Cult and cuisine combine for Miss Knedlíkova at this vegan chain's Londýnská branch
There is no one, who is a vegetarian, who strictly keeps the precepts and meditates daily that will not... become a fairy, Bodhisattva, saint or arahant.
The Supreme Master, Ching Hai
We can cultivate a saint out of ourselves, or we can make a sinner.
The Supreme Master, Ching Hai, again
I had again been planning to review one of the many restaurants I recently frequented with visiting relatives for this week, but following my latest visit to vegan restaurant-café Loving Hut the other day, I now instead want to speak of a new family -- a better, more spiritually enlightened, global family of regularly meditating, ecologically minded, dedicated, herbivorous followers of our revered leader, the Supreme Master, Ching Hai. According to her website at www.godsdirectcontact.org, our Supreme Master "has come to this world, on the mission of Quan Yin, to save sentient beings from misery," as well as apparently also saving the planet at the same time. (Moonies-meet-eco-warriors is probably not too far off the mark here...)
I haven't been vegetarian, let alone vegan, for a good 10 years now, but had been meaning to visit one of the Loving Hut branches, on Londýnská or Truhlářská, for some time, out of curiosity if nothing else. I now realize this curiosity was, in fact, the Universe's way of bringing me into the fold of our beloved Supreme Master, who (in her wisdom divining that faith can very often be bought via food) heavily endorses the Loving Hut restaurant chain worldwide.
Though the interior of the Londýnská branch of Loving Hut was, as a whole, spacious, airy and clean, the presence of sponsor/spiritual savior Ching Hai, in the form of lionizing portraits adorning the walls, a shelf of her personally penned spiritual literature in the corner, and a widescreen TV playing her dedicated channel Supreme Master TV non-stop couldn't be missed.
Our exalted Supreme Master teaches that we should achieve enlightenment via the practice of Quan Yin mediation, renunciation of material possessions and strict adherence to a vegan diet -- hence the Asian-themed, tofu-reliant menus of Loving Hut restaurants around the world. Those who accuse the Supreme Master of fraud and hypocrisy in the practice of her non-materialistic, stridently environmentalist beliefs are clearly just unenlightened fools blinded by the false prophets of both consumerism and carnivorism.
Our Supreme Master also preaches abstinence from alcohol, hence a drinks menu limited to soft drinks and holistic teas. I will admit that my then-unenlightened self initially reacted with horror at this uncompromisingly temperate stance; however, I realize now that our Supreme Master, in denying me my usual evening glass of wine (or two), was simply attempting to steer me onto the noble path towards enlightenment. Cola light and Mattoni were both deemed spiritually acceptable, however, while Mr. T went for a very nice ginger-and-orange tea, which smelled and tasted kind of like a non-alcoholic svařák.
As well as an already-vegetarian Mr. T, I was also joined on this occasion by a normally meat-eating Miss E and good friend Prague Ginge. They appeared bemused by my sudden, unquestioning embrace of our Supreme Master and all her various teachings, in their as-yet-unenlightened state bandying about such clearly misinformed terms as "cult," "creepy" and "female Kim Jong-il."
Anyway, back to a more earthly plane and onto the food itself.
As a long-time vegetarian in Prague, Mr. T was in his element having a whole menu to choose from, rather than just getting stuck with the usual default veggie option of smažený sýr.
In the end he opted for a starter of curry soup made with potatoes, carrot and soya meat (35 CZK), followed by the tofu-based Champion burger (65 CZK).
Devotee that I am, I cannot remain blind to the fact that, while our Supreme Master may be perfect in every way, clearly not everything about Loving Hut's food met those standards.
I couldn't help but notice that the soup (acceptable as, I'm assured, it was) certainly looked pretty unappealing, while the burger was very small and pretty lazily presented. Mr. T said that it wasn't bad, but that he could easily make better himself at home, and also that he would have preferred ketchup on top rather than the pinkish vegan mayonnaise-style sauce it came with. However, Google reliably informs me that ketchup is not always considered strictly vegan due to the inclusion of animal bone char in the processing. Yum.
Given that our Supreme Master descended from an ethereal to an earthly plane via Vietnam, it is perhaps to be expected that Loving Hut fared rather better with its Southeast Asian-style cuisine than imitation Western. That, or the fact that all the kitchen and service staff were also Asian. (Not to mention most efficient and polite, while we're on the subject.)
I, for example, couldn’t turn down the option of Vietnamese phò at 95 CZK.
I noticed that the imitation black beef shown on the menu had been substituted for white mock chicken, but this didn't bother me -- one pretend substance is as good as any other as far as I'm concerned.
