After a brief and unexpected hiatus we finally made our way back to Victoria Street last night to recommence our culinary journey down Melbourne’s golden mile. However, it was with small expectations and large appetites (a dangerous combination) that we resumed, for the next stop was one of the street’s two vegetarian restaurants. With each of us unashamed carnivores, it was unsurprising that we had passed this option countless times prior without even giving it a second glance. Our recent track record on the street was equally formidable; we collectively struggled to come up with just one dish from our latest exploits that wasn’t accompanied with, filled with or surrounded by delicious meat. Even our Chinese broccoli is drenched in oyster sauce! Having spent the day mentally steeling ourselves for a meal devoid of meat and poultry we entered the quiet restaurant ready for a veg-fest. What we didn’t expect however, was a range of menu options celebrating various faux meats. With our curiosity piqued and our stomach’s grumbling we set about ordering about 75% of the entire menu.
To start, we begrudgingly settled on a serve of veggie spring rolls, but as the old Chinese adage suggests, “vegetarian spring rolls are better than no spring rolls at all”. While still a far cry from the prawn-filled, fan favourites these were actually pretty good. Next was the deep fried tofu, while it was crispy on the outside and silky smooth within it was screaming out to be covered with minced pork. Having said that, the table’s chilli and ginger paste provided a more than adequate accompaniment for the understated dish and we were once again left pleasantly surprised. However, the best surprise arrived with our next dish of ‘vegetarian pork skewers’. The “pork” itself, despite a somewhat artificial texture was well balanced with a nice meaty taste that even if they aren’t willing to admit it out loud, we all know vegetarians crave! The best part was that the dish included all the additional accoutrement necessary to make our own rice paper rolls. Ultimately the presentation was appalling, but with no one else to blame for that but ourselves it was unanimous that the fake pork provided another winner!
With the arrival of mains and the subsequent Tetris like effort of the waitress to ensure everything fit on the table, it had become abundantly obvious that we had well and truly over ordered! Already close to satisfied we were bombarded with ‘prawn’ filled tofu, spicy veg noodles in broth, a vegetable pancake and fried rice. Despite sitting in a flavoursome sauce the tofu proved to be unabsorbent and subsequently a little bland while the veggie pancake/omelette was equally uninspiring with an overwhelming taste of coconut milk dominating the dish. The spicy veg noodles proved to be more of a soup than we expected but the well balanced spicy broth ensured the dish was a success despite the array of fake meat products floating within it (a faux pho?). The strong flavours of the soup were well supported by the more subtle fried rice, which unsurprisingly boasted plenty of veggies.
Although far from convincing us to do away with our meat eating ways, last night’s meal certainly provided both an educational and enjoyable experience. For one, we learned that the skill and steady hands required to assemble an adequate rice paper roll might be beyond us. But more importantly we learned that while no meat is better than faux meat, meat is always better than no meat!
Value 4.5/5 ($85)
Looper 3.5/5 Overrated