Last Thursday saw Brighton's Moshimo hosting an event that's always a highlight on my foodie calendar, The Great Moshimo Vegan Challenge. Once a year Moshimo go vegan for an evening and chefs from all over the city compete to create the most inventive, beautiful and delicious small dishes. The event was thought up by owners Karl and Nicholas as they pondered what would happen to Moshimo if fish socks did run out. Obviously my vegan perspective on this is that they should stop using fish altogether to help save the oceans and to cease contributing to any animal cruelty but I do appreciate that they were one of the first places to remove blue fin tuna from their menu, to add vegan options and to focus on sustainable methods of fishing. Steps in the right direction for sure and it's a great spot to eat at with non vegan friends an family who aren't so open to a vegan meal.
The opinions expressed here are a mix of mine and my dining companions as due to my chilli allergy I had to skip or eat a modified version of some of the dishes.
The first dish out of the kitchen was a sample platter of three dishes from the vegan bento box that will be appearing on the winter menu shortly. I was excited by this strong start to the evening as my only real criticism of last years event was regarding the lack of Moshimo's own regular vegan menu items. In 2011 and 2012 there were plenty of their own small plates available for sampling, from edamame to dumplings via their inventive maki, but last year there was none of that which everyone at my table thought was a shame. I'm glad they responded to feedback and sent their own dishes out again this year.
The seaweed and inari tofu salad, sweet potato croquettes with ume and steamed pumpkin were all excellent. I've never been happier to have a pumpkin hating diner sitting next to me! This actually turned out to be one of my favourite dishes and I can't wait to go and get myself a bento box as soon as it appears on the menu.
The first competition entrant was Terre à Terre with their pickled lotus and kimchee dish with bean sprouts, lychee and coriander.
This could have been great, it seemed to have a vegan creamy cheesy sauce thing going on in there (something I'd love to see appearing on Terre à Terre's own menu!) but unfortunately it wasn't great. One of my dining companions described it as "like that curry they serve on BA flights to the USA", not great praise I'm sure we can agree.
Edamame was next, not a part of the competition but always a favourite snack of mine.
Cashew Catering went next in the competition with a dish that was one of my favourites for sure. The mixed mushroom and edamame stuffed mochi scored well across the board gaining some of my highest scores for taste, innovation and presentation.
I've never had hot mochi before and deep frying it definitely changed the texture from gelatinous to soft and almost potato croquette like. It was excellent with the accompanying ume but even better dipped in soy sauce. I'm pleased to say that the other diners agreed with my high scores as Cashew Catering came third overall.
My favourite dumplings from Moshimo's menu were next, they're deep fried to perfect crispiness and they're incredibly delicious. I usually order a couple of portions every time I eat there.
Next up was a dish that could only have been made by VBites who were the overall winners of the challenge yet again. This sprouting maki was inspired by donburi one of my favourite Japanese dishes. Donburi pretty much translates to bowl and in an inventive twist VBites put the rice both inside maki and shaped into onigiri and topped them with teriyaki vegan chicken and wasabi caviar. Mine arrived sans caviar but you can see Randi's in the background and Moshimo owner Karl was lovely enough to drop a sample off at our table and later we found out that it was Caviart brand, something I'm already a fan of but I'd never have considered picking the wasabi flavour!
Whilst this scored highly for innovation and won the competition I'd have preferred a straight up teriyaki vegan chicken maki. The teriyaki chicken itself was a favourite across our whole table, it was definitely one of the best things I ate all evening and something I'd love to see added to either VBites or Moshimo's menu. If either of them added a donburi dish like this one from LOVE Pacific Cafe in Nagoya to their menus I'd be there quicker than they could say deep fry!
The next dish from Indian Summer was one I had to eat a modified version of but the consensus from everyone at my table was that it was kinda tasteless and unenjoyable texturally. In fact when Randi and I compared notes she's just written "weird, very weird" and I had written "very odd". We think that just about summed it up.
More dishes from the Moshimo menu came out next to bridge the gap between competition dishes. I love both the cucumber and avocado maki, especially on a Monday or Tuesday night when everything on the menu is half price to Moshimo Members card holders, then I super love them!
Dish numer five was a Japanese rice cracker dish with a gochujang and miso glaze and a cucumber and tigers milk salad. My table enjoyed this Korean and South American fusion twist from 64 Degrees and agreed that it had a nice level of spice. I found the texture of the rice crackers themselves really moorish. The texture was strange, chewy and almost gummy inside but I just couldn't stop eating them!
The flour tortilla used here made this one immediately stand out as La Choza's entry. It was stuffed with habanero chills, squash, avocado and it came atop a wasabi sauce. Apparently the heat overwhelmed the flavours. It also made Randi sneeze into her water glass twice which was kinda hilarious, bonus point?!
Dish seven stood out to us as a potential winner despite the excessive use of quinoa. I loved the nori cracker and we all thought that the tofu fish was really inventive. The yuzu ketchup was super tasty too. It was also fried. Yup. Always the sign of a winner! This dish came in second and could only have been better if they'd used less quinoa.
The last dish was, and I'm not going to pull any punches here, definitely the worst thing we ate that evening. It sounded promising, thinly sliced kohlrabi topped with shiitake mushrooms, mizuna, sesame dressing and toasted sesame seeds. Unfortunately this thing was swimming in oil (and you know I'm no oil phobic vegan) and topped with a truly excessive amount of sesame seeds. It was ridiculous. Blech.
Thankfully dessert was on it's way and Moshimo had veganised the chocolate mousse from their regular dessert menu. They did this once before and my feedback wasn't great (it was super bitter) so I'm super happy they listened and gave this a whirl again but this time with some sweetener in the form of agave. This was spot on and of course I suggested that they add it to their menu instead of the dairy filled version.
Overall we had an enjoyable evening but the quality of the entries was, if I'm completely honest, way down on previous years. There were still some good dishes but they were all surpassed by Moshimo's own creations and nothing stood out in the way that some of the dishes from 2011 or 2012's event did. I can't help but wonder if this is because everyone taking part is doing it out of their own pockets? This years event was for charity but if the companies involved are paying for both ingredients and covering staff costs it must be difficult to choose the pricier ingredients or more laborious prep methods year after year. Maybe a shake up of the entrants is in order?