Wednesday, July 20, 2011

White Lotus

Mock meat.  If you're a meat-eater, what's the point?  It seems obvious, but consider - why walk when you can drive?  Why grow vegetables when you can buy them from the shop?  Because sometimes the less obvious option, that might initially seem like a mere conceit, is actually pleasurable in itself.

Lotus Sen 001

The White Lotus is a real Melbourne fixture.  It is a genuine family-run business and all the mock meats are made on the premises.  There is a strong tradition of vegetarianism in Buddhism, and Buddhist cuisine has evolved as a unique entity, focusing on creating mock meats out of "beans, taro, yam, gluten and flour by [the] chef Shirley Lee", to quote their menu.

Lotus Sen 005

So old school, I love it.  Napkins in little hats, red lanterns, plastic flowers - almost the vision of a suburban Chinese restaurant.  But instead of those restaurant's relative opulence, with dark carpet and fake gold trim, The White Lotus' white tiled walls give it a slight air of austerity.

Lotus Sen 006
Roast Vegetarian Duck, $19

The mock duck is anything but austere, however.  I lifted a piece suspiciously to my mouth and felt my eyebrows rise in unison with those of my dining companions.  It was really, really good!  The "skin" was crispy and underneath had a layer of tasty "fat", just like real duck skin.  The "meat" was juicy and rich - the main differentiating factor was that it lacked the grain that real meat has.  But the taste!  It actually tasted like duck but with no off-putting greasiness.  I have no idea how they did it.  The sauce was light, soy-based and the duck came on snow peas and bean sprouts.  Divine!  When we went to pay, we saw a family of four, three of whom all had their own individual plates of duck.  It was that good.

Lotus Sen 012
Vegetarian Fish in Tamarind Sauce, $19

This tamarind fish won Cheap Eats' vegetarian dish of the year back in 2007.  It is really incredible.  Apparently the gluten is layered somehow to produce a very delicate, almost flaky texture, just like real fish.  The crispy skin is made from a layer of beancurd over a layer of nori seaweed to give the scent of the sea.  The sauce was fabulous of itself - very much like Assam sauce apparently, based on sour tamarind but mellowed with a little sweetness and perhaps tomato.

Lotus Sen 007
White Lotus Special Vegetable Combination, $16

These vegies were okay - the White Lotus uses no garlic, onion or anything else from the allium family and I noticed the lack of garlic in this dish.  I also doubt they use MSG.  Nevertheless this worked as a palate cleanser for the other two much stronger-flavoured dishes.  It included interesting Chinese ingredients such as lotus buds, white fungus, black fungus and lotus root.  The black fungus is often found in spring rolls - look for the little black strips

Lotus Sen 020

I really respect vegetarians.  For me, meat is something of a carnal pleasure - I can't resist that charred, fatty, rounded mouth feel it has.  I get really annoyed when Anthony Bourdain or other chefs bag vegetarians because to me it is a beautiful philosophy and something, try as I might, I don't know if I have the strength to maintain.  In both Hindu and Buddhist cultures there are traditions of on-off vegetarianism which people may take up as a spiritual exercise.  I like that idea.

Meanwhile, if you do eat meat, why bother going to White Lotus?  Because the bottom line is, it tastes awesome.

P.S.  Vegetarians and vegans, did you know there is a vegetarian yum cha place in Box Hill??

White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

White Lotus
185 Victoria Street, West Melbourne (map)
Phone:  9326 6040
Hours:  Thurs to Sat only, 6pm-10pm


  1. Aah I just can't come at mock meat, unless its the quinoa burger at Tramway. I don't really see the point, unless you are vegetarian for religious reasons. But I have to say that duck looks like the real deal!! Maybe one day, I will put prejudices aside ...

  2. I've been meaning to visit this place for years. Since I was living in West Melbourne in 1996, in fact! So sorry I missed out when you went. But yeah, I had a date.

    Funnily, I have been to Vegie Hut for yum cha. Not quite on a date, but it was where I introduced my ex to my parents for hte first time. He and I were going through a vegetaian phase. Needless to say, that didn't last long with me. But I digress. Vegie hut certainly did a great mock meat yum cha. We should make he trek over some time!

  3. Vegie Hut has been on my list for ages, but it feels so far away. :p But mock meat yum cha sounds fascinating, actually...

    ... there has to be a better name for 'mock meat'.

  4. Brian, I was thinking the exact thing just five minutes ago. Why call something so great "mock meat"? Then it just seems like it's trying to be something it won't ever be and everyone will always judge it against the "real thing".

    Temasek - trust me, I thought the exact same way but it is genuinely delicious in its own right. I have actually been craving the duck here.

    Billy I can't believe you haven't been! I would return anytime. Likewise trek to Vegie Hut sounds great!

  5. Ok, I am going to take your word for it because I trust you. I'm generally bewildered by imitation meat... guess I just don't see the point and I'm haunted by some seriously nasty tempeh I had at a friend's house once. Looks pretty convincing though, now you've got me intrigued!

  6. A lot of people have blogged about this place and no one has had anything bad to say about it.

    I might have to try it some time. I ate at Bo De Trai once and i hated it :( But this was about 7 years ago...

  7. I love this place! That tamarind fish is so good - unlike the mock meat I've eaten anywhere else.

    And yeah, us vegos are well schooled on the Box Hill yum cha. :-)

  8. I'm no longer vego but I don't mind a bit of fake meat every now and then. I remember when I didn't eat meat that the fake fish seemed way too realistic in texture and I couldn't bring myself to eat it!

  9. Yay for Vego love on the FFB!! I could go on forever about the different asian vegetarian/veg friendly restaurants in the Melbourne area... Vegie Mum, Enlightened Cuisine, Fo Guang Yuan, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few! :)
    And for those of you that find fake meat confusing, just think of it as a substitute item in traditional meat dishes that is both cruelty free and far more sustainable and environmentally friendly than real meat. Not all vegetarians are vegetarian because they dislike meat.

  10. I did up a review of Vegie Hut yum cha if anyone is interested :)


I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails