The Vegetarian Butcher (NL) goes Tokyo!
The Vegetarian Butcher is a Dutch mock-meat company founded by a 9th generation pig farmer that turned vegetarian. After its foundation in 2010, the company has grown both in the Netherlands and internationally. And now, ten years later, they have opened a shop
in our very own TOKYO!
When Jaap Korteweg became the 9th generation farm holder in a Dutch corps- and cattle farm. After witnessing the horrible deaths of tens of thousands of pigs during the highly contagious swine fever in 1997, Korteweg turned vegetarian - the start of a global plantbased brand.
Korteweg contacted food scientists to discuss the options of vegetarian meat replacements, and started the Vegetarian Butcher on October 4th, 2010 - World Animal Day!
Through crowdfunding, the company raised $2,500,000 in only a couple of weeks, to build a new factory to develop and produce more plantbased products.
Winning price after price, not only for most "green"-, or the best start-up business, but even third place in a Dutch meat ball competition!, The "Vegetarische Slager" (name in Dutch) became a household name to friend and foe. They grew so fast, cattle farmers started to feel threatened and for a little while, it seemed the EU was going to forbid them from using their renowned product names, that sound very much like the traditional dishes they were based on, for example: Good Karma SHAWARMA, CHICKENED Out Burger and Magic MINCE. It was suggested that this would confuse people - but luckily, after a successful online petition, the ban did not go through.
Getting closer and closer to becoming the biggest butcher in the world, The Vegetarian Butcher was acquired by Unilever in 2019, which has helped them spread even faster, but also failed to deliver on Korteweg' goal to veganize all products by the end of that year. They partnered with Burger King to supply them their highly successful plant-based Rebel Whopper.
In the Netherlands
When I was a vegetarian in the Netherlands, about 15 years ago, there were only two options: "veggie balls" and "cheese croquettes" (the latter of which probably weren't even really vegetarian, as they likely contained animal derived "rennet"). The balls were highly processed, extremely salty and not enjoyable at all. The cheese croquettes were extremely strong tasting, and very fatty. Both weren't healthy, nor delicious, but the only plantbased option at the time.
When I turned Vegan many years later, the Vegetarian Butcher had just entered the market with their "chicken" chunks. At more than 4 euros a pack, they were expensive, but such a delight: finally! mock meat so delicious even the biggest meat eaters in my family liked them!
Their line up grew fast, and they opened up an actual butcher shop and restaurant. As I moved abroad, I did not experience their "boom" and was surprised when their name started popping up in the UK, where I lived at the time. When I moved to Japan, I forgot about them again, until suddenly, their Tokyo restaurant got announced!
TVB Goes Tokyo
The Vegetarian Butcher is located near Ikebukuro station, after Shinjuku, one of the busiest railway station in the world!
The restaurant can be a bit challenging to find, as it is located in the basement down an entrance located at the end of a hallway. From the outside, you'll have to look for the sign board, as they are well blended-in the busy Tokyo aesthetics.
Their location also makes it more difficult to reach for physically disabled people and those bringing small kids (e.g. strollers). You'll definitely know you're at the right place, once you have found the entrance: The walls are covered with veggies, TVB logos and of course, Mr. Korteweg himself!
We were welcomed by a young, slightly disinterested staff. The cafe was empty - as we had chosen a quiet day and time for social distancing purposes.
Whether it is a waste-free solution, or a modern touch, or perhaps a bit of both - Instead of traditional paper menu's, you are presented with a QR code and asked to place the order per smartphone. Although I appreciate the idea, I'm not a big fan. Depending on your phone (and battery power..) it's hard to see, hard to look together if you're ordering with more than one person, loads slowly, has little information (e.g. on allergens). And call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to be able to ask for recommendations, confirm ingredients and generally feel welcome when I eat out. If it is to cater to people whom are easily overstimulated, I think it's a great initiative (like e.g. Lush), but they might consider offering the option to do so. And perhaps tablets > customer's smartphones.
TVB has an amazing menu with creative names and mouthwatering options - but the majority of them are vegetarian. Fair enough, they are the Vegetarian Butcher, not the Vegan Butcher!
The Vegan options are all listed on the PBM, the plantbased menu, which unfortunately significantly lowers your options. A nice feature is that you get to choose your side: Carrot, Broccoli or fries, I believe. After seeing several photo's online of the massive, plain carrots they put next to the burger, I had to get one myself. Dutch simplicity at its best.
We went with the "What a The Cluck Teri mayo Burger", which is made with plantbased mince, "chicken", lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, and we added Vegan Cheese and pickles (Did anyone say Monster Burger?). We also ordered the Vegan Chicken Skewers, and Vegan Nuggets - for science purposes.
For some reason these were served cold, which would not have been my preference, but the flavor and texture were great. The flavor is very strong, and the "meat" very tender. With this dish you'll understand why their Vegan chicken is the signature product that got them this far! I'm not sure if a skewer served by it own works in Japan - I can imagine people would want a bowl of rice with it, especially with such intense flavors.
Wow! Junkfood alert! If I were a proper blogger, I might have tried the burger without any toppings, to better report its flavors, but.... (Vegan-) "cheese though!".
This was a delicious, messy explosion of flavors, and I approve. At ￥1,298 without any toppings, it's not the cheapest option in town, but it definitely has a proper size, and some interesting flavor-texture combinations. The carrot on the side was quite delicious due to the tartar(?) sauce on top, but this does make it incredibly heavy. Again, an (affordable!) salad, soup or rice would help here. Excellent hangover food though!
Nuggets ("Little Peckers")
I have had the Dutch Vegan nuggets from TVB many times when I was in the Netherlands and they are incredible! Crispy, juicy on the inside, great flavor.... and unfortunately very different with what was served here. Oily, dry, and more pakora, than nugget, I did not care for them at all. They are served with the same sauce as the carrots, which seems unnecessarily overpowering (if the nuggets would be good on their own that is) and repetitive.
On their website TVB offers a "Girls Party" and "Vegetarian Butcher-" course menus, and you'll find many more sides and options. Either they are new, didn't properly show up on the smartphone vegan menu, or they mostly aren't vegan.
Overall, it was a nice experience and I think Vegetarians and "yuru-beji" (part-time veggies/vegans) might have a blast here, especially if they like heavy flavors. At the counter you can buy some of the vegan meats and fish (vegetarian), as fitting the "butcher" theme, but their signature vegan chicken was sold out.
A meal can become quite pricey if you wish to add toppings or sides, let alone drinks, and you may crave a bowl of rice or plain bread to absorb some of the fattiness afterwards.
Address: 〒171-0021 Tokyo, Toshima City, Nishiikebukuro, 3 Chome−29−9 Ｃ３ビル B1F
Access: About a 3 minute walk from Ikebukuro station. Search for the Vegan sign / a long hallway.
Food: JUNKFOOD. Burgers, "Meats" and Fried foods.
Price:￥2000-2500 p.p. is realistic if you're going for a main, side and drinks and aren't sharing.
Service: Very young, disinterested (not unkind!) staff. Tokyo style? I did not have the feeling the girl 100% knew all about vegetarian/vegan food and the difference between the two.
Location: Close to the station, but challenging to find and hard to access (stairs). No windows and a very cool, modern (cold..) atmosphere.
Overall: Fun to try and recommended if you like heavy/junkfood-ish food. Better catered towards Vegetarians, as the name suggests, but chances are you will impress your non-veggie friends here. More a friends- or solo dinner spot, than a romantic date one. ❤
and let me know if you enjoyed TVB!