Hull’s latest vegan restaurant The Purple Robot is just a bit too ‘meaty’ for Dave Lee.

Purple Robot, Hull
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I’m confused about The Purple Robot. Firstly, there’s the name. I haven’t got a clue. I’m assuming there’s a reason for it, but it’s not apparent when you visit. Then there is the food. I can’t work out who it’s aimed at. More of this issue later, first let’s do the backstory.
Since high-flying Hull band The Beautiful South split up in 2008 – citing the reason ‘‘musical similarities’’ – guitarist and songwriter Dave Rotheray has employed himself with writing solo material and the music for Ocho, a well-received musical about Hull men fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He also opened a bar in the city. The People’s Republic sells great beer and plays great music. I like it muchly and always pop in when passing to sample the latest ales.

The Purple Robot is Dave’s latest enterprise, a vegan restaurant located in the increasingly ephemeral environs of the Fruit Market. The building was a disappointing ‘‘pizza pub’’ until recently but has been entirely refitted to feature an extensive and considerately-stocked bar and there are choices of tables, booths and stools for dining. It’s still partly under construction and an upstairs area is yet to be completed, so there is currently a noticeable air of incompleteness. This extends to the lack of external signage, although this may be a deliberate ploy to foster an air of mystery.
Vegan food, as you may know, is the current rage in London and other major cities. It’s not yet carved out much of a foothold in Hull, however, despite the universal concerns about the effect carnivorous diets are having on the health of people and the planet. Consequently, if there isn’t a substantial enough customer base of East Yorkshire vegans to keep Purple Robot busy seven days-a-week, then they may have to convert us meat eaters to veganism. And this, it would appear, is the thinking behind the current menu options.
Many of the dishes, you see, contain meat substitutes. You know they’re substitutes because the are labelled with such spellcheck-thwarting names as baecon, churizo, fisch and blaque pudding. The titular ‘‘meats’’ are actually made of tofu or quorn or (it’s hard to say definitively as the waitress didn’t seem to know) some ingredient intended to replicate the delicious flavour of flesh. On the face of it, this is a cunning way of coaxing carnivores into a non-carnivorous setting. The reality, I fear, is not so simple.
I’ve eaten twice at Purple Robot. The first time, I took my daughter for lunch. The lunch menu is frustratingly brief, featuring just four items. Neither of us like mushrooms and three options contained mushroom. The chef managed to produce a mushroom burger without mushroom that my daughter thoroughly enjoyed and my Vietnamese tofu sandwich was a treat. Without a greater choice of options, though, I don’t think I’d rush back. Having the same ingredient in 75 per cent of the dishes on offer (especially when it’s one you’re not keen on) doesn’t inspire a repeat visit.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

I took both daughter and son with me on a subsequent evening. There was, I’m pleased to say, more choice then. Five of the eight main menu choices, though, contained a meat substitute and I have a bit of a problem with it. If I want meat, I’ll go somewhere and eat meat. Fake meat just doesn’t have a taste or texture comparable to the real thing. If I’m going to go meat-free, I would much rather eat dishes made from vegetables, nuts, legumes, pulses and ingredients not pretending to be something other.
My daughter had the slow-cooked Spanish churizo and potato stew and liked it all apart from the churizo. I had a taste and I could see why. It was textureless and bland and absolutely nothing like proper chorizo. Much the same applied to my son’s dish of bratwurst-style smoked sauzage and creamy mash. He devoured the mash but gave up on the sauzages complaining that they tasted of nothing. I had to agree.
By far the best dishes were those that featured no meat substitutes. The starters of summer rolls with peanut dip and falafel balls with tzatziki were perfectly good and my butternut squash risotto was absolutely delicious. And this rather sums up my main criticism of Purple Robot. If you’re going to offer vegan food, then just forget meat and animal products exist and make great dishes out of natural, non-synthesised ingredients. There’s clearly enough skill in the kitchen so why not knock me out with an artichoke or excite me with an aubergine?.

Fisch and chips 

I’ve spoken to a couple of veggie and vegan friends about this since my visits and they’re of much the same mind. Meat eaters will just eat meat elsewhere and vegans don’t want to be constantly reminded of what they don’t want to eat.
The only market for meat substitutes appears to be people who really like meat but won’t eat it on moral grounds, and I’ll wager there are fewer of them in Hull than there are vegans who want to eat out regularly.
The Purple Robot is planning to change their menu seasonally and I really hope they consider filling it with the stuff they do well rather than stuff and nonsense.
The Purple Robot, 6 Humber Street, Hull, HU1 1TG. Tel: 01482 327802;
Food served: Mon-Fri: 11:30 to 11:30, Sat & Sun: 9am to 11:30pm

About The Author

Dave Lee is TV producer and film-maker who also writes on food & drink, travel and culture for various publications. He is a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4 and the Yorkshire Post. Worryingly, he believes that the finest food on earth is the pattie butty.

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