The Buddha Bowl Van
The Buddha Bowl van, LondonPavilion Books / Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton

Whitecross Street Market is certainly cramped at lunch time - food stalls cram together along the pavement, where a lone man also sells light bulbs. Tucked between Old Street, Barbican and Moorgate are plenty of hungry office workers, from whichever charities or initiatives have made roots in the area, willing to queue for the good stuff.

The longest queue, by far, is for the Buddha Bowl van. Further down the street there are stalls with lines hitting ten people but the van's line is winding around the next lane, with each customer greeted by a loud "hi" and a huge grin. Everyone goes away with a small box, the shape of Chinese takeaway in American movies.

The first decision for any box-wrapped food bought from a window of a van is where you're going to eat it. The box means you could probably do it standing but there is a certain amount of sauce that makes eating standing up is too much of a risk for anyone wearing a white shirt.

Instead, the pleasant St Luke's Gardens is just over a road. Opening the container reveals a mess of food, this is what Instagram is calling a Buddha Bowl, except in a box, and it's not quite as Instagram-neat as Instagram is. A Buddha Bowl is a selection of vegetables, grains and curries in a bowl, it can be other things, apart from the bowl. If that sounds a bit ridiculous remember that 2016 is the "year of the bowl" (that has genuinely been written).

The bowl thing aside, this takeaway style box has massaman curry with new potatoes, pineapple and soya chunks; carrot and homemade kimchi pickle; flash steamed seasonal greens (kale on this occasion); organic short-grain brown rice; omega seed sprinkle and grilled halloumi (ask for vegan and you forgo the halloumi - everything else, it says on their chalk board, is vegetarian and wheat and gluten free).

Before you get scared off by all those hippie words - organic, soya, homemade, kale - understand that the Buddha Bowl is very good. There are two sizes, Big Buddha for £5, Baby Buddha for £4.50, if you want halloumi it's an extra £1. For a box crammed with everything you want for lunch, those are good prices - surprising for a health-food option which can often be the most expensive pick.

The curry rocks through the box, adding its taste to everything as a sauce and providing chewy soya chunks (seitan-style, most likely) to get surprised by. With a potato on your fork, pick up a bit of the carrot and kimchi pickle and feel the flavours meet - each part of the box strong enough not to be overpowered by one or the other. Halloumi is halloumi, it's always good. The seeds felt like decoration more than anything else and acted as something to scrape from the crevasses of the box more than a tasty sprinkle. It's filling and delights by imparting a sense of being a good organic person, a nice thing at lunchtime.

Run by Charlotte and David Bailey, both vegetarians interested in the benefits of eco-friendly diets, The Buddha Bowl won Best Main Dish at the British Street Food Awards in 2011 and released a cookbook called The Fresh Vegan Kitchen in 2015, full of vegan and raw recipes.

NOTE: James Tennent ate at the Buddha Bowl Van anonymously and paid for his own meal

Our verdict
Buddha Bowl Van

It can be quite easy to ignore people who espouse the idea that plant-based diets are better for you, vegan diets aren't easy and laughing it up is quicker than changing - if people can keep good lunches at this price, it might bring in those scared away by the labels at Whole Foods. Either way, the Buddha Bowl van is well-worth taking a detour down Whitecross Street for - the food is fantastic and so much better than spending that £6 in another chain lunch café. But be ready to queue.

A photo posted by James Tennent (@jeatennent) on