As hundreds of high street chains across the UK add vegan options to their menu for Veganuary, some of the most unusual dishes are on offer at Wagamamas and TGI Fridays.
The restaurant brands have come up with recipes for meat alternatives using watermelon, which they’re branding as ‘steaks’.
But can a piece of flavoured cooked fruit really compare to a premium slab of beef?
Here Femail writers take on the new vegan steaks, with VERY mixed results.
WAGAMAMA’S TUNA STEAK, £13
The vegan ‘tuna’ is made using dehydrated watermelon which is then sliced, seared and served hot.
The look and texture is incredibly similar to tuna sashimi, although the flavour remains reminiscent of watermelon.
The ‘tuna’ is dressed with a miso sesame sauce and sits on a bed of white rice, which is dressed with soy seasoning and accompanied with pickled radish, kale and tenderstem broccoli, and an avocado, edamame and tofu guacamole.
Here, five Wagamama-loving Femail reporters try it out…
The vegan ‘tuna’ is made with dehydrated watermelon which is then sliced, seared and served hot. The look and texture is incredibly similar to tuna sashimi, although the flavour remains reminiscent of watermelon. The ‘tuna’ is dressed with a miso sesame sauce and sits on a bed of white rice, which is dressed with soy seasoning and accompanied with pickled radish, kale and tenderstem broccoli, and an avocado, edamame and tofu guacamole
Cutting into the ‘meat’ of the watermelon was definitely disconcerting because it really felt like it had the texture of a steak!
However I’m not so sure I’m convinced by the flavour, or the texture.
It’s a little bit like a tuna steak in texture, although its flavour is more like watered- down watermelon. I probably wouldn’t order it in a restaurant – I definitely think I’ll stick with the classic sweet potato katsu curry in Wagamamas.
I was apprehensive about trying this as I really hate fish. I’ve been a vegetarian a long time and think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur with fake meat – so I was keen to see how the watermelon compared to the likes of Quorn and Beyond Burger.
On inspection, the ‘watermelon’ is a very small part of the dish – just two slithers among the classic wagas meal with rice, avocado, onions, radish and collard greens, chilli and lime – all things that I like.
Both Harriet (right) and Bridie (left) said they wouldn’t order the dish in Wagamamas, and would instead stick to their classic favourites instead
I don’t think calling this ‘steak’ is very fair, as it was really just two slices of the fruit which made it look a lot more like sashimi than steak. If I was told it was fish I’d have believed you.
But it didn’t taste anything like fish, which personally I loved, but if you were looking for something tuna-like, this is not the one.
It was really watery and had a watermelon-like texture, but not the classic sweet crunch you get when the fruit is raw.
The rest of the dish was nicer than the tuna itself – honestly, this would have been good if it was just the sides alone.
I really feel restaurants should stop trying to make their plant-based protein look like meat and instead focus on its taste.
Sophie thought the presentation of the dish was great – but the watermelon was rubbery in texture
When I heard about this watermelon ‘tuna’ steak I was excited to give it a whirl.
The presentation was beautiful, with plenty of crunchy vegetables, sticky rice and crispy onions.
However, the watermelon itself didn’t do anything for me.
The texture was almost rubbery and it didn’t have that fresh crunch I was hoping for.
I know it was meant to look and taste like raw tuna, but I would have much preferred watermelon the old fashioned way.
I really wanted to enjoy this – I like tuna, I like watermelon and I like unusual food combinations. But I just couldn’t get there.
Put a mushy, partially cooked piece of lightly seasoned watermelon on a bed of rice and you get… exactly what it sounds like, and no amount of willpower can make that into a tuna steak or anything approaching it.
The soft texture didn’t make it any easier to eat and it didn’t go well with rice.
I’d give it a point for the sides, but I wouldn’t want to give anyone false hope.
Tim (right) said he enjoyed the sides but the dish was underwhelming on the whole, while Luke (left) said it was a commendable effort but unconvincing
This is a really commendable effort by Wagamama to branch into a new trend and encourage their diners to help preserve the planet.
However, some vegan dishes may be better left untouched. The avocado, crisps, radish, roasted broccoli – and even the rice – on this dish were all brilliant. But, when it came to the ‘tuna-melon’ – you’re probably better off pushing it to the side.
The fruit has been dehydrated for the dish, giving it a strange stringy and un-tuna-like texture. It has also taken on a strange brown colouring – perhaps to boost its fishy credentials.
The taste itself is largely non-existent – as you’d probably expect from a meal made of a water-heavy fruit.
It also contains almost 10 times LESS protein than a real tuna steak – so if you’re looking for a recharge you’re better off having an egg (for vegetarians) or steamed edamame beans (for vegans) instead.
TGI Fridays’ Watermelon Steak, £12.99
TGI Fridays’ Watermelon steak costs £12.99 – and the American chain claims it has the same texture as a beef steak.
The fresh watermelon is carefully cut into steak slices then chargrilled to create its unique texture, and is less expensive than the cheapest beef steak on the menu, which costs £19.49.
So is it as good as the real deal? Two reporters put it to the test.
TGI Fridays’ Watermelon steak (pictured) costs £12.99 – and the American chain claims it has the same texture as a beef steak. The fresh watermelon is carefully cut into steak slices then chargrilled to create its unique texture, and is less expensive than the cheapest beef steak on the menu, which costs £19.49
Steak-loving Danny said the texture was nothing like beef, but the spices were nice
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the watermelon steak and it was with a degree of trepidation that I sliced into it and had a taste.
