Veggie Kitchen creates medicinally minded vegetarian food, which seeks to nourish and detox the body and soul. Their ethos is to create a harmony between health, happiness and wellbeing. With food produced and created on site, the chef brings a diverse selection of vegetarian and vegan fare to Northcote. I am no vegetarian, so I can be hard to please when it comes to things such as ‘mock meat’ and believe it or not, even tofu. Creating well seasoned ‘mock meat’, I was pleasantly surprised with my introduction, and was satisfied with most aspects of my meal. It was not outstanding or memorable, but good for a Sunday night meal to detox from a crazy weekend.
Fitted with gold furnishings, chocolate furniture and warm lighting, the place feels like your average suburban Chinese restaurant. Seated upon arrival, they had forgotten our reservation, which was fine considering that the place was having a quiet night. There were two menu options: A’ la carte or banquet, Mrs N and I chose the banquet menu. After a day of excessive meat-eating at Josie Bones, I was ready for a complete detox. The menu is quite long, but includes thoughtful descriptions about each dish and background information about their philosophy. The banquet showcases an introduction to Taiwanese vegetarian cuisine, however check carefully before choosing, their infamous dumplings are not on the banquet menu. As part of their philosophy of wellbeing, alcohol is not served. Instead I opt for a sparkling passionfruit and lemongrass drink.
We start with an apple sprout soymilk shot, which is refreshing and quite unusual. I love the nuttiness of soymilk, mixed with the sweetness of apple. This is followed by a lettuce cup filled with an enoki mushroom mix and dry homemade tofu. The earthy flavour of the mushroom was beautiful with the dry tofu, however this dish badly needed a dipping sauce, it was too dry and the flavours too subtle for me personally. With a speedy service we hastily received a salad with tofu nuggets and a tofu pocket filled with noodle, black fungus, cabbage and tofu paste. The ‘mock’ chicken nugget was crisp and chewy, with a lasting nutty flavour. The filling of the tofu pocket was too tasty to be a stuffing, I would have much preferred the filling as a dish on it’s own, as the tofu pocket was soggy.
Between chat and banter the place began to fill up and I started to crave a glass of Riesling with my tofu extravaganza. The no alcohol philosophy is understandable but annoying for those who enjoy a glass of vino with a meal. The pumpkin, basil and soy cheese melt was the perfect type of comfort food, and the cheese was nutty like a Gruyère, however it had a rubbery texture which I tend to dislike. Next up was a veggie cutlet: a ‘mock’ prawn with cabbage, seaweed and a soy mayonnaise. This experience changed my perception of vegetarian food. The cutlet tasted like a prawn, looked like a prawn, had the texture of a prawn, in fact I’m slightly suspicious that it wasn’t an actual prawn. Very clever and enjoyable.
Service slowed once the restaurant filled up and the wait between our entree’s and mains was annoying. The main meals were a five elements veggie pot and forbidden rice with marinated ‘mock meat’. Apparently Forbidden rice was only served to the emperor during Imperial times in China, to me this rice should have remained forbidden, it was bland and boring. Despite this, the ‘mock’ meat was beautiful. The meat is created from a wheat gluten, then marinated in red rice yeast. It was incredibly tender, and would have suited a more flavourful accompaniment than rice. The veggie hot pot paired super foods such as goji berry, gingko and jujube with a fresh vegetable soup and tofu spring rolls. The tofu and vegetable spring rolls tasted better than many meat filled spring rolls I have had. They were fresh and the wrapper was crispy. The spring rolls paired well with the unusual flavour of the soup, it had a warming and earthy flavour. One of those soups that actually tastes like it’s good for you.
To our dismay the strawberry ice cream with gelatinous balls was out of supply for dessert, instead we had the choice of an aromatic Osmanthus flower and green tea jelly with goji berry or silken tofu and red bean served in a ginger syrup. Why not share both. The jelly had a very subtle flavour, something my palette was not particularly attuned to. The jelly was set with too much agar agar and was difficult to eat. Despite this, with a little more flavour and a softer texture, I would have really enjoyed it. The pudding was the preferred dessert. The ginger syrup was velvety and had the perfect amount of sweetness. The texture of the tofu was silky and smooth. An excellent combination of flavours and technique. With our bellies filled to the brim and out degustation over, we decided to end the night and crawl home.
Despite some minor problems, in particular inconsistent service and some blandly flavoured dishes, I think Veggie Kitchen has a lot of potential, it offers something different to Northcote and something that caters to everyone. Next time I would avoid the banquet menu altogether and stick to the A la carte menu. I was slightly disappointed that the dumpling I have heard so much about, was not part of the banquet, especially when the couple adjacent looked like they were enjoying the dumplings so much. With a new-found appreciation of ‘mock meat’, in particular the veggie prawn cutlet, I would definitely return for a Sunday night detox with good company……