Following my Mimazine on Air episode with Gareth Zeal, How does food affect your mood?, I had the pleasure of visiting The Little Green Cafe for Sunday Brunch (*feast).
Gareth is one of UK’s leading experts in the field of nutrition and naturopathy, renowned for his work in sports nutrition and travelling worldwide to further his knowledge about the health benefits of optimum nutrition. Gareth has co-authored the Book ‘500 health tips’ and holds regular clinics all over the UK where he specialises in allergies, immune conditions and gut health. He is regularly on hand at the cafe to offer advice, one to one consultations and food intolerance tests.
Located in Sandyford in Newcastle, The Little Green prides itself on being a family run cafe, bar, health food shop and social space which offers home-made, nourishing vegan foods using, wherever possible, locally sourced, organic produce.
As we discussed in the podcast, one of the main focuses for The Little Green is the social aspect of food.
Eating more slowly and focusing on the food as we eat affects our reception and even digestion of it. The process of eating is nearly as important as what we are actually eating. Gareth believes that when we eat with others and interact with them (eg. talking) we are more likely to eat more slowly and appreciate our food.
Their desire to make vegan food, and food in general, inclusive and a social occasion is enhanced by the atmosphere the couple have created. Acoustic background music, soft lighting (loved the hanging exposed bulbs and fairy lights) and a ‘rustic’ yet cosy aesthetic creates a calming, inviting space where people come to relax and enjoy each other’s company over good, nutritious food. The bar is actually made from reclaimed ship decking, and the tables and shelving are also recycled. The whole atmosphere is amazing, and is added to by the staff, who were so friendly, helpful beyond belief and clearly love what they were doing.
There is a great sense of community and openness.
The cafe and store attracts all walks of life, from students to families, vegans and curious non-vegans alike, and even dogs. They don’t label themselves as vegan, just great food for everyone to enjoy at affordable prices. (All the main dishes were £10 or less). The Little Green isn’t a snooty, exclusive, over-priced vegan cafe where a latte contains an endless list of unknown magic ingredients and costs more than your mortgage, nor, on the other end of the spectrum, a vegan junk food haven that limits ‘vegan eats‘ to greasy burgers and chips. No, this is something a little different and truly brilliant.
Ok, to the food itself…
The Gado Gado Poke Bowl summed up Gareth and his wife, Sarah’s mission to make vegan food flavourful, bright and soulful. This was eating the rainbow, all be it a very spicy one. The smooth coconut combined with warming Indonesian spices and peanuts created a beautiful dish. The light crisp rice crackers finished it off so well and helped scoop up the sauce!
I loved the fact the menu adds what nutritional benefits each dish provides in simple, easy to understand language. For example, this bowl is high in anti-oxidants, so great for your skin, and opting for the brown rice option makes it high in fibre, helping our digestion and gut health (for more on gut health listen to my podcast with Gareth).
The Tofu scramble – spiced with a colourful blend including turmeric, this ‘eggy’ protein packed side is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It was also the star of the brunch for my companion, whom had never tasted a tofu scramble before having been put off from past tofu experiences, claiming she’d been converted: “wow, that tastes like eggs!”.
Who doesn’t love a loaded toast? This “Stuff on Toast” was a flavour explosion – lathered in homemade hummus and roasted Mediterranean vegetables, these rainbow coloured veg are high in bioflavonoids which are great for your heart.
One thing I didn’t realise was that Sourdough toast counts as one of your fermented foods (great for your gut health). This nutrient dense delight was topped with vegan feta. Normally, I veer away from vegan cheese; it is often bland with a plastic-like texture and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. But this feta (Violife Greek white) was delicious and really added an extra flavour level to the toast (which as you can see was scaling multi-story status).
Living up to its name, my highlight was the Aubergine Dream. Packing so much flavour, the Harrisa and Maple Aubergine (I will be stealing and trying this combination at home!) was paired with pan-fried barberries, tzatziki, and crushed pistachios wrapped up in a homemade flatbread.
All the sauces: tomato, garlic mayo and pesto, were homemade and great assets to all the dishes.
In their quest to minimise plastic, Little Green have a refill station for detergents, shampoos and conditioners. But it doesn’t stop here, in full support of the ‘Plastic Free Jesmond’ initiative, they aim to go plastic free in the near future, with plans for a BYO Refill Station for grains, loose tea, coffee, spices, nutritional yeast…
Fill up on all your dry cupboard essentials using in your own container (or buying a recycled, plastic free one there) and pay according to the weight of your chosen product.
I absolutely love this idea, and the fact it is becoming more prominent with many shoppers actively looking and opting for this system – often cheaper too as you can buy in bulk.
Pancakes, Pancakes, Pancakes…
Is it really brunch, without something sweet to finish?
Cinnamon pancakes topped with Apple, Pear and Mint. I’d never thought of mint being good with pancakes, but its freshness really lifted the stack to new heights. It worked so well as it stopped the dessert from being too sickly. Definitely add this one to your pancake repertoire.
As Sarah explained, a lot of time and effort goes into the cafe and store: constantly having changing daily specials, an array of freshly baked cakes and cooking each dish made to order from scratch. You really can tell.
Slowly eat colourful, flavour packed food, take in the atmosphere, and enjoy your company. Food doesn’t just nourish your body but your soul too. Food is social.
Thank you again The Little Green, I cannot wait to return and try the rest of your menu!