Reading got our first dedicated vegan restaurant this month, and it’s a fast food joint. How does that work? I sampled the plant-based burgers, fries and shakes at Miami Burger in The Oracle to find out.
What is it?
On Saturday 5 January new vegan fast food joint Miami Burger joined McDonald’s and Five Guys in The Oracle’s quick slinging burger business. But there’s a big difference here: no meat, no deep fat frying and no sugars.
Their motto is ‘Fast Food Made Good’ and the entire menu is ‘plant-based’.
Unusually for The Oracle, this also isn’t a chain. Opened by an Ascot-based couple, Reading’s is the first branch, but they’re aiming to franchise their model across the UK soon.
‘Healthy’ fast food, how does that work?
Everything on the menu at Miami Burger is made from beans, grains, soya or vegetables. The soya protein burgers are baked, not fried and packaging is sustainable or recyclable.
The wide menu features breakfast pancakes, Egz and Cheeze muffins and Mac Cheeze (‘z’ not mine), nutritious-looking salad boxes and chickpea or bean wraps. But I decided the best way to test the concept was with the standard order: the MB Classic with Cheeze, fries and a shake.
Miami Burger haven’t published nutritional information yet but after my visit I messaged them to confirm their stats. I was told the MB Classic has 360kcal and 1.7g of saturated fat, compared with 518kcal and an (ok, pretty flipping large) 13g of sat fat in the closest McDonald’s equivalent, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. In case you’re interested, that’s also lower than the Super Green vegan sandwich at Pret a Manger (447kcal, 5.7g sat fat).
What’s the experience like?
This is recognisably a fast food joint; it’s a clean white room with accents of red and yellow. I ordered up at the counter from a kindly young server, waited until they called my number and had my tray in my hands about four minutes later. The food came out as warm as I’d expected.
There’s an odd mix of decors here. Alongside wipe clean tables and bright chairs there’s table football, an arcade basketball hoop, a row of beanbags and an odd faux grassy mound in one corner. Hanging overhead are decadent crystal-effect chandeliers.
The overall experience is part playgroup, part college dorm and part glitzy dining room. It feels like the room wasn’t sure which party it was going to so dressed for all eventualities.
Ok, but what does the food actually taste like?
Beige. Oh, so very beige.
Derobed of its paper and foil clothing, the MB Classic was thin, squished and underwhelming, there wasn’t even a lot of salad. On first bite, the most forthcoming flavour was of burger relish, which owes a whopping big nod to the iconic Big Mac sauce. The patty itself was dry with no discernable flavour, relying on the gherkins and sauce to bring a facsimile of seasoning. The melted Cheeze though was actually pretty tasty, and better than many vegan cheeses I’ve tried before. It wasn’t bad as a whole, but neither was it particularly enjoyable.
The ‘Fries’ were actually baked and my portion looked and tasted anemic. Flimsy-skinned strips of potato, they had no crispness, crunch or joy – I gave up halfway through out of boredom. They came out unseasoned and I was able to salt my own at the counter. There’s only lo-salt on offer, which had the consistency of icing sugar, but was almost true to the flavour of the real thing. Better was the shaker of paprika, which added some oomph to the limp potato.
On the plus side, I suppose, none of it was greasy, I didn’t get oily fingers and it didn’t feel stodgy. But then there was no real flavour either.
A few days after this meal, a vegan friend of mine told me I had been too harsh on Miami Burger and he’d been delighted with their Chick’n Sandwich (a seasonal special), he even compared it to KFC. So, in the name of research, I went back and tried The Chick’n Sandwich, made from wheat protein.
I tried. Honestly, I really tried to figure out what it actually tasted of. I tried it together, I pulled it apart. Every time I came up blank. I’ve eaten more satisfying celery. In fact, I would rather eat the celery, at least it crunches. The overall flavour was essentially of soft bread with some mayo and gherkins thrown in. It’s a burger that’s never even walked passed a KFC.
How about the drinks?
My chocolate shake, ordered to test the soy milk substitute, was appropriately thick but had the aftertaste of cheap advent calendar chocolate.
There’s also water in a re-usable can, sugar free squash or Green Cola, a brand of the fizzy drink made with stevia sweetener and green coffee beans. There’s alcohol too: Camden Hells Lager, low calorie Small Beer Brew Co Lager and Toast’s Session IPA, a really tasty sustainable beer made from surplus bread.
How much is it?
There are no meal deals at Miami Burger, so my MB Classic with Cheeze was £5.49, the total order came to £10.27, that’s £4.78 more than an equivalent meal at McDonald’s.
So, is it worth a visit?
As you might have guessed, I can’t imagine making a return trip to Miami Burger.
There definitely is a growing demand for vegan dining in Reading and for healthy takes on fast food. Just like my Chick’n loving friend, there are lots of vegans who don’t feel catered to by fast food and are happy to get their chance to eat a quick, convenient burger without the bad stuff. So I think the concept has potential.
Looking back over that nutritional information, the numbers are impressive. Miami Burger clearly have managed to take a fast food staple and make it healthy. But in the process, they’ve sucked out all the flavour, and, with those prices, the purpose of fast food.
I am a meat eater (I know, slap on wrist), but I’m open to healthy, sustainable and vegan alternatives, if they taste good and In the past year, I have had some glorious, affordable vegan food in Reading.
For around the same cost as my Miami Burger order I could have had the superb Baghare Baigan baby aubergine curry at Clay’s Kitchen, the spicy, caramely cauliflower shawarma at Bench Rest, or even Plant Burger and fries at Honest Burgers. If I needed food fast, I’d get a far more enjoyable snack from Vegivores, Puree or Leymoun. When I can get all those flavours for the same price, I just can’t see why I’d come here.
If Miami Burger can replicate the convenience of the McDonald’s model but with creative vegan options that are full of flavour, I’d come back, and I imagine there’d be a line out the door. But if they want to convince more of us meat eaters to make the switch to a plant-based diet, beige approximations of Big Macs at double the cost just aren’t going to cut it.
Miami Burger is opposite Boots on the first floor of The Oracle, Broad Street. Open 9am – 9pm Monday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm Sunday.
Hello! I'm Claire, the founding editor of Explore Reading. I'm a Reading native and former digital director of Time Out Shanghai. I founded Explore Reading so no one can say, ‘there’s nothing to do in Reading’, again. When not editing Explore Reading, I'm probably drinking a Manhattan.