There was a time when even being a vegetarian in England proved tricky, reduced to ordering chips and omelettes from the menu or if you were lucky maybe a vegetable lasagne or nut roast. Fast forward to today and not only are multiple, and creative, veggie options a regular feature on most menus but increasingly so too are vegan ones. What was once a very niche ethical-based dietary group is now close to becoming mainstream as it continues to grow. Vegan pizzas at Pizza Express and a special vegetarian and vegan menu at Wagamama are some of the examples of major UK brands taking a lead on this. Similarly, vegan sections in supermarkets are often found empty, as people flock to places stocking up on cheese and meat alternatives. Part of the reason for the boom is the vastness and variety of vegan food offered. The days of it being considered a nuts and vegetables diet are disappearing as more places show what can be done with meat substitutes such as seitan, as well as in areas such as egg-less baking. Sheffield is a city that has fully embraced such developments and as a result has been called by a few places, such as the UK daily paper Metro, the vegan capital of the UK. With more and more places opening on what seems like a weekly basis, there's a strong case that status is fully merited. 'I'd say Sheffield is one of the vegan capitals of the UK and has the potential to cement itself at the top of the list,' says Glenn Thorpe, of Steel City Cakes, an all vegan bakery on Abbeydale Road. David Shaw, from Make No Bones, a vegan cafe on Chesterfield Road, adds: 'I think Sheffield is rapidly earning that name. The city has missed out on a lot of the regeneration that Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester have had over the last few years and sometimes doesn't attract as much new business as other places. But we have an amazing underground art and music scene as well as a great animal rights network and that brings a lot of passion and awareness about veganism to the local community. It's been really noticeable over the last year how many more places are doing not just a couple of token veggie options but actually putting the work in to design a whole vegan menu.' Sheffield now boasts a wealth of vegan-only and vegan-friendly places. There are delis, shops, chippies, pubs, cafes, markets, pop-up restaurants, beer festivals, fast food outlets and pizzerias. 'So far there's no sign of it abating and there's certainly no risk of over-saturation,' says Glenn. 'Vegans have to travel great distances to get decent food and we see people from all over the UK coming.' The statistics behind UK-wide veganism back this trend up, with it seeing a 350 per cent rise in the last ten years. Places such as newly established Hot Pear pop-up restaurant are also showing that vegan food can be high-end cuisine. 'One of the reasons we created Hot Pear was to demonstrate how creative and tasty cooking solely with plant-based ingredients could be,' says event producer Katherine Warman. 'And to give people a fine dining experience safe in the knowledge the menu is animal produce-free, while working for those with restricted diets.' Each of the menus has specific themes, she adds. 'Our last six-course event was based on the life cycle of a plant. This included our '˜Roots and Shoots' course, consisting of a root vegetable terrine, baked onion in beetroot red wine, with smoked roast garlic cream and pea shoots, and the '˜Leaves' course with grilled chicory, mixed garden leaves with herb pesto, pickled cabbage and crispy seaweed. For our '˜Fruits and Seeds' course, we served poached rhubarb and blood orange, with vanilla hemp seed sorbet and mixed seed praline.'At the other end of the vegan food spectrum is Burger Garden, which specialises in vegan junk food like burgers and hot dogs made with jackfruit pulled 'pork' or mac and 'cheese' dishes. Italio Uno, a takeaway pizza place, has become so known for its vegan dishes that its vegan menu now outsells its non-vegan offerings. 'Our vegan sales fluctuate between 70 per cent and 96 per cent,' says manager Kim Rose. 'Frustratingly not quite the 100 per cent yet but we are constantly seeing new vegans walk through the door and they have usually been recommended by another vegan, which is great. 'Our most popular dishes include the blue '˜cheese' pizza and the linguine carbonara. Then to finish off it has to be the famous lotus biscoff brownie. You wouldn't know all the dishes were vegan. I pride myself on offering the most authentic and honest dishes at Italia Uno '“ 70 per cent of our stock is imported from Italy, 40 per cent is organic and we are constantly striving to be better.' Makes No Bones has similarly seen a huge increase in footfall in recent times, as David Shaw explains. 'We have seen a massive demand and increase for vegan food on the whole but especially the type of stuff we do. We have converted even the most hardened meat eaters into trying our homemade fake meat ribs and kebabs. With more and more information about the environmental issues with meat consumption and the continuing increase in celebrities and professional athletes proving the benefits of a plant-based diet this number can only keep rising.' The surge in people going vegan for a number of reasons such as animal rights, environmental, health and dietary '“ perhaps combined with it being a bit of a cool trend with some celebrities '“ has led to the demographic being wider than ever and the options becoming more plentiful.But as far as David Shaw is concerned, this is only a good thing, for both ethical and business reasons. 'From a business point of view, more places opening has pushed us to keep innovating and improving, which we love to do and we have only been getting busier and seeing more new faces every day,' he adds. Such is the popularity of the plethora of treats available at Steel City Cakes '“ including white chocolate and raspberry, Oreo cookie, lemon and blueberry, lime and pistachio and salted caramel '“ that is has already opened another vegan business and has plans for even more 'We have recently opened The Plant in the city centre,' says Glenn. 'It's a vegan takeaway with savouries, pasties, salads and light meals and I'm in discussions with a vegan brewery about the opening of a Brewery Tap & Kitchen which would be fully vegan.' Other vegan and highly vegan-friendly places in the city include the Incredible Nutshell, the Red Deer, DINA, Ranmoor Friery, the Sunshine Deli, South Street Kitchen, Just Falafs and the Beer Engine, while the city's monthly street food market, Peddler, has seen demand for vegan food increase to such a degree that it has begun to hold special Veg Out events where all stallholders serve vegetarian and vegan food. Such an event will be taking place today on Burton Road.According to Italio Uno's Kim Rose, this all melds together to create a positive sense of culinary community in the city, one that moves forward together as one. 'Sheffield has certainly set itself apart in terms of vegan eateries,' she says. 'I travel quite a bit and have found that no other city offers the choices like Sheffield. 'It's an absolute honour to be a part of the movement that's happening right now.'

Maisie Manterfield joint owner of 'Burger Garden'.Maisie Manterfield joint owner of 'Burger Garden'.
Maisie Manterfield joint owner of 'Burger Garden'.
With Sheffield being named the vegan capital of the UK, Daniel Dylan Wray meets the city's foodies fuelling a new culinary scene. Main pictures by Scott Merrylees.

Does Sheffield really deserve the title as the UK’s vegan capital?