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CONSIDERING the apparent paucity of veggie restaurants in south Essex, the opening of Oaktree Market, in Leigh, is a welcome addition to the local food scene.

A cafe by day, Oaktree Market is converted by soft lighting and candles into a surprisingly romantic restaurant in the evening.

The fresh, neutral decor adds a touch of sophistication, while the fact there is space for fewer than 20 diners makes for an intimate and relaxing setting.

The absence of a drinks menu made choosing more difficult, but this was a small oversight in what was an evening of excellent service from the informative and accommodating waiting staff.

The menu mainly offers a selection of meat-free versions of classics, such as bangers and mash, chilli and Thai curry, as well as tempting salads.

For starters, I opted for the grilled asparagus with garlic and chilli, while my girlfriend went for nachos, but asked for them without chilli, as she isn’t keen on spicy food. “No problem,”

said the waitress.

My asparagus was perfectly cooked and the chilli gave it a lovely warm kick.

My girlfriend was presented with a generous pile of nachos – smothered in melted mozzarella and served with sour cream and a freshly- made salsa – which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Her main course of homemade lasagne was packed full of veggie mince and fresh, crunchy vegetables and came served with garlic ciabatta and salad. Be warned: The garlic bread was not for the faint-hearted.

Make sure your partner shares some with you, or you might find your amorous advances spurned later in the evening! Thankfully, I’d also ordered a portion as a side dish, in case my goats’ cheese and pear salad proved insubstantial.

I need not have worried – the serving of salad was generous and tasted delicious.

The flavours of the crumbly cheese, sweet pear, crunchywalnuts and earthy beetroot complemented each other perfectly, and the sesame and ginger dressing was the icing on the cake.

Talking of cakes, wemanaged to find room to sample some of Oaktree’s homemade vegan bakes for dessert – a raspberry and almond slice with cream for me, and a blackberry and apple one with ice cream for my girlfriend. Both were deliciouslymoist and fruity.

The only time eating out as a veggie tends to be expensive is when you’re in a mixed group, when you can guarantee the meateater who ordered the lobster starter and the fillet steak will suggest splitting the bill equally. However, even by veggie standards, Oaktree Market is fantastic value for money.

We’ll be returning and I’d definitely recommend vegetarians and vegans payOaktree Market a visit – and I’m sure there are enough tasty options for meat-eaters to enjoy a meal there too.