Veganuary taste test: where to find the best vegan lunches-to-go

Veganuary
Both the Tesco pastrami-spiced beetroot wrap and the Pret a Manger curried chickpea and mango chutney sandwich went down a treat

Tried and tested by Madeleine Howell, with a little help from The Telegraph's discerning food critics and resident vegans. 

We're almost halfway through Veganuary, and it seems that this time veganism really has gone mainstream - with high street chains such as Wagamama, Ask Italian and Itsu all embracing plant-based menus.

Even steak houses with otherwise meaty offerings are welcoming vegans: Foxlow now serves up a roasted acorn squash pie with chestnut mushrooms, spinach and gravy, and there's a three-course vegan set menu at Gillray's Steakhouse.

January 2018 has also seen the emergence of the so-called “dirty vegan”, less interested in health benefits of a veg-based diet, and with a penchant for the vegan fried chicken at fast-food joints like Temple of Seitan in Hackney (seitan is wheat protein, or wheat gluten, which bears a striking resemblance to meat when cooked).

But if you've reached mid-January and are struggling to find a well-balanced, everyday vegan lunch to gobble down on the go or to dine on al desko, you may be in need of help. Thankfully, most supermarkets and coffee shops are increasingly eager to oblige, and have been busy launching an array of new vegan wraps, salads, sandwiches and hot pots.

But which of these will leave you feeling limper than lettuce - and which more satisfying options will have you renewing your vegan vows?

We've tested purely according to taste, texture and satisfaction - but nutrition-wise, it's always worth checking the label for sugar, salt, carbohydrate, protein and fat content.

Waitrose

Good to go vegan mean greens, £1.95

The Waitrose Vegan Mean Greens was a hit with our journalists

Though the green filling does indeed look a little mean - perhaps a little puritanical - it’s deceivingly good. The  combination of pea, cucumber and mint crush is like a gorgeous, fresh summer-garden gazpacho in a sandwich. The texture is soft and nubbly, which makes up for the lack of creamy spread. It would be delicious in hot weather. 

The edamame is a fun addition, and at £1.95 it’s good value. The only criticism would be that a more rustic, crustier take on rye bread wouldn’t have gone amiss.

8/10

Good To Go vegan sweet potato and chipotle sandwich, £2.47

This is a carb-on-carb sandwich; bread and sweet potatoes aren't natural bedfellows. The sun-dried tomato bread is a nice idea but the reality is a little soggy. There's plenty of variety here within one sandwich, including butterbeans, ratatouille, and spring onion, but the chutney is a bit too sweet, and although the rocket adds pepper to proceedings, the different flavours are in danger of becoming indistinct. 

6/10

Starbucks

BBQ vegan wrap with jackfruit and slaw, £3.29

The new Starbucks vegan wrap

The jackfruit surged in popularity last year, and is said to bear resemblance to pulled pork in texture. However, in this wrap the carrot and the tomato ketchup and Bramley apple in the slaw overwhelmed, and the jackfruit itself was difficult to locate. The filling is wincingly tart and fruity, perhaps excessively so. It's an unusual idea and a novelty, but there was nothing particularly BBQ-like about it.

5/10

Tesco 'Wicked Kitchen'

Rainbow curry bowl, £3.50

The Rainbow Curry Bowl from Tesco

This promising-looking rainbow curry bowl is gluten-free as well as vegan. It's sweet and spicy - the fire in the pulses and sweet potatoes offset with aromatic mango and cooling mint dressing nicely, and thanks to the presence of both sweet potatoes and onion bhaji, it was filling. 

7/10

Carrot pastrami-spiced wrap, £3.00

A luminous purple "pastrami-style" wrap

This wrap is bright purple (almost luminous), and the filling inside is an inviting dark green. Billing it a "pastrami-spiced wrap" was perhaps a little misleading, as it bears little resemblance in flavour to pastrami - but it tasted strong and smoky nonetheless. It has a pleasing crunch-to-moistness ratio (thanks to a delightful yogurt-style dressing), and one hungry vegan felt it was the best of the lot. It has to be said that many of the less vibrant counterparts trialled paled in comparison. 

10/10

Sweet potato pakora wrap, £3.00

Sweet potato pakora wrap

This wrap boasts a hot, creamy Sriracha "vegan mayonnaise", which was a delight. The sweetness paired with chilli make it a good swap for a hoisin duck wrap, and it's both tasty and filling. Rather than being overtly virtuous, it leans more towards the vegan junk food end of the spectrum - we'd happily have another tomorrow, though perhaps it ought to be an occasional treat. 

8/10

PAUL Bakery

Sandwich Végétalien, £3.90

Carrot, masquerading as salmon: the vegan baguette at PAUL

This vegan French baguette is filled with beetroot, grilled peppers, onions, carrots, spinach leaves and a sweet carrot tapenade. It’s more attractive than most sandwiches in appearance, but the filling is a little too sweet,  and it’s heavy on the chutney. We found the bread to be crusty, but almost too hard, and felt it was lacking overall.

5/10

Co-op

Co-op Onion Bhaji Sandwich, £2.50

Onion bhaji sandwich, anyone?

Plenty of the new-generation vegan lunches-to-go have taken their cue from Indian cuisine. This Co-op offering is colourful with both crunch and “mush”, thanks to the beetroot and the carrot, with a sweet kick from the mango chutney. The black onion seeds (nigella seeds) are a quirky addition - though the cauliflower is a little bland.

