“Your girlfriend’s a veggie? Unlucky, mate… How do you manage that? Does she make you eat veggie food too? Or do you have to eat separately? AND WHAT ABOUT BACON?!”
SIGH. Forget the prospect of being force-fed tofu and lectured on animal cruelty; this is what you should fear about dating a vegetarian. Because apparently it’s not love, respect and trust that a successful relationship rests on; it’s the compatibility of a couple’s attitude to eating meat.
But I’ve got a secret to share, and it’s a big one. Dating a vegetarian is not hard. Seriously. Sure, we don’t want to eat dead animals, but most of us really don’t care if our partners do. And honestly, that’s all there is to it. I’ve been in a carnivore-veggie relationship for nearly six years now, and we ‘manage’ just fine. Neither of us has tried to convert the other, meat and vegetables coexist peacefully in the same fridge, and, shock horror, we even share meals together. Mine just don’t include meat. And bacon? Well, what about bacon? He eats it, I don’t. It’s not rocket science, people.
But while we may be able to cope with our opposing attitudes towards dead animals, not everyone can. There are some places that are off limits to the carnivore-veggie couple; places that, like the friends behind the questions above, just don’t seem to get how a carnivore and veggie could ever find happiness together. Places like the steakhouse. And do you know what? That’s fair enough. A steakhouse’s proposition is pretty clear; a love of meat is non-negotiable. It’s not for veggies, and we’re not for them. If Rob wants to eat his body weight in steak, he goes without me. No big deal.
And this was fine, until Fazenda opened in Leeds.
For the average carnivorous lass or lad, Fazenda is kind of a big deal. A Brazilian steakhouse paying homage to the gaucho heritage of slowly grilling prime cuts of meat over an open flame, Fazenda offers carnivores the chance to indulge in their wildest meaty fantasies – all you can eat meat. But for Rob, Fazenda was a really big deal. In 2011, we spent two months in Fazenda’s homeland of South America, a continent synonymous with fine meat, and lots of it. Rob took full advantage of every meaty opportunity, eating countless enormous steaks served in such ludicrously large quantities that he developed a perma-meat sweat on his T-Zone. Me? I ate pasta. Lots of pasta.
So Fazenda had Rob’s attention, but surprisingly, it also had mine. You see, Fazenda also boasts something else, something so rare for a steakhouse that I couldn’t help but listen to Rob as his hints transitioned into downright demands. Fazenda boasts veggie credentials. You heard me right. Recognising that sometimes, the unimaginable happens and carnivores and veggies do choose to date each other, Fazenda not only provides a vegetarian option, but it proudly flaunts it. And here’s the clincher – veggies seem to love it! My resistance transformed into intrigue, and last Sunday I finally gave into Rob’s pleas, treating him to a surprise lunch and satisfying my curiosity.
Ok, veggies. You’re entering a den of meat iniquity – what sort of welcome awaits you? A rather good one, actually. I’d tweeted Fazenda to lay down my veggie gauntlet, which they acknowledged as soon as we arrived. There was no derision; no confusion – they genuinely seemed unphased by my vegetarianism, explaining my options and how they would be able to accommodate me. This might seem insignificant, but it was such a refreshing change. Regardless of the restaurant, it’s so disheartening when you have to explain that you’re a veggie and meet the panicked eye of your server as they scramble around for the veggie menu, if there even is one at all. Despite warning them in advance, I still had to have this conversation with a waitress at Le Gavroche, a TWO Michelin starred restaurant, after she served me a meaty canapé. So bravo, Fazenda. You had me at hello.
Fazenda may not hate veggies, but it is a meaty joint, and whilst thankfully it wasn’t perfumed with that overwhelming stench of dead animal; there are clearly things that us veggies have to get over if we want to eat there. Instead of a menu, Fazenda has a double-sided card system which carnivores use to control the steady flow of meat that will be brought directly to the table. Green keeps it coming; red allows time for a breather and to sweat it out. This means that waiters constantly circle the restaurant with unsightly hunks of fatty, dripping flesh; stopping by each green card table to hack off slices whilst giddy patrons lick their lips and grab at the meat with the surgical tongs provided. These waiters will be respectful of your abstention and keep their distance as much as possible, but it you’re squeamish about meat, then Fazenda is NOT the place for you.
But get past that and you will reap the rewards, starting with Fazenda’s glorious wine selection. Just like its steaks, red wine in South America is larger than life; and Fazenda’s wine list conjured vivid flashbacks of the stunning malbecs, carménères and cabernet sauvignons that we savoured throughout our travels. I chose a glass of the Argento Malbec; an intense, smouldering bouquet of dark fruits peppered with spice and a hint of chocolate. Perfection.There was even a special wine lover’s menu; boasting a pricy but stirring selection of premium sups. Forget the steaks; the wine is reason enough to come alone.
Then there was that famous salad buffet; showered with praise by veggies that have previously dared to risk Fazenda. But despite this praise, the buffet still had me worried. If you read my last blog post, you’ll know that restaurant buffets just aren’t my thing, but I’m pleased to say that Fazenda’s buffet was different. Unlike your usual all-you-can-eat buffet offerings, Fazenda has actually paid attention to what it’s serving, offering a quality selection of items that don’t deteriorate rapidly when left to sit out; a concept grasped by too few. Everything was spot on, but of particular note were the stuffed vine leaves; a perfect mouthful of soft rice, delicate herbs and a subtle hint of citrus.
There was also a steady flow of chips brought to our table, presumably to accompany the growing pile of carcas hunks that Rob was devouring. When done well, with the love; care; and passion that every humble potato deserves, chips are a thing of beauty. Fazenda did them very well. Crisp but fluffy, the potato was cut into slim frites; fatter than a french fry but not large enough to be considered chunky. Well-seasoned with a subtle sprinkle of parsley, Rob barely got a look in…
Finally, there was the homemade pasta. Fazenda prides itself on its authenticity and offering a veggie option of pasta was definitely that, if my own experiences of dining in South American steakhouses are anything to go by. But just like in the churrascarias of Rio de Janeiro and the parillas of Buenos Aires, when pasta is good, it’s really good. This was proper home-made pasta, prepared into ravioli circles and filled with ricotta. And this wasn’t a lazy, bland concoction of the veggie cliché spinach and ricotta, but just ricotta; thick, fresh and moreishly creamy. Slathered with a creamy sauce singing with butter and fresh herbs and served with crumbly grana padano and triangles of dense cornbread, it was fabulous.
And with that, the blanket steakhouse veto was lifted. Stunning wine, surprisingly good veggie fare and an attentive service that never patronises; Fazenda is well worth a try for every veggie-carnivore couple out there. (And carnivores, here’s a preview of just how happy it may make you…)