Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio-backed vegan Neat Burger comes to Dubai

Taste is king for the burger chain, which will target flexitarians

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Plant-based chain Neat Burger — which boasts Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio on its board of financial backers — is not necessarily only one for vegans. Instead, says the brand’s co-founder Stasi Nychas, the burgers are prepared to appeal to the rising cult of flexitarians — or those who subscribe to a semi-vegetarian lifestyle.

Accordingly, “No compromise on taste” is the headline promise of Neat Burger, which is opening its first UAE branch in The Dubai Mall on Thursday, and the first 500 customers get to eat for free.

“Our target is people who want to eat less meat, maybe once or twice a week. And how do we convert meat-eaters? It all comes down to taste,” Nychas, who has flown to Dubai from London to oversee the launch, tells The National.

“We want our customers to have that nostalgic feeling they get when eating from the popular [fast food] brands.”

The chain has an all-plant-based menu. The burger patties are a variation of meat, chicken and fish alternatives, the cheeses are vegan and the shakes are blended with soya milk. “We have a vision to make sustainably delicious food accessible to everyone,” says Nychas.

Meat substitutes have been rather slow to enter the mainstream food scene. Although it’s gained considerable traction in recent years, as vegan options continue to grow in number, faux meat still hasn’t quite taken off, as a lot of it simply doesn’t taste like the real deal. Neat has been trying to crack the plant-based meat code since 2019, when it opened its first branch in London.

“Our burgers three years ago probably taste different than what we are offering now,” Nychas says, at Neat's new location overlooking the mall's skating rink.

“Consumers can be inherently selfish in the way they eat. They’ll come and try something, and if it doesn’t taste like a burger, they’re not going to come back.

“We spent a lot of time with our food team making sure each burger has the right amount of sauce and that everything tastes, feels and looks like the burgers we’re eating anywhere else.

Indeed, the brand’s Original Cheez, Crispy Chick'n and Fish Burger prove to be quite the faux meat treat. True to its promise, the first two burgers — with meat and chicken alternatives — offer an authentic experience, with none of that earthy aftertaste usually associated with meat substitutes. Neat develops its own protein range, from ingredients including pea, corn and rice.

The fish burger is the most impressive, made with jackfruit, but still eerily bearing a strong seafood flavour. Aside from the sandwiches, the plant-based chicken nuggets are also a crunchy hit.

“Taste is always at the forefront, and that’s how we are going to grow our consumer base,” Nychas explains.

The celebrity names backing the brand don’t hurt, either. The growth of Neat Burger could partly be attributed to the star power of seven-time Formula One world champion Hamilton and, more recently, Oscar-winning actor and climate change activist DiCaprio.

“Their joining the business has given us great exposure through their networks,” Nychas says, admitting the brand has used these big names to gain “an extra push to the market”.

The superstar investors aren’t only for marketing purposes, however. Hamilton, a vegan himself, shares the same vision as Nychas and the other co-founders, including DiCaprio, Unicef ambassador Tommaso Chiabra and creative director Zack Bishti.

“I’m really proud of the boundaries we have been able to push in this space and the plans for expansion are really exciting,” the F1 star said in a statement ahead of the Dubai launch.

Aggressive global expansion is on the menu at Neat. The Dubai branch represents its 10th outpost, with eight in the UK and one in New York.

Nychas says Dubai was the perfect next stop for Neat Burger to forward its agenda — as a storm of health-consciousness and vegan options sweep the food scene across the Emirates. Adding a local aspect to the menu, the chain is introducing “hotter and spicier” options for UAE customers.

Nychas also shares Neat Burger's plans to increase its presence in the Middle East, with the possibility of branching out to Abu Dhabi in the “close future”. In fact, he says, the chain is participating in the coming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Neat Burger opens on the level two food court of The Dubai Mall on November 3; the first 500 customers eat free on launch day

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Updated: November 02, 2022, 3:33 PM