I’ve never attempted any sort of diet before. It’s interesting when I have people ask me what my “approach” or “take” is on cooking – those whom I test my recipes on think I’m a sweets and dessert fiend, while my work colleagues see my neatly prepared and packed lunches with brown rice and salads and think I’m on a health and fitness mission. I’ve reduced my wheat intake a little over the last couple of years – or at least tried to have wholegrain when I can, but anything extreme is off the cards for me; I love food and I love the variety that comes with it.
Now and again though, my curiousity does get the better of me and it was present on the night I visited Green Gourmet in St Leonards with The Sister and my brother-in-law. Green Gourmet exclusively serves vegetarian and vegan food, and I’ve heard a little bit about their other store set up in Newtown – no doubt a good location with the number of hipsters and those with creative palates situated in the inner west.
It was surprisingly busy for a Saturday evening in the suburbs, and for this reason I didn’t grab any photos of the interior. It’s always awkward when you point your camera into a stranger’s face. The crowd is varied, from a large group of middle-aged friends having a banquet amount of food, to couples dropping in for a quick dinner, to a solo gentleman digging into a claypot and bowl of rice while glued to his smartphone.
There’s a small freezer facing the front door with their vegan ice cream selection – all with a tofu base – and a larger glass cabinet housing their cheesecakes and brownies. The cheesecake slices come in raw or baked, and the brownies are beautifully cut into little squares. You can also buy a gift box of brownies, and Green Gourmet take orders for vegan cakes. I was immediately intruiged by the cheesecakes, but let’s wait until it’s time for dessert…
The menu is surprisingly extensive and heavily Asian-influenced, from raw salads to entrees and a yum cha selection, soups, mushroom dishes, spicy dishes, noodles, tofu dishes, claypots, and a “better than meat” selection which amuses us; mock duck, anyone? The “meats” are made from materials such as seaweed, wheat or soy protein, or taro, and while vegan, I can’t help but think that these ingredients are much more processed. Some dishes can be made gluten-free with a minor charge.
Let’s give it all a go anyway. We make our order and because it’s a busy evening the dishes take a little while to arrive – but once they do, they come out in quick succession.
The first is the Lion King’s Clay Pot ($17.80) – meatballs made of soya protein cooked with broccoli, mushroom and water chestnuts.
Back when I used to live with my parents, my mum said that the Mandarin name for meatballs literally translated to “lion king’s head”; so it’s no surprise to hear the wafts of Taiwanese Mandarin coming from the kitchen! There’s also some braised cabbage, tomato, shiitake mushrooms and baby corn spears in the claypot, and simmered down in the glutinous savoury “meaty” sauce, it’s a satisfying dish to have with a bowl of rice. The “meatballs” are quite moreish, a little on the chewy side with the soy protein but satisfying.
We also get the Monk’s Choice Noodle ($16.80), made with my favourite fried wheat noodles.
The noodles are topped with rolls of bean curd, chinese broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, carrots, baby carrot spears, tinned mushrooms, and that signature slightly glue-like shiny Chinese sauce made from stock, pan juices and some starch. I love my noodles more crunchy than soft, and so don’t mix it in with the sauce too much. The refreshing crunch of the water chestnuts and broccoli stems are a lovely contrast to the soft and flavoursome shiitake mushroom pieces.
The Sister is keen to try a few things from the entree and yum cha selection, and orders the Soy Skin Roll (three pieces for $5.40), which is supposed to have a filling taste similar to Vietnamese minced prawn and fish, wrapped in layers of deep fried soy skin pastry.
Served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, they are piping hot and crispy. Biting it open, the centre tastes not unlike a crab stick. It’s a little starchy-tasting, but being hot and fried – it gets gobbled down pretty quickly.
The Spinach Chia Seed Dumplings (three for $5.40) I was a bit hesitant about, as chia seeds in a dumpling? But it turns out the chia seeds are used to make the pastry with a low gluten wheat starch, encompassing the mixture of spinach and water chestnuts.
Unfortunately the skin didn’t quite hold up to the steaming process and most of the dumplings were waterlogged and soggy, sticking to the steamer and tearing open when we tried to lift them out.
Last of of the savouries was a fairly epic dish, Sweet and Sour Taro Fritters ($17.80) served with carrot, capsicum, pineapple and tomato – a vegan take on the classic sweet and sour fried whole fish served at Chinese banquets.
The creamy, mashed taro was wrapped in tofu skin before being fried, topped with sweet and sour sauce, and further topped with chopped capsicum, bamboo, carrots and a scatter of pine nuts. It was an unusual dish but the effect of biting through the crunchy outer layer of fried tofu into the silky taro mash was very satisfying.
To end the meal, we gave in to temptation and ordered some sweets – a slice of the chocolate and raspberry cheesecake for myself ($13) and a small lavender brownie for the sister.
The brownie was very crumbly and dry, made predominantly of what tasted like cacao and so wasn’t very sweet but quite strong in flavour, with a lingering fruitiness (although not much lavender).
My little slice of cheesecake was nicely creamy and smooth, but the base was a little on the “chewy yet crumbly” side – possibly made mostly of coconut flakes and the texture reminding me of some gluten-free biscuits I’ve tentatively tried in the past.
Overall, it was a pretty good first experience of vegan and vegetarian food, and maybe eating this way isn’t as hard as I thought. However with my general philosophy to eat less of heavily processed dishes, I’m not sure I would come here to try more of the mock meats. Flavour-wise, I think everything was pretty much on point.
538 Pacific Highway,
St Leonards NSW 2065
(02) 9439 6533