Vegan cheese is a bit hit-and-miss. Some varieties taste entirely processed, as if you're eating something that was not meant for human consumption. Others have zero flavour.
Few are great, and when such a rarity comes along it's meant to be savoured. It (sometimes) makes even dairy-eaters wonder why they bother with the real deal. Heloise Lambert, the founder of Bloom Vegan Kitchen, has found one, and she uses it in the grilled "cheese" sandwich that's offered on her menu.
Velvety, smooth cheese that's made from soya and vegetable-based cream oozes out the sides of the toasted bread. A pesto sauce cuts through with much-needed acidity, while layers of cooked spinach add an earthiness to the creation. All of this is served with chips that are perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy within, and haven't gone soggy in the time it takes to move from kitchen to home. It's good.
Look through the photo gallery above to see more of Bloom Vegan Kitchen's dishes.
"I'm French, so we love cheese," says Lambert, who worked as a marketing manager for Shakespeare and Co before she managed to convince the popular restaurant chain to invest in her vegan kitchen idea. "This was one of the main targets, to have nice vegan cheese on the menu. We had so many tastings before we launched the menu. To be honest, some were horrible. We wanted to make a mac and cheese, but we couldn't find the right cheese for it. So there's still room for improvement and things to discover and taste."
Bloom Vegan Kitchen is a work in progress. For now, it's a delivery-only service that operates out of Shakespeare and Co's kitchens across the UAE. This allows Lambert to use the brand's trained staff, who prepare the vegan dishes separately to those with meat, and deliver to various locations in Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai and Sharjah. But Lambert hopes to expand to a bricks-and-mortar cafe in the near future, preferably first in The Greens, in Dubai, where she lives.
"That would be the perfect area to start with," she says. "Then Jumeirah Street and Umm Suqeim, because our audience is also based there."
Lambert has clearly given all of this a lot of thought. "I would want to make the place look like a garden, to match with the name of the brand," she says. "The [colour scheme] would be green, gold and wood. It would be cosy. People would enter and feel like they are at home on their patio and terrace. There would be a lot of light."
Eventually, Lambert wants to make Bloom into a lifestyle, partnering with other health-focused companies in the UAE, such as yoga studios. She also wants to focus more on sustainability, something she says is difficult to do as a delivery-only service. “What’s really important is customer relationships – we can’t have that as a virtual kitchen.”
Despite that, it’s been going well since they debuted in April, she says. “The response we’ve had since we launched has been amazing. I’d like to offer more gluten-free options – that’s one of the main requests we’re getting.” Based on feedback, and to keep things interesting for customers, Lambert wants to add new dishes to her menu every month or two.
And she wants it to appeal to both plant-based eaters and non-vegans. "People think vegan food is a bit boring or tasteless unfortunately, and I really wanted food that is accessible and affordable to everyone." Prices range from Dh20 for a soup to Dh35 for a burger and Dh45 for the pad Thai, which is reasonable when compared with other similar restaurants.
“We create food everyone knows – burgers, tacos, salads, sandwiches. It’s food for everyone, but made vegan,” she adds.
It was a lack of access to tasty, affordable vegan food that made Lambert take her time making the switch from being vegetarian to fully plant-based. It's a change she made before opening Bloom.
“I’ve never been a big meat-eater,” she explains. “I love animals – that was one of the main reasons [I adopted this diet] and it’s just part of having a healthier lifestyle as a whole. Food is so important – it’s a big part of health and I think we’re not very cautious with what we’re eating, especially in Dubai.”
Lambert is wary of coming off as too dogmatic about the diet, though. “I don’t want Bloom to be about lectures, about why you should be vegan. It’s everyone’s personal choice. I just want people to know there are so many options, and it’s not as restrictive as people think.”
And if you’re not convinced, just try the grilled cheese sandwich.