Most vegan cheese is upsetting (but I won't say that on record).

It’s typically best served immolated, between a pile of nachos and some hot sauce. It doesn’t pass the cracker test. It should never be put front and centre of any dish. 

Then I had a dietary re-awakening at Giovanna’s. Located opposite Forest Gate Station, they’re an independent Italian deli, wine shop and bar serving pizzas, cocktails and a formidable variety of antipasti, to eat in or takeaway. It is the very best of Italy, just a short walk away. 

Gio’s is owned by husband and wife Alessandro and Victoria and was opened in 2020. For the first few months, I walked past and reluctantly ignored the smell of stonebaked pizza and inviting counters of antipasti, remembering the last time I went to Italy and quite literally ate gelato for breakfast. I presumed I would never know that kind of joy again. 

But Giovanna’s not only provides delicious vegan options, it takes pride in them. Veganism isn’t a restriction there but an opportunity. They say they’re ‘vegan-friendly’ on their website - and that can really be taken quite literally. When my partner and I finally visited and confessed upon ordering that we were vegan, it was met with excitement rather than the horror we feared. 

At Gio’s there are not only vegan options aplenty, but new ones appearing all the time - which they’re eager to test out and recommend. This is nowhere better showcased than in their vegan deli platter. Each time I’ve visited there has been something new. Most recently, marinated aubergines and artichokes; delicately fried, herby mushrooms; grilled courgettes; datterino tomatoes on crusty bread; focaccia with a crispy olive oil hit that goes straight to the happy part of my brain; and a herbed vegan cheese that, at last, I would happily put on a cracker.

These days, it’s pretty easy to be vegan in London. It seems like every other day there is a new burger for you to dislocate your jaw around.

But what’s harder to find is vegan food that is fresh and curious, that takes regional recipes and makes them available to everyone. Gio’s does just that. And it changed my whole outlook on vegan cheese. 

Gio’s selects and sells vegan cheeses from independent makers who you won’t find at the local Tesco, like I’m Nut Okay’s black truffle ‘Nerominded’ and Honestly Tasty’s ‘Shamembert’. They’re vegan cheeses I would happily give to any dairy eater without breaking a sweat.

And you couldn’t ask for a warmer, more inviting place to enjoy all of this in. Last summer, their back garden was the closest I got to a holiday abroad. And now, in the winter, a pizza in their deli can make me forget that it won’t get light before 5pm for the next few months. Their cocktails also help with that - I recommend the Venetian spritz. 

There are lots of great places to eat vegan food in Forest Gate, from a vada pav on Green Street to the Korean Fried Cauliflower (‘KFC’) at Arch Rivals (RIP). There is plenty more to come, on all those and more. But I wanted to use my first column to provide a special shout out to Gio’s. The last couple of years have been difficult: like most people, I have barely travelled outside of London, let alone the UK, and have been cut off from friends and family. Obviously, there are much bigger things to worry about than the state of non-dairy cheese. But, amidst what often felt like the end of days, it was nice to see a friendly face that didn’t require a good wifi connection, eat a meal I didn’t have to wash up after, and spend time in my local area beyond rushing to catch the train. 

Giovanna’s was a holiday just a few minutes outside my front door, with the best of Forest Gate meeting the best of Italy – and you don’t have to pay extortionate fees to gag on a swab to get there.

Giovanna's Deli & Wine
58 Woodgrange Road
Forest Gate
E7 0QH