Six strolled down to the front to have lunch: one vegan, one pescatarian and four omnivores. Normally that would mean the bad joke of going to an omni-restaurant and ‘allowing’ the vegan to choose the plant-based option tucked in a corner of a menu. 

The choice on The Hempist’s menu blew our vegan’s mind (she’s 14). “But which options are vegan?” she asked, and had to be reassured that absolutely everything on the menu was something she could choose. She had never had that experience before and was delighted. 

Owner Dan Wilshire – DJ and founder of One Love Festival (which makes him huge in our estimation, we are not worthy!) – said the idea came from catering for Rastafarians during the festival. Not only is their Ital cuisine always vegetarian and frequently vegan (“Ital is vital”) based on what they consider natural for human bodies, but they are also concerned about the cleanliness of the preparation in kitchens that need to be free of meat, in essence. And that is the starting point for this new project, The Hempist, on Marine Parade.  

Dan explains that the experience of One Love made him quickly realise that the only way to properly cater for Rastas was by setting up a dedicated kitchen. The population as a whole has to change, he said: the more people move to a plant-based diet, the less pollution and deforestation, and the more likely that we can feed the global population. A higher price for meat as it becomes rarer would even benefit the remaining farmed animals as they would receive better husbandry.  

Dan said with a smile, “You can eat to help the environment. What could be better than that?” And eat we did. The omnis chomped down on burgers, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, donner kebab. I was curious about ‘Hastings-cooked bacon’ – what actually is that? Seitan, Dan explained, a type of wheat protein (there are also gluten-free options on the menu). Stylish tasty food, and none of the omnis complained about a lack of meat. 

The Hempist describes itself as a café and lounge bar, and prices are comparable to Half Man Half Burger and the Pelican Diner. It is larger than it appears from the street – once Covid-19 is over, it will be able to cater for around 40 covers – as there is an upstairs ‘lounge bar’, done up like a Caribbean shack. There’s a wide range of food, plus booze (the only place in Hastings that serves reggae-stalwart Red Stripe?), plus you can add CBD shots for health should you wish (and hemp oil is listed as an ingredient in some of the dishes as well). 

But, don’t worry, you aren’t going to get stoned and there’s nothing illegal going on. “What’s with the ‘hemp’ theme?” I asked.  While people associate hemp with THC, Dan claimed that it’s one of the few plants that can provide all of the vitamins humans need to sustain life. There is also its use for rope and cloth (and cosmetic products) and the amazing speed of plant growth. And, of course, the medical benefits of CBD are being more widely accepted. And, yes, there’s the reggae connection – and there was a great set of speakers playing a chilled mix of it while we were there. 

The Hempist has already served Hastings well. It opened ten days before the lockdown, really bad timing you’d think. However, Dan quickly switched to serving takeaways through the wide window and was pleased to help the homeless in particular. Learning to be flexible has stood the business in good stead, should a second wave mean returning to take-away only, and, through having built a loyal cliental. Take-away remains an option. He’s part of the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme on Monday to Wednesday, or “eat out to hemp out” as Dan styles it, which was a welcome help to our budget (half price on food and soft drinks up to £10/person). 

The food is fresh, tasty, vegan, but perfectly palatable for meat-eaters. My only comment would be that an option for chips as well as nachos would be good, or something like sweet potato wedges. But the hot dog was huge, and satisfied my sausage-loving son’s voracious appetite perfectly well. All were happy: it convinced us omnis that meat substitutes are perfectly tasty, and the vegan felt validated. Vital!  

The Hempist, 3 Marine Parade, Hastings; 01424 425608; Facebook: HempistCafe

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