Saturday, November 14, 2009

November 14, 2009: Soulmama II

It is testament to the vast array of veg-friendly eating in Melbourne (and probably to our northside bias) that it's taken us more than three years to revisit the popular St Kilda vegetarian restaurant, Soulmama. Our only other visit occurred during our first month living in Melbourne and there seem to have been few changes since then. The setting is lovely, especially on a sunny day such as this one - the restaurant is located on the second floor of the St Kilda baths, with much of the seating in the large, well lit space overlooking St Kilda Beach and Port Phillip Bay.

The menu style is a little odd, given the classy-casual atmosphere this restaurant is going for. While table service abounds, main meals are 'medium' or 'large' and selected by queuing up at a buffet. Since this meal was both our lunch and dinner Michael decided to live large ($19.50), selecting five dishes from the display:
  • seasonal vegies and cauliflower in mushroom oyster sauce
  • beans and greens salad
  • eggplant, tempeh and noodle salad
  • tofu in Japanese Amai sauce
  • carrot and cauliflower hotpot
While he enjoyed them all, the tofu impressed him the most. I wondered, though, whether there was anything here that we couldn't cook at home.

Not having fond memories of the hot-box approach, I looked to the small list of made-to-order entrees, picking out the rice balls ($9.50) and gyoza ($9.50). The rice balls arrived first, hot and crisp out of the fryer, rich with a cheese-and-basil pesto flavour. I particularly liked the creamy mustard dipping sauce on the side (the other appeared to be stock standard sweet chilli).

The gyoza charmed me as soon as they arrived. Presented elegantly, the skins were perfectly seared on one side and steamed all over. If I hadn't been eating them at a vegetarian restaurant, the filling's resemblance to pork mince might have had me nervous - as it was, I simply relished some fine tofu preparation.

I couldn't resist a peek at the dessert menu and cajoled Michael into sharing a jaffa honeycomb truffle ($9.50). I'm not sure exactly what we expected, but it probably wasn't this - a ridiculously dense and sweet segment of orange-scented chocolate, eerily posed like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, flecked with small crunches of honeycomb. (As an aside - this dessert was marked vegan and though I'm not certain, it's plausible that this is honey-free honeycomb... I certainly couldn't detect its flavour.) This is truly for the most die-hard dessert-lovers out there - we couldn't finish it and even yours 'chocoholic' truly wouldn't order it again.

My first reaction to the Soulmama experience is that it's overpriced, but on further reflection that's difficult to justify. The $20 mains, while not sophisticated, are generously portioned; the entrees and fresh and well executed. And the seaview setting is surely worth a few dollars. Regardless of our irregular patronage, Soulmama seems to be serving up something the St Kilda set likes with the restaurant booked out in the hours following our visit.

Updated 11/7/2011: Soulmama has closed down. It had its detractors, but it's hard to imagine a vegetarian restaurant with a better view.


You can read about our previous visit to Soulmama here.


  1. its just so odd! such a beautiful location but the hospital style bainmaries queuing turns me off it. especially the price for what it is. shakaharis should have this space. I would pay $100 a head for that. I'm never in St Kilda and always go there when I am, my wallet can hack going there once a year, I used to go to the sea baths and drink cocktails there afterwards. nicer for cocktails in the summer.

  2. I agree. I like the setting but never go to Soul Mama... $20 seems a bit much for food that comes from a bain marie, even though as you point out it's good, fresh food. I think the kicker is that the food tends to be a bit bland and a bit 'mmm, could make this at home...' Plus the service isn't great, even though I've been there a few times I always get a bit confused about what I'm meant to do (drinks service at the table... queing for food... paying on the way out... why can't it be simple?!)

    Intrigued by the idea of honey-free honeycomb, as honeycomb is something I like a lot... but maybe their definition of 'vegan' includes honey-eaters. Worth looking into!

  3. I agree with the could have made this at home but I am going for the gzoya next time - they look great - I have been there a few times and never have time or space for dessert but it always looks good - as is the location - and while the food isn't the most amazing, it is always nice to be able to eat at a veg restaurant where you know there will be no meat

  4. The rice balls & gyoza look good! I love the setting, and the restaurant is really lovely inside, but the bainmarie just annoys me. I don't understand, with that many chefs in the kitchen, why they can't prepare everything fresh.

    I just find that when food has been sitting in a bainmarie, all the flavours kind of merge, so you don't get textural & flavour differences in the food. It all just tastes very samesy.

  5. I don't mind Soulmama, sure I could make a lot of it at home, but going with 2 people to share means you get most of the hot food and salads, which I'd not turning out at home. I think they have one of the best drinks menu for a veg place, I fell in love with plum wine after going there, also their lassi is great too.

  6. It's alright when I'm with close friends, especially when portions are generous, but I don't think bain marie food impresses anyone much! Especially when we're out for a 'nice night' in St Kilda...just screams cafeteria to me!

  7. I think one of the reasons it's so successful is that it is non-vegetarian friendly. My partner is a total meatasaurus and convincing him to eat here was a task! But he actually left very full and said it was quite nice and he didnt miss the meat that much. The desserts though are good - and sooo rich!

  8. Carla, summer cocktails sounds like the way to take advantage of what Soulmama does well! I love the idea of the Shakahari folks having the space - except that it would place the restaurant much further away from me. :-)

    Lisa, my first thought was that honey might not be excluded from their 'vegan' dishes. But I'm pretty sure vegan Crunchie-style honeycomb can be done - I'll make it my job for the next potluck!

    Johanna, the gyoza are something I couldn't make this well at home! I'll likely order them again if/when we return.

    Penny, I think you're right. The texture and distinct flavours of made-to-order food are that much better.

    Nudbot - thanks for pitching in and mentioning the drinks menu! I noticed that the cocktails were attractive and unusual too.

    I agree, Vee! I've got to take the right friends and do some dessert sharing I think. :-)

    That's interesting, imasugarjunkie! I would never think to take non-vegos there to eat, but several people have said to me that it's 'a vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians'.

  9. Hello you two!

    I just discovered your blog looking for veg blog in Melbourne (I moved here 3 months ago)! I went to Soul Mama last February (when it was on Jacka blvd) and again last week since it re-oppened on Fitzroy street on December 8th. It is no longer a buffet style place but the prices are still a bit steep for my liking. My tofu-satay wrap was good though.

    I look forward to read through the rest of your restaurant recommendation! I'm so glad I found you!!!

  10. Alexe - welcome to Melbourne and welcome to our blog! I did hear a rumour that Soulmama had re-opened elsewhere. We'll have to try it out at least once.

    Thanks for stopping by; I hope we'll see you here again. :-)