An unlikely haven for vegans - our review of Milan Restaurant, Wooler, Northumberland

The mushroom pateThe mushroom pate
The mushroom pate
Set among farming communities in the far north of Northumberland, you’d be forgiven for thinking Wooler would be something of a vegan desert.

And while there are some great places to eat in the borderlands, it wouldn’t be uncharitable to say the choice is a lot slimmer than it is in more urban areas for anyone, never mind those following particular diets.

But an already popular Italian restaurant has been upping its vegan game – and catering to people with other dietary requirements.

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So it was that Milan in High Street, Wooler, came to be the choice of a pre-Christmas outing for me and three other vegans.

The build-your-own calzone (hiding the controversial pineapple)The build-your-own calzone (hiding the controversial pineapple)
The build-your-own calzone (hiding the controversial pineapple)

We were up in Wooler for the Winter’s Trail race, put on by businessman Glen McWilliams (who it’s also worth thanking here for providing post-race vegan sweets from his The Chocolate Box shop over the road).

Fell running, I find, is more of an attractive proposition if you promise food afterwards (though you do risk people skipping the run and just meeting you for the meal).

After plummeting down from the hills, a quick change of clothes, and a drink in the Black Bull, we headed through the adjoining arch which leads to Milan.

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The entrance is along an attractive courtyard, and the interior is a mix of traditional country charm with beamed ceiling and stone walls, and a contemporary edge with modern furniture, wood panelling and feature lighting.

A "one-scoop" ice creamA "one-scoop" ice cream
A "one-scoop" ice cream

Milan has a simplified menu on Sundays, though there is still plenty to choose from – and still a number of vegan options (with probably more available if you ask for dishes to be slightly tweaked).

Perhaps because it was the best option, or perhaps because we feared food envy, we all ordered the vegan mushroom pate.

It came with a generous amount of toast, a pot of fig chutney and a decent side salad.

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At £6.95 it was one of the more expensive starters on the menu, but I think we all concluded it was worth it.

The FOMO continued as we all ordered a calzone a piece. These weren’t on the Sunday menu, but pizzas were, so we chanced our arm and the chef agreed.

The pizzas – and, indeed, the calzone – on the Sunday menu are on a build-your-own basis. You can pick four toppings from an extensive and eclectic list of ingredients, with the option of adding more for an extra £1.

I opted for artichokes, olives, truffle oil and pineapple, ever a source of controversy on pizza.

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Though I’m not sure why pineapple is considered more adulterous than some of the toppings seen today (chilli jam, pigs in blankets and haggis seem even more incongruous ingredients if you ask me, and they don’t raise an eyebrow).

Thankfully the other male at the table also ordered pineapple, and the waitress came out as pro-piña, leaving the judgmental anti-ananas brigade across the table out voted.

The pizza option is £10.95, with an extra £1 for a calzone. There’s then an extra £1 charge if you want vegan cheese, with a gluten-free base also available for an extra £1 (vegan coeliacs be warned!).

Some vegans grumble at the extra charges for such alternatives, but they do come at an additional cost to restaurants - and for small businesses it is all a matter of economics.

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After years of ordering cheese-free pizzas or sub-par penne all'arrabbiata in Italian restaurants, not even daring to dream of vegan cheese, I’m not going to complain.

After that lot was put away, we were all too full for dessert. So naturally decided to have some anyway.

In vegan restaurants, it’s rude not to get a dessert. In non-vegan restaurants which have vegan options, it’s every plant-based diners’ duty to have one. They must be encouraged.

Lemon sorbet was on offer, as well as three flavours of vegan ice cream, and we were even told the Christmas pudding was vegan – if we were willing to forgo the brandy butter.

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The thought of consuming Christmas pudding after felling a gigantic calzone and a generous starter wasn't too appealing, so I opted for one scoop of raspberry ripple.

Past experience had taught me this was more than enough. A previous visit, at which I feared a measly portion and ordered three scoops, left me battling to eat a veritable glacier of wonderful, thick ice cream which was melting faster than I could eat it.

The overall bill for four people having three courses with drinks – and excellent service – was £95, which seemed pretty reasonable to me.

Milan is open seven days a week 12pm - 3pm and 5pm - 10pm, and it is definitely a good idea to book.

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