Holy Cow: review of Edinburgh’s first fully vegan cafe

There are a lot of restaurants that offer vegan options in Edinburgh, but the number of fully vegan establishments still is still trying to catch up to the choice Glasgow offers. There was a lot of talk about Holy Cow on Elder Street, but I didn’t recognise the name of the street and it didn’t fully click how central (and conveniently located) it is until I visited their cafe with fellow vegan blogger friends Emma from Vegan Edinburgh, her husband Mr B and Lucie from Call Me Dumpling.

Just to clear up any potential confusion, Holy Cow isn’t the only vegan cafe in Edinburgh at the time of writing this, but as far as I’m aware, apart from Henderson’s on the corner of Rose Street and Hanover Street, Holy Cow was the second known fully vegan establishment to set up shop for the growing vegan community living in the capital city.

The cafe is in a basement location behind St Andrew’s Bus Station and can easily be missed unless you’re looking out for it. It is literally doors down from where the buses arrive and depart towards the back-end of what used to be the St James Shopping Centre and York Place. Although situated in quite a busy area, the cafe manages to keep a cosy and comfortable quiet atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. There is also a billboard to one side wall of the cafe that features a theme. At the time of our visit, it was beautifully decorated with a woodland creature theme, carefully created with well-considered care and love.

Since becoming vegan, apart from one Jamie Oliver cake I made for a meal once I hadn’t really had much time (or energy) to bake, what with work taking up most of my spare time in between attending kickboxing and other fitness classes. When I saw the assortment of cakes on offer, my mouth literally dropped…especially when I saw there was only one slice of red velvet cake left. The owner of the cafe must have noticed my desperation and shock because she assured me there was another full cake being frosted while we spoke.

Making a good vegan red velvet is still one of my biggest challenges I plan to tackle soon. The best red velvet cake recipe I’ve come across requires buttermilk and it baffled me what vegan alternative would have the same properties to keep the cake dense and moist. Also finding good red food colouring without using cochineal beetles was also a struggle I had, even before becoming vegan.

Once we were able to pull ourselves away from the array of cakes on display, we finally sat down to have a look at the menu although it wasn’t a quick and easy task. You know the way you think you’d like to order one dish, but you come across another that also sounds delicious but there’s a third one that’s also caught your eye? Usually eating out as a vegetarian or vegan means having the choice between one of two or three dishes, but when you’re in a fully vegan cafe, we also have the same problems.

We finally managed to decide what we wanted and boy were we all impressed. The phones and cameras were clicking away capturing the beautiful colours of drool-worthy food brought to our table.

Our meal of the day

Smoked tofu burger (lettuce, smoked tofu, mango chutney, tomato, mayo and red onion)

Falafel burger (lettuce, falafel, garlic mayo, roasted peppers and spiralised carrot)

Savoury and sweet salad with spinach, cucumber, Wensleydale-style cheese with cranberry, strawberries, red onions, roasted pecans served with balsamic olive oil

Pulled jackfruit burger (lettuce, pulled jackfruit, mayo, tomato and red onion)

Portobello mushroom burger (lettuce, mushroom, mature vegan cheddar cheese, garlic mayo and red onion)

I ordered the portobello mushroom without tomatoes because of my food intolerance and swapped the regular vegan mayo with garlic mayo (because I love garlic) and the waiting staff was really patient and nice about it even though I felt like such a fussy customer.

The burgers were lovely and there were no complaints around the table. It might seem like you’re not getting much on your plate, but boy were we all full after the burgers and chips we ordered. The portion sizes are quite generous despite their deceiving appearances. I think I can safely say we were all patting our bellies in pleasure.

We couldn’t leave without ordering some cake, even though we were all full, and I was definitely not leaving that day without some red velvet cake.

Vegan red velvet cake

Summer fruit tart

Having made and tasted the epitome of red velvet cake, my expectations were set high and the chef didn’t disappoint. I was worried that the icing would be too sweet from too much icing sugar, but it was surprisingly light and fluffy. The cake itself was as bright red as I like it and it was dense and moist, just how I like it. The cake slices were also quite big and I was really full after that lunch that I skipped dinner that night. I couldn’t resist getting a few slices of cake to take away with me for the OH and in-laws (who very much enjoyed them as well).

On a separate occasion, the OH and I went back to Holy Cow to meet with a friend. The OH just wanted ao hot drink, but I couldn’t resist ordering their rainbow summer rolls.

I loved the colourful variety of veg wrapped within the rice paper. The texture of the veg in the soft and sticky rice paper was also a nice combination with the amazing peanut sauce they came with. It was so good, I was literally scooping the last drops out of the sauce pot with my utensils!

I think it’s fair enough to say that I’ve yet to have a bad dish from Holy Cow. I wasn’t sure how it would live up to my experience of eating vegan in Glasgow (see my previous post here), but Holy Cow sets itself apart from other vegan establishments. Each one has its own character and personality, and I believe at Holy Cow, you can get your burger fix while also being offered a variety of healthier choices as well.

Holy Cow can be found at 34 Elder Street, EH1 3DX and is open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm. This is a walk in only cafe, so expect it to be busy around lunch and be prepared to wait a short while for a table to be available.

Have you been to Holy Cow? What is your favourite dish? What about their cakes?

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