Even in my decade-long period of teenage vegetarianism, I couldn't really bring myself to truly embrace any kind of tofu or imitation meat apart from Quorn, but for the sake of our Supreme Master (and also the chance to sample one of my traditional favorites) I was willing to give it a go.
Vegan or not, I've never yet found a phò outside of Vietnam that's come anywhere near my level of spice/seasoning requirements, so had to utterly douse this one in chili and soy sauce until it had sufficient zing for my purposes. There was a smattering of coriander and spring onion already thrown in to jazz it up a little, but I'd have preferred much more in terms of both seasoning and fish oil, not to mention the more traditional lime rather than lemon wedges to squeeze into it too. Still, it was certainly a generous portion, and -- once I'd poured in half the contents of the table condiment jars -- pretty much acceptable. Even the mock chicken wasn't quite as off-putting as I'd been expecting -- the texture was a little odd, admittedly, but it had clearly been marinated in advance and added a welcome substance to the dish as a whole.
Miss E went for the Green Harmony at 69 CZK.
This green vegetable and mushroom stir-fry was definitely a cut above the bog-standard slop you get from your typical "Čínský bistro" -- Miss E was very impressed by the freshness of the vegetables, which still retained a nice crunch rather than being sautéed into soggy oblivion like they unfortunately do at my local Chinese. I had a taste and found the sauce to be pretty bland and sorely lacking in chili for my taste but, on the other hand, I didn't think I detected any (or at least much) MSG in it either. You certainly got plenty of the stuff at any rate, to the extent that the rest of the dish looked like it might drown at any minute.
Last but not least, Prague Ginge indulged her sushi love, working on the basis that with enough soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger, she could perhaps overlook the notable absence of any actual fish.
On the menu photo there had been only six pieces shown, but for the same modest price (96 CZK) Prague Ginge was presented with an entire 16. Needless to say, she wasn't complaining about quantity, though the quality, on the other hand, was a little more dubious here. She commented that several of the pieces looked quite clumsily made, and compared it to supermarket sushi in terms of the taste and texture of the rice. I also thought they could have shown a little more creativity in varying the fillings from just plain raw vegetable, maybe by using avocado, tofu, or some of the mock shrimp featured in some of the other spring roll starter dishes. Overall, Prague Ginge confirmed that she'd pretty much got precisely what she'd been expecting in ordering an all-vegan sushi dish, which I think says it all really.
So, as a newly dedicated follower of our Supreme Master Ching Hai, what was my overall verdict on this particular branch of her personally endorsed chain of Loving Huts?
Our Supreme Master teaches that: "Heaven or hell, they are all created by ourselves."
Therefore, if you are into the vegan food scene and don't mind trying out such "alternative" ingredients as mock meat or imitation shrimp, then Loving Hut probably has more choice in this respect than anywhere else in Prague. If, on the other hand, you are the type who likes a big bloody steak for dinner and considers tofu a hippie "non-food," then it's probably best give this one a miss, especially if -- like me -- you find the idea of a meal without alcohol pretty hard to stomach.
Personally speaking, I'm not into tofu or other meat substitutes as the predominant ingredient enough to warrant a second visit, but would recommend it as a casual and affordable lunch or dinner option to those that do have the taste for it. I personally thought the menu could benefit from the addition of a few more vegan-friendly "natural" options, such as bean- or pulse-based dishes as well. Instead, Loving Hut seems to me rather too reliant on just one "artificial" foodstuff, the mock meat, which may not necessarily be to everyone's taste.
That said, the place was pretty packed on the evening we were there, so in truth it's not as if they really need to diversify for the sake of their custom here. As for me, though, I still definitely prefer the variety and ambience of Lehká hlava and Maitrea (admittedly both vegetarian rather than vegan) when it comes to getting my ethical food fix.
And oh, alright then, I'll admit it -- my own short period of spoof spiritual devotion ended approximately three quarters of an hour later, when a concerned Prague Ginge, in a noble attempt to wrest me from the cultish clutches of Ching Hai & Co., succeeded in dragging me into our official "local", of V & R Imports (or "Robert's", as we call it) on the way home, where the two of us inevitably proceeded to re-convert ourselves from saints to sinners over the consumption of multiple bottles of lovely, lovely red wine...
Fair enough, I might not ever get to be a "fairy, Bodhisattva, saint or arahant" this way, but when it comes to good times and gourmet, at least, Robert's -- as opposed to the holy-rolling Loving Hut and the like -- has to be my true spiritual home!
Loving Hut Londýnská
Phone: (+420) 222 515 006
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