.
From artisan restaurants to quirky street food vendors, London is full of fantastic meat and dairy-free junk food options — but if you’re out with friends, in a rush, or looking for somewhere to go in the early hours of the morning, these aren’t always an option.
That’s where fast food chains comes in. While the likes of KFC and Burger King are hardly blessed with vegan options, places like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have have upped their game over recent years, offering a bigger range of plant-based dishes than might be expected.
They won't always be your first choice, but these are the best ways to go vegan in the UK’s biggest fast food chains — don’t forget to read our guide to fast food menu hacks, too.
McDonald’s has been teasing British diners by launching all new vegan dishes in Europe — the McVegan burger is currently only available in Sweden and Finland, while the new vegan McNuggets arrived earlier this year, exclusive to Norway. Thankfully, there are still a number of vegan options to enjoy in the UK, including the french fries, which are cooked in vegetable oil. While some chains in north America add “natural beef flavouring” to their fries, that's not the case over here.
Shaker Side salads, fruit bags and carrot sticks are vegan – just as you’d expect – while McDonald’s hash browns are also entirely free of meat and dairy products. Those looking for breakfast can go for the Oatso simple porridge, though be sure to ask for it to be made with water rather than milk.
There are also a few dishes that might be considered borderline vegan – super-strict vegans may wish to steer clear of them, but for many, they should be absolutely fine. Take the apple pie: none of the ingredients come from animals, but the small print on the menu advises that it may contain traces of milk. Bizarrely, because of the oil filtration system McDonald's use, there's also a chance some pies come into contact with the oil used to cook the chicken and fish dishes.
Elsewhere, the vegetable deluxe burger — one of the best meat-free burgers on the high street, with two bean goujons — can be made vegan by asking staff to hold the mayonnaise. Bear in mind that the buns are toasted in the same appliances used for brioche buns, so there's a tiny risk of cross-contamination — brioche is made with eggs, after all.
In January, McDonald's kept veggies happy with their new Happy Meal. The new red pesto goujon tortilla wrap features vegan ingredients, but, like the veggie burgers, the tortilla is cooked in the same toaster used for non-vegan burger buns.
Burger King boasts fewer choices for vegan diners than McDonald’s.
The fries and shaker fries are both suitable, as they’re cooked in vegetable oil separately from other dishes. The chain’s apple pie sticks, though, are cooked in a similar way to the McDonald’s variety, meaning that there’s a risk of cross contamination with oil used to prepare chicken and fish dishes.
The veggie bean burger can also be ordered without mayo and cheese, but the buns used may contain traces of milk products.
Vegan pizza is no new thing — plenty of places have put in on their menus in recent years, with fantastic plant-based takes found all over the city.
Still, Pizza Hut’s decision to introduce a new vegan menu earlier this year felt like a major moment for the high street.
While Dominos trialled a plant-based pizza for Veganuary before withdrawing it, Pizza Hut decided to add it to the menu on a permanent basis — and we’re glad it did.
The vegan hot ‘n’ spicy veg, vegan veggie and vegan margherita, as well as vegan bbq jack ‘n’ cheese and vegan virtuous veg flatbread pizza are all new to the menu, and all worth seeking out.
The meat and dairy alternatives see traditional mozzarella replaced with Violife cheese, made with coconut, while jackfruit is used to replicate meat-life textures.
The new menu is proving popular too — the chain sold more than 25,000 vegan pizzas in January.
There were interesting reports of KFC introducing vegetarian options in the UK last year, but permanent dishes have yet to materialise. There is, however, a new ‘veggie chicken’ burger newly available in Canada, should vegans fancy making the trip to North America.
Over here, meanwhile, KFC fries are suitable for vegans, much like at McDonald’s and Burger King. The green beans and corn on the cob are both also fine, when ordered without butter. Finally, the house salad, made with golden Italian light dressing, also gets a pass. That, however, is as far as plant-based dining goes at the chain. Vegans aren’t exactly high on the list of the Colonel’s priorities, it seems.
The hearty Italian, Italian and nine-grain wheat bread varieties at Subway are all vegan, so diners on a plant-based diet have a large scope when it comes to eating at the chain.
The veggie delite sub is a favourite among vegans — it’s a way for diners to load up on as many veg options as they like, including red onions, jalapenos, black olives, cucumbers, green bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, banana peppers and pickles.
The chain’s yellow mustard, brown mustard, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce, hot chilli sauce, sweet chilli sauce and HP sauce are all vegan too.