"How long have you been vegetarian?" Asked the waitress. "Oh, over twenty years now," I replied. She looked concerned. "Some people find the 3D printed steak a bit..." she paused, considered, and continued, "A bit intense. It takes people by surprise how it makes them feel. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'd eat it again."
With that, she swept off with our cocktail orders.
Unity Diner is a lovely vegan diner near Brick Lane. It has kitschy booths, funky cocktails, and a menu stacked with vegan burgers, shrimp, poutine, and - now - Redefine Meat's 3D printed synthetic meat.
Their products aren't available in UK shops yet - they seem to be launching through steakhouses, restaurants, and hotels. It's important to note that this is a plant-based product; it isn't Synthetarian lab-grown bio-flesh. Rather than a uniform slab of protein like a Quorn steak, this is built to mimic the variable texture of cow muscle.
After a plate of garlic "prawns" (the same as you'd find in any vegan Chinese wholesaler) and two excellent cocktails, I received a big plate of steak, chips, and peas. Excuse the dimly lit photo:
I've not eaten a steak for close to quarter of a century. So I was curious what I'd make of it.
The texture when cutting in to it was incredible. A tough exterior - unlike the usual faux-steaks, I really could have done with a steak knife! The internals looked... stringy? Again, completely different to the usual consistency of any veggie-burger I'd had before. The insides were vaguely pink - a bit like the "Moving Mountains" burgers with their fake blood made of beetroot.
All of which leads to an incredible mouthfeel. The outside was seared and chewy, the inside tender and flaky. My carnivorous companion thought it to be closer to salt-beef than steak.
And the taste? Again, I've been a salad-muncher for half my life; don't ask me how it compare to real meat. But it was... nice. It had a good balance of salt and fat. There was no gristle, it wasn't overly spiced or burnt. Just a good solid bit of flavour. Of course, when covered with diane sauce it was indistinguishable from the real deal.
So, as a chunk of salt-beef drowned in sauce, it was pretty good.
Would I eat it again? That's a tough one. I didn't experience the transcendence that the waitress warned me about. It didn't freak me out to eat something with a similar taste and texture to meat. It was delicious. But, at the same time, it was only steak and chips. That's the kind of thing I associate with someone who doesn't want to try anything more adventurous than what they were force-fed for school dinners. The chips were fine. The peas were peas. It was a fascinating experience for what was, ultimately, a fairly dull meal.
If I were at a steak-house with my meat-eater friends, I'd probably order it rather than a disappointing mushroom risotto. But, in a veggie restaurant, I think I'd rather try something a little more adventurous. Or, at least, something I couldn't easily cook at home.
Anyway, Unity Diner is a great restaurant. Yes, it's mostly all various forms of "fake" meats - you're not going here for a quinoa health kick - but the menu is inventive, varied, and delicious. The cocktail menu is superb.
The cost for a starter, two cocktails, a steak, a burger, and the tip came to about £80.