Monday, February 19, 2007

February 17, 2007: Ten Ren's Tea Time

01/12/2012: Ten Ren has been permanently closed now.

Cindy and I brought in the year of the pig with an aimless wander about Chinatown on Saturday night. By the time we managed to leave the house, filled with visions of delicious roadside stalls selling dumplings and spring rolls, it was approaching 9pm and we were starting to get very hungry. Alas, the only stalls we found sold meaty satay sticks or pork jerky. Poor show Melbourne's Chinese community. Giving up on food for a while, we followed the sound of beating drums to a dragon dance and were briefly deafened by the firing off of a string of fireworks. It seemed that every restaurant on Little Bourke Street was chock-full of people and I was starting to get mightily hungry, so I dragged Cindy away from the sound and fury of the festivities and we headed along Bourke Street proper to try to find some dinner.

We eventually stumbled onto Ten Ren's Tea Time - a Taiwanese tea house and cafe that had a reasonably sized vegetarian menu and plenty of spare tables. The tea menu is probably five times as long as the food menu, with hot tea, ice tea, fruity tea, milky tea and icees (which, it turns out, are basically tea slurpees). Both Cindy and I doubled up on our Gelobar choices, with a lemon green-tea icee served with orange ice-cubes for Cindy, and a green-tea plum icee for me. I spent the 10 minutes before the drinks arrived paranoid that the drink would be more terrifying salty plum and less sweet, tangy and delicious plum. Luckily, my paranoia was unfounded and both of our drinks were sweet and refreshing.

The food options were mostly faux-meet: vegetarian 'fish', 'lamb' etc. Cindy tried to get the fish choice, but it was unavailable, leaving her with no choice but to order the plate of 10 vegetarian dumplings. The dumplings were full of marinated mushrooms and were fried up nicely. Probably not quite as crisp as the best I've had (from Kuan-Yin Vegetarian Tea House in Brisbane), but pretty enjoyable nonetheless.

I was up for some fake meat and opted for the 'vegetarian curry flavoured rendang meat'. The curry turned up with a trio of accompaniments, whose components I can only guess at: salty eggs, sour cabbage and weird mushroom things. The curry itself was the perfect replica of beef rendang. Almost too perfect - after a couple of mouthfuls of soft 'beef' curry, with the occasional piece of gristle, I took a closer look at my faux-beef. And it looked an awful lot like real beef - right down to the stringy texture. It was really startlingly genuine, so I quizzed the waiter to make sure it wasn't real beef by mistake. Without really looking, he assured me it wasn't, so I pushed on and ate the rest, telling myself that even if it was real beef, it wouldn't do anyone any good to throw it in the bin. But I found it very difficult to believe it wasn't actual beef. Fake meats are a weird food genre - you want them to do a good job of mimicking the meat they're imitating, but you don't want them to do too good a job. It was all very distracting. By the end of the meal, the lack of real beef rendang on the menu convinced me that it was probably not beef from a cow, but by then it was too late and I'd spent more time trying to decide what I was eating then just enjoying my dinner. I think if I'd been confident that I was eating a vego meal I'd have been pretty thrilled with the cheap curry with odd accompaniments, so it was a bit disappointing.

Address: 146 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Ph: 9654 3268
Price: Vege mains: $6-$8, tea: $4.50-$6.50


  1. My mum once got me fake soy chicken nuggets I cooked them up and they were exactly the same as chicken, it was kinda weird.
    Then again some fake meat is so bad like fake bacon...ewwww

  2. Yep, us vegos have a weird relationship with meat, real or fake! The fakers have to be what we used to like but not be too realistic. ;-) Fake (or was it real?) sinew is spooky.