Last weekend we drew inspiration from Brianna's Southside staples article in the 2012 VeGMeL zine, trekking across town to Elsternwick for a movie at the Classic and a meal at Ren Dao Vegetarian Restaurant. Brianna observed that Ren Dao has been around for "a year or two now" and reckons "it has a fresher feel than Enlightened Cuisine".
It set a promising tone with smiling, attentive staff, padded seating and - happy sigh - gentle, non-fluorescent lighting. The length and diversity of the menu also equals (and probably betters) the Enlightened Cuisine benchmark: there are a dozen entrees and half as many soups, mock meats in myriad preparations, tofu and vegetables, noodles, roti and rice. Vegan, gluten-free and spicy-hot dishes are well-marked and abundant (and include some g-f mock meat!). The mains hover around $20 each and we wondered whether they'd earn those extra couple of bucks on their rivals.
The 5 Spice Loh-Bak Rolls ($7.50) finally showed me how bean curd wrapping is supposed to work out - light, flaky and a little sweet. Instead of pork these were stuff with dense, starchy taro.
The Kung Po Chicken ($19.50) was a mighty bowl (not done justice in this photo) of mock meat, vegetables and roasted cashews coated in a thick, hot and sweet sauce. The capsicum, zucchini and celery did have a pleasing crispness to them and the 'chicken' was actually a medley of tofu strips, more textured tofu squares and chewy fried tofu puffs.
The Nasi Lemak ($12.80) made use of the glutenous mock chicken chunks we're used to in its yellow curry, along with more tofu and some melt-in-the-mouth potatoes. The surprise imitator in this dish is the mushroom-based, specially imported mound of mock anchovies!
Ren Dao's dishes certainly lived up to their asking price in both portioning and quality. If only we'd been heading straight home, they would have boxed up the last of our Kung Po to take with us. Actually, I wish we could box up Ren Dao and take them home with us! They rate highly across all my criteria: the variety of their menu, their fresh vegetables and restrained deep-frying, extensive options for special diets, comfortable surrounds and lovely, unhurried service. On these counts they probably have more in common with Veggie Kitchen than Enlightened Cuisine or White Lotus.
Actually, I think Ren Dao is carving a niche all its own in Elsternwick. We were heartened to see it bustling and boasting a demographic different to the inner north's veg*n hang-outs.
So far Ren Dao seems only to have received a mention on Bait For Bookworms.
Ren Dao Vegetarian Restaurant
275 Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick
veg entrees $6.50-9.80, veg mains $12.50-23.90
Accessibility: The restaurant's entry is quite flat and wide, tables inside are moderately spaced. We received full table service. The toilets are unisex but located up a narrow, bending staircase.