Unfortunately on this occasion, my hesitance proved to be correct.
Though seasoned well, and with a tasty glaze accompaniment, TGI’s offering fell well below my already somewhat tepid expectations.
The watermelon steak wasn’t vaguely meaty and different parts of it had different textures.
Some bits were so hard it was a struggle to chew them, while others were so slimy they just slipped down my throat.
The spices were nice, with a kick, but it felt like they had literally just been slapped on top of the steak.
With the price and hype, I expected at least a consistent meal, with the steak the same texture and flavour throughout. Unfortunately I didn’t get that and as someone who adores watermelon and always tries to get a good piece, I expected the main part of the dish to be a better specimen than it was.
I can definitely see why people would want to try it, but at £12.99 think there are better options – perhaps even the vegan burgers offered by the restaurant.
As someone who loves a good steak, I don’t think this compared in any way to a good cut of beef.
Having dipped my toes into both the tuna watermelon steak offered by Wagamamas and the beef watermelon steak offered by TGI, I have to say I wish they’d stuck to ‘meaty’ plant protein.
The ‘steak’ didn’t look beef-like as it was so red – it could pass for a piece of fish though.
It came as if it was a standard steak meal, with (pretty tasty) chips, a really good legendary glaze and some nice steamed greens – and overall I say it was better than the Wagas dish.
Bridie preferred the TGI’s offering to the Wagamamas one – but said it wasn’t convincing as a fake steak
The watermelon was seasoned with chilli and garlic, my two favourite flavours, so I had high hopes.
It didn’t quite follow through though. Because a watermelon is mostly water, the flavours of the spices were really strong as the fruit is so absorbent.
But it still tasted like a watermelon that had spices added to it; I don’t think you could fool anyone that it was ‘meat’.
Because of the way it’s cooked, it lost the refreshing, crunchy texture you get with a watermelon – and it almost tasted like it was past its prime.
Also, as much as I love chilli and garlic, the spices really lingered in my mouth – and I felt myself really longing for some gum on the Tube after.
Overall, it’s not terrible and the legendary glaze is amazing – but when there’s so many good meat alternatives on the market (including TGI’s own vegan burger) I’m not sure why restaurants are opting for a disappointing fruity mess.
How does mushroom compare to watermelon? Femail try Iceland’s no bull mushroom steak
Iceland’s No Bull Mushroom steak, which costs £2 for two 80g ‘steaks’, is made from fungi, a classic vegan alternative.
So how does it fare with vegetarians and meat-lovers alike? Five reporters put it to the test…
Bridie thought the steak wasn’t as nice as her beloved Quorn – but would buy it again
I’m a big fan of vegetarian steak and always have some Quorn in my fridge as an easy go-to dinner. I’ve convinced the most ardent carnivores that veggie steak is the way before, so I was excited to try these.
At first glance they did not look good – they were dark, looked dry and had a smell that resembled cheap meat you might get at a fun fair.
However, they weren’t terrible! I don’t think I’d eat it by itself or with chips and veg as beef steak is classically served, but it had a decent amount of flavour and chopped up in a salad or fajitas would be nice.
I definitely wouldn’t serve them to guest – and they wouldn’t replace my beloved Quorn, but for the price they’re not bad at all. Plus, their texture was much nicer than some other alternatives, so all round pretty good.
Hayley, who loves mushrooms, said the steak was a bit dry, but had a great taste
I have to say it didn’t look like the most appetising thing on the plate, though mushrooms aren’t exactly a very aesthetically pleasing shade. I’d say it looked more like a mushroom black pudding than a steak.
However I really enjoyed the strong mushroomy taste. In terms of texture I wouldn’t go as far as praising its likeness to a juicy slab of meat, as it was a bit dry by itself, but I reckon it would be yummy with a peppercorn sauce.
If you’re looking for something to replace the meat in a meat-and-two-veg meal during Veganuary, I think this would be a good option provided it was dressed well on the plate.
I’d give it a high score for flavour, but if they’re passing it off as a steak, I think they’d lose a few marks.
Jonathan was put off by the look of the steak, but said he’d try it with chips and pepper sauce
I liked it – it had a nice moistness and the flavour was fairly meaty.
It didn’t taste solely like mushroom as I’d expected.
I’d definitely eat it with chips and a pepper sauce.
But it looked nothing like steak and felt nothing like steak in the mouth. The appearance was the worst bit, like a puckered-up slab of squashed dog poo.
But once it was in my mouth it was OK.
Possibly one of the worst things to ever enter my mouth, and one of the ugliest too. Don’t let this naïve smile deceive you.
Joe said the steak was ‘possibly the worst thing he’s ever put in his mouth’
I like mushrooms and I like steaks, so it’s almost impressive to make a combination of the two so rancid.
The texture is disconcertingly lumpy and accompanied with slimy chunks of mushroom – features which make it absolutely nothing like an actual steak. The peculiar smell manages to turn the stomach while the squelching sound makes you feel queasy.
And yet, somehow, the taste is still the worst thing about it.
While vegan substitutes aren’t expected to be identical to their meaty analogues, this is simply awful and I won’t be sampling it again in a hurry.
Tim enjoyed the steak, but thought it would go well in a cooked breakfast
This tasted good, the texture was good and I’d eat it again – though I’m not quite sure in what context.
A slice of compressed mushroom is what it looked like, and a slice of compressed mushroom is what you get.
If anything it felt most like a component of a cooked breakfast rather than part of a main meal – it certainly didn’t taste or feel like steak.
But it is an enjoyable snack, if you can find a use for it.