Veggie variety

The chef behind Eastbourne’s vegetarian bistro talks to Alex Jenkins about his cooking career and his passion for veggie food.

Opening up your own restaurant is always a brave move.
But launching one that may only appeal to a small section of your potential customer base is an even bigger risk.
The Green Almond, Eastbourne.Andrew HagelHowever, this is exactly what Eastbourne couple and vegetarians Andrew and Carmen Hagel decided to take on for their first independent venture when they opened The Green Almond in Compton Street.
Launched in August last year, the bistro has already proved a success – with most weekends being fully booked.
And with Trip Advisor reviews describing it as ‘a golden nugget’, ‘veggie heaven’ and ‘incredible’ it would appear they are on to a winner.
“A lot of people have been thanking us, saying they do not have to travel to Brighton anymore to have a meal out,” says Andrew.
“But two thirds of our customers are not vegetarian – they just like the food.”
Andrew started his cooking career at the age of 15 when he packed his bags and left his home town of Croydon to move into central London and work in a kitchen in Marble Arch.
“I just went into my home and I said ‘I would like to move out’ and I just went,” Andrew reveals, explaining how he came from a ‘big family’ where he had seven brothers and sisters.
“I think my parents were relieved as it was one less at home to worry about.
“I am not academic so at school I had not got any CSEs, as they were in those days,” he adds.
However, if Andrew had any glamorous ideas of what ‘cheffing’ would be like in London he was in for a shock.
“The first day I had to peel a bag of onions from 8am until 8pm,” he says with a laugh.
Despite this baptism of fire it did not put Andrew off the vegetable – in fact he admits it is one of his ‘essential’ ingredients.

The Green Almond, Eastbourne. Carmen and Andrew Hagel“Onion and garlic are the base for a lot of my dishes,” he agrees. “I could not do without.”
Vegetarian options in restaurants can sometimes lack variety, with mushroom risotto, stuffed peppers or goats’ cheese tart the
usual fare.
Plus, if you listen to my veggie friends, nut roasts are almost always disappointing.
Yet glancing at The Green Almond’s monthly menu you can see it is anything but boring.
Think grilled stuffed courgette; baked carrot and Gruyure cheese timbale; and mushroom and cashew pithiver with a white wine truffle sauce.
The bistro is fairly small – you can fit 16 to 18 diners in at one time – and the kitchen is tiny.
With this in mind the couple have had to be very clever in how they run it.
This has resulted in the menu being kept simple, with a buffet at lunchtimes and a two option menu for Friday and Saturday evenings.
“I would say it is well balanced,” Andrew says of his food. “Everyday I have a selection of six salads and it will not just be tomato and lettuce.
The Green Almond, Eastbourne.“I do high protein salads and sweet potato salad is very popular.
“I just try to take what is in season. Sometimes the vegetable man will ring me and say ‘I have lots of these vegetables’ and I will just take it and make something out of nothing.
“I can make a meal just by putting things together – that comes from years of experience.”
Between working in London and owning his restaurant in Eastbourne, Andrew worked in the catering industry for British Steel, which later became Corus and then Tata Steel.
It was during the last takeover that Andrew started cooking more vegetarian dishes as the company was Indian so therefore many employees preferred meat-free meals.
After being made redundant Andrew had the chance to pause while he decided what to
do next.
“My wife always wanted to own our own little place,” Andrew reveals. “We looked around Croydon but we did not see anything we liked.
“As we already owned a flat in Eastbourne – we had bought the flat as an investment – we thought we would have a look in Eastbourne and there was this quite different place for sale.”
The Green Almond, Eastbourne.Andrea Jones (Carmen's sister)Seeing there were very few places offering just vegetarian cuisine, the pair, who have both been vegetarians for decades, decided there was an opportunity to share their passion.
And as someone who has dined there I know the dishes on offer could turn even the most committed carnivore.
This is not just vegetarian food, this is a tasty education that you would be nuts to miss out on.

The Green Almond is open Tuesday to Thursday 10am until 4pm; and Friday to Saturday noon until 4pm.
For lunches the small buffet plate is only £5, a large one is £8.50, and soup is £3.80.
On Friday and Saturday nights the restaurant is open 7pm until 11pm, with the set menu costing £20.
To book, call 01323 734470.
The Green Almond can be found at 12 Grand Hotel Buildings, Compton Street, Eastbourne.
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admin April 7, 2015 Food and Drink