The Kasbar, 5 Castle Street, Gibraltar (200 70114). Starters £4.50-£6.95, Mains £7.95-£15.95, Desserts £4.50-£5.00
There is no doubt that Veganuary is taking the world by storm in 2020. Encouragement by the multitude of celebrity vegans including Benedict Cumberbatch, Zac Efron and Beyonce dictated that our restaurant of choice for our first lunch out of 2020 had to be The Kasbar.
The Kasbar Restaurant is particularly attractive due to its obscure off the beaten track location. Climb the historic steps up Castle Street just off Calle Comedia, aptly named after the Burlesque theatre that once existed here. The whole area remains steeped in history and the quaint restaurant building previously operated as a water cistern back in the day.
Along with my dinner guest, we visited the restaurant on a Monday, around 1.30 pm. We were pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant not overly busy. On previous occasions, a patiently formed queue would reach out the door and down the street around this time of day. Perhaps it is something to do with the time of year when Gibraltar is less touristy or the recent new management takeover, we were not sure. To walk right in at 1.30 pm and choose a table was welcome as we were starving!
The bohemian ambience is undoubtedly an aspect that leads to a relaxing lunch. The Moorish themed restaurant with its visually stunning original brick vaulted ceiling recently won awards for its sympathetic refurbishment and, more recently, for its cultural contributions to art, poetry and music.
We had eaten here before so rather knew what to expect, and it was great to see that some things never change. The server was warm and welcoming and came over straight away to ask what we would like to drink, and handed out menus including a specials board.
We decided to stick with our healthy endeavours of dry January and ordered a jug of tap water, and this arrived at our table sharpish in an elegant decanter, with ice and lemon. We drank while we pondered the menu. The menu does have a wide range of options, and my dining partner found it difficult to make up his mind.
The two types of burger, the Jackfruit with red cabbage slaw, or the Beyond Burger had me torn in half. Plus the other options, The Kasbar is quite rightly proud of its famous Kasballs, vegan cheese board, classic hummus selections, plus many more dishes. A huge positive is that vegans can order any item from the menu, confident in its plant-based ingredients.
We made our choices, for me, the potato salad, while my dining partner opted for the buffalo cauliflower. My second option was the Beyond Meat burger, and my partner chose the jackfruit tacos.
Initially, we asked for the four dishes to come together rather than stagger our lunch over two courses. However, when the first dishes arrived quite blatantly as our starters, being hungry, we dived straight in. Although we made a point of this to each other that they did not listen to our request, we did not complain.
Previously we have sampled the buffalo cauliflower, and it has always been a favourite of mine. I was happy to trade my potatoes for a bit of his cauliflower!
The cauliflower retained the same flavours I recalled from my last visit many months before with the dark, thick and sticky buffalo sauces with a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds. However, the temperature of the dish was warm rather than hot. The dish lacked that crispy freshness of recently baked cauliflower straight from the oven. From the soft texture and tepid interior, it was evident to us that the food was pre-cooked and warmed up.
My potatoes were delicious, whole and firm new potatoes with a rich and creamy aioli sauce sprinkled with chives and served in a large bowl with a generous heap of aioli. The generous portion almost filled me up completely. Luckily, my hungry food partner was willing to pilfer a few potatoes from my bowl.
The mains arrived and we noticed that we did not have napkins, and had to ask for these. (You will find your knife and fork in a glass jar on the table and, from memory, these used to have paper napkins, looking around the tables the same applied, no napkins.)
My main course, the Beyond Meat burger, served with chips on the side, did let itself down and left me feeling disappointed. Looking inside, I witnessed two tiny rings of red onion and a single wet leaf of sorry looking lettuce. The burger bun was not a real burger bun, but rather a crispy bread roll, as you would have with soup, the sort of bread roll that disintegrates to powder when cutting in half.
The meat itself, of course, melted in the mouth, as this particular brand is sweeping the nation as a viable and tasty alternative to meat. Also, the vegan cheese and mayo were incredible, adding that real touch of decadence as expected in a real burger. The side of chips, however, can only be described as sad. I would not have served these overcooked, to the extent of being burnt but at the same time cold, lumps of fried floppy potato.
My dining partner partook of the jackfruit tacos. He described them as a tasty, spicy, Mexican flavoured jackfruit taco, but lacking somewhat in temperature. Again he felt that this dish had been precooked and served up after reheating.
The portions are significant, so expect to be full and satisfied by the end of the second course. Of course, there had to be room to squeeze in a pudding. From the two options, Tiramisu or chocolate and mint brownie, I opted for the brownie, and for me this was the highlight of the meal. A lovely square sandwich of thick, rich, dark chocolate with a vibrant green but subtle natural mint flavour centre, dusted with coconut flakes and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Make sure to ask for two spoons, as this decadent chocolate slab is perfect for sharing.
The whole bill came to £41.00. We were surprised to be charged £1 for the tap water and commented on this to the server. She explained that the £1 charge reflected the lemon and ice and the fact that it is filtered water. Hmm, let us leave that one the debating table!
Overall, Gibraltar is extremely lucky to have an exclusively vegan inspired restaurant, in a feel-good historical setting, serving a variety of dishes.
The Kasbar is living proof that vegan menus do not have to limit themselves to the stereotypical bland bowl of salad. The reviews across social media and other popular review platforms endorse this little gem as the aficionado of vegan cuisine in Gibraltar. Veganism is a serious topic, and The Kasbar is a testament to the creativity and flavoursome plant-based movement. Great for us, animals and the planet.
I feel The Kasbar is in danger of sliding down the perilously slippery route of reheated offerings. Much of the food bordered on bland and sloppy, showing a lackadaisical effort as evidenced in my side portion of partially burnt, partially cold, chips.
I pray that this will not be the case. Let us hope that we will return to the days of queuing out of that historic door for that covetable lunchtime table, and freshly cooked piping hot and delicious plant-based food.