As someone who has been plagued with a spate of girlfriends, friends and even family members who are as indecisive as an ugly Blind Date contestant, the 'Introduction' from The Refuge is like a breath of fresh air.
It’s a simple idea that will go a long way to reducing arguments and probably divorce. Due to the sheer choice of Voltini dishes on offer at any one time at The Refuge, you can just pick the Introduction and the staff will do the work for you – choosing 6 dishes for you, plus a carafe of wine for £45 for two people.
Recently, to add to this helpfulness, The Refuge have also introduced a Vegan Introduction menu, which is exactly what you’d expect – all of the vegan dishes off the menu, plus a carafe for £40 for two.
As I’m sure everyone is aware, veganism has come on massively over the past few years, and something that was considered to be solely the realm of weird hippies, students and Swampy has become much more mainstream.
So mainstream in fact that those old stereotypes have been thrown out of the window and establishments are jumping at the chance to create menus for a new breed of socially and environmentally aware foodies.
It’s with this in mind that The Refuge have introduced the Vegan menu, appealing to those who want to go out for some high quality, delicious food but not need to spend 10 minutes finding the vegan dishes or causing a fuss to discover what they can or can’t have.
What’s in the Vegan Introduction then? Well, the 6 dishes consist of the following:
First thing on the table was the wine, which, of course, was a vegan wine. I opted for the red, which is the Terre di Vulcano Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata and it went down a treat. The white offering in terms of veganism is the Pecorino Villa dei Fiori Terre di Chieti from near my dad’s house in Abruzzo.
Nicely lubricated, it wasn’t long until the first set of dishes came out – the Curried Sweet Potato, the Chargrilled Cauliflower and the Flatbreads.
Flatbreads don’t usually get a lot of attention so I’m going to start with them. Coming lightly buttered and sprinkled with salt, rosemary and sesame seeds, you would be forgiven for just scoffing these bad boys on their own.
They have a fantastic chargrilled quality to them that manages to whisk you away to a BBQ in a back garden in the sun, probably in some exotic country somewhere. They’re chewy, crispy and above all – strong enough to withhold some serious food portions.
Flatbreads ripped and tucked into, I quickly delved my fork in the Curried Sweet Potato which was perfectly balanced with the subtle sauce allowing the toasty almond flavour to shine through.
I’m not usually a fan of spinach due to its rather bland flavour but it managed to balance out the sweetness of the sweet potato, creating a concoction of flavours none of which overpowered the other.
The Chargrilled Cauliflower, much like the Flatbreads, were perfect in their BBQ’ed finish, giving a whole new dimension to the understated flavour of the vegetable. Alongside the florets were little pomegranate seeds which added a well needed hint of freshness to the dish.
Again, I’m not usually a fan of cauliflower (I’m more of a broccoli guy) but this dish managed to provide much more flavour than I was expecting.
The next set of dishes came and I was greeted with the Mushrooms, the Beetroot Pakora, the Daal Makhani and the Fennel & Pear Salad. Instantly I started on the Daal, a firm favourite of mine at any curry house and now a favourite of mine at The Refuge.
Initially I was rather blasé about it but as I continued to dip my flatbread and drink my wine I found I just couldn’t stop eating it. Very moorish.
The Beetroot Pakora have always been on my wish list of Voltini to try at The Refuge and I was excited to give them a go. Looking like small hockey pucks they are thick and crispy with a satisfying bite to them.
As a fan of beetroot since I was a kid – these didn’t disappoint. The pickled twang shone through and with the addition of the tamarind ketchup – there were some big flavours here. A word of warning though, don’t use too much of the ketchup – you only need a little bit with each bite.
Next up to feel the wrath of my fork were the mushrooms which I must admit to not particularly feeling too enthusiastic about – until I tried them. Mushrooms can divide opinions, families and even lovers – some people like them, others not.
These ones at The Refuge though were excellent, with a firm nod toward Chinese food that works like a charm – especially with the other dishes on the table. I found myself cutting slices of the thick and juicy ‘rooms to try with other dishes and it must be said – they were fantastic with the Daal and especially the Fennel & Pear Salad.
Ah yes the Salad – the dish that most people probably won’t even think about or bother with. Usually an afterthought, The Refuge have managed to create a salad that’s actually a little bit exciting and actually tastes pretty good.
There’s Fennel and Pear in here alongside dill and chunks of radish – all providing both a lesson in freshness and a fantastically balanced range of flavours in every mouthful. It works a charm when paired with the other dishes too.
The Refuge Vegan Introduction
Available Monday to Friday, 12 noon to 3pm and 5 – 6.45pm.
The Refuge, Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA
0161 233 5151