113 Queensbridge St
Southbank VIC 3006
As my brother and his girlfriend are also vegetarian, I decided to take them to Enlightened Cuisine on the Saturday night they were here. The fact that its BYO was also a big drawcard for us (nothing like siblings catching up over a boozy meal!). We had to take 2 trams in order to get there, and on a cold windy and wet night it felt like a bit of a mission, but one that totally paid off.
For those who haven't been before, Enlightened Cuisine is a Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant in Southbank. The menu offers mock meat and seafood, tofu and vegetable dishes. They use seitan as the base for most of the mock meat dishes, and it is done in such a clever way that the first time I ate there, I actually believed I had made a mistake and was dining at a restaurant intended for omnivores.
We had a booking for 7pm, and when we arrived the restaurant was only half full. It filled up quickly once we were seated, and while service wasn't exactly attentive, it was efficient and the meals didn't take too long to arrive. Trying to decide what to order between the 3 of us was the biggest challenge. We gleefully debated whether to get goose or duck for entrees, and whether we would waste our time and money on vegetable dishes, or whether we would just focus on the mock meat. We thought about trying one of the banquets listed (a great way to sample a lot of dishes), but after spying some old favourites from our meat eating days that weren't included in the banquets, we decided to just order what we wanted.
For entrees we had the wantons (soy based) and the fried goose. I wasn't a fan of the wantons (I never have been), but the fried goose was a delight, if a little weird to wrap our heads around. Described on the menu as deep fried and marinated bean curd skin, these were flaky, crispy little sheets that had a really interesting texture. The plum dipping sauce accompanying both dishes was also very tasty. I wasn't in 'food blogger' mode at this stage of the evening though, so forgot to take photos.
For mains we ordered Sweet and Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken, Honey Prawns and Pepper Steak with Mushrooms.
Sweet and Sour Pork
"Pork" with pineapple, cucumber, green pepper and tomatoes in a sweet and sour sauce.
"Chicken" in a tasty and tangy lemon sauce.
"Prawns" prepared in a flavourful honey enhanced sauce.
Pepper Steak with Mushrooms
"Steak" with mushrooms and black peppers stir fried to perfection on a sizzling hot plate
I was a little dubious about the honey prawns, as I've never tried mock seafood products before (and wasn't a big fan of seafood even when I did eat animals), and the thought of the Pepper Steak scared me as I've found faux beef quite a rubbery and gross texture to eat. Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious though, and the Pepper Steak turned out to be everyones highlight! The bite of the pepper sauce was really potent, and the thin strips of 'steak' were delicious. The dish came with quite a lot of vegetables as well, which made us feel like we were having somewhat of a balanced meal.
The honey prawns were delicious, but as I mentioned, I never really ate seafood back in the day, so couldn't recall whether they were similar to the real deal. My brothers girlfriend still eats seafood however and confirmed that they were uncannily similar - from the texture through to the colour (once the batter was pulled away, there was an orangey coloured stripe along the side of the prawn). This dish definitely rid me of any fear of mock seafood, and I'm really keen to venture into the territory of fish sometime soon!
The Sweet and Sour Pork used to be an absolute favourite of mine, and I marvelled at the texture and flavours of this dish. I honestly don't know whether meat eaters would have known it wasn't pork they were eating. While this may disturb some vegetarians (those of the "why eat something that resembles and pretends to be meat?" variety), I could happily tuck into it knowing that no flesh was passing my lips.
The dish that didn't live up to my recollections (I've ordered it the last 3 times I've been to Enlightened Cuisine) was the lemon chicken. While the tangy and sticky lemon sauce was just right, the 'chicken' was weird. The pieces were limp and it tasted more like thick batter dipped in sauce as opposed to a mock meat. Even though it was weird, it was still very nice, so no real complaint there!
We had a small bowl of rice each, along with the items listed above, and we were well and truly full by the end of the meal. We were able to take about a third of the lemon chicken and honey prawns away with us in a container, to be enjoyed again the next day. At the entrance to the restaurant there is a freezer stocked with mock meat products that you can take home with you. I spent $9 on a packet of prawns (which I've yet to figure out what to do with), and $9 on some Buffalo wings. There are also some instant noodle type soups available, along with bottles of various condiments, like vegetarian Oyster Sauce.
We spent 2 hours enjoying great company, lots of wine, and amazing food, and it definitely strengthened my opinion that Enlightened Cuisine really should be frequented more often!