8/10

Marks and Spencer

M&S beetroot and apple slaw, £3

M&S beetroot and apple slaw sandwich

This sandwich stands out, and is visually appetising thanks to the remarkably reddy-pink beetroot and red onion tinged bread. The earthy beetroot is sliced whole rather than grated, which lends it a satisfying ‘meatiness’. The sweet beetroot and apple slaw is moist, thanks to the inclusion of a decent take on vegan mayo, which pairs well with the grainy kale pesto. M&S currently have three vegan sandwiches on offer (there's also a butternut and tabbouleh wrap and a roast veg and avocado sandwich), and plans to introduce more this year. 

10/10

LEON

Vegan rainbow mezze salad, £4.95

There’s a lot going on here, and it all looks very pretty and wholesome, with plenty of colour contrast. The different elements of green brassica leaves, cooked lentils and sweet potato falafel, vegan horseradish dressing and beetroot with thyme are all very distinct. Overall, it’s got crunch - and the flavours are coherent and nicely defined. 

8/10

Brazilian black beans, £3.95

A fair attempt at a Brazilian black bean stew, which usually relies on bacon for smokiness. While it’s smoky, it also has spice - which you wouldn’t normally find in the classic dish. The rice was a little too al dente, and there was too much of it - it could have done with more stew and sauce.

7/10

Boots

Samosa-style veggie wrap, £2.75

What would you rather - a samosa, or a samosa-style veggie wrap?

This resembled multi-coloured Play Doh, and wasn’t obviously samosa-like. It tasted like a bland samosa without the good stuff (the greasy deep-fried pastry), and begs the question: why not simply purchase a perfectly good, crispy vegan samosa? While the spinach goes some way to counterbalance the stodge, and there’s the odd pea, one half was enough.

4/10

Pret a Manger

Avo & chipotle flat bread, £3.99

This is a great choice for avocado lovers who crave its creamy texture, as it doesn't skimp on it. The chipotle is light and not overbearing, yet warming. It works suprisingly well with the bite of the raw red pepper bite and the sweetcorn. 

7/10

Curried chickpea and mango chutney sandwich, £2.99

The Pret curried chickpea and mango chutney sandwich: just like coronation chicken

This was just like eating a coronation chicken sandwich (it even has the requisite raisins). The chickpeas had enough bite to satisfy those experiencing meat cravings, the mango was subtle yet present, and the fresh raw spinach and red peppers made a fresh contast to the spice. Top marks for distinction of components, texture and flavour, even after a long day of tasting. 

10/10

Cauli and sweet potato dhal hot pot, £6.25

A comforting winter warmer in the form of a Pret hot pot

This is a bowl of warming winter goodness with a homemade feel, and it's a generous portion. Heavy on the lentils with large chunks of cauli and sweet potato, which are soft but not overdone. The whole cherry tomatoes tomatoes are juicy and burst wonderfully in the mouth. This is a comforting meal and provides sustenance when a sandwich just won't cut it. 

9/10

Sainsburys

Rainbow veg flatbread, £3

This appetising option is a melange of red, purple and green. It's fruity and sweet, although the bread is a little too moist from all the water in the vegetables. There's crunchy red cabbage and a discernible sweet tang of red pepper.

7/10

Mediterranean vegetables with Kalamata olives, £2.20

The first bite was fine: the astringent saltiness of the olives paired with the artichoke and red pepper tapenade nicely - but sadly it was merely a teaser, since there was barely half a a teaspoon of the stuff there. The bread itself was thin and floppy, and fell apart in the hands; the remaining half was thrown crossly into the bin. 

4/10

Caffè Nero

Sweet potato falafel and beetroot houmous wrap, £3.45

Falafel and houmous salads and wraps are a common fallback vegan option - the Caffè Nero version adds sweet potato and beetroot. It was passable, but wasn't filling enough to constitute a meal, and was devoid of flavour other than a glimmer of saltiness in the houmous. The tortilla itself was doughy and claggy in texture. 

5/10

Orzo pasta and Mediterranean veg hot pot, £4.20

Orzo pasta and mediterranean veg hot pot

This hot pot is a decent portion size (350g). It's hard to go too far wrong with a ratatouille-like dish of peppers, courgettes and tomato. It's warming, with a hint of chilli and the pleasant smokiness of paprika - but it's slightly too salty, the vegetables too sludgy, and the pasta itself is hard to make out. 

6/10

Our favourites

Predictably, many vegan wraps and sandwiches are on the bland side. There is too often a pronounced lack of the satisfying, savoury umami flavour and the rich, robust ingredients that we so crave in this cold month, and to compensate for that, some go overboard on sweet and sour ingredients (culprits include the Starbucks BBQ vegan wrap with jackfruit and slaw, £3.29, and the PAUL Bakery Sandwich Végétalien, £3.90).

The vegan hot pots and the chunky, colourful new salads on offer (we refer you to the Pret a Manger cauli and sweet potato dhal hot pot, £6.25, scattered with hot, juicy tomatoes) were generally a better bet. 

Others brands simply throw too many indistinct ingredients into the mix. In the best examples, the flavours sing: the simple mint crush in the Waitrose Mean Greens sandwich, and the classic apple and beetroot combination in one M&S offering, for example.

We found the most extensive and inventive supermarket plant-based range on offer to be the new 'Wicked Kitchen' vegan meals from Tesco, which launched this month offering a total of six different kinds of sandwiches and wraps (£3) and three salads (£3.30).