Friday, February 22, 2013

Nourishing Quarter

February 5, 2013

Ah, Nourishing Quarter: Sydney's hippest vegan place, getting rave reviews in the mainstream press, feted by omni and vego bloggers alike (see link list below). We had super high hopes for it, setting aside a Tuesday evening to bus our way into town and sample its wares. We arrived at about 6:45 but had clearly underestimated its popularity - NQ was packed to the rafters.

I wandered in optimistically to suss out our chances. Cue first weird conversation of the night.

Me: "Do we have any chance of a table tonight?'
Staff member: "Ummm. We're fully booked at the moment. Did you make a booking? There's a second sitting at 8pm."
Me: "We didn't make a booking, but we'd be happy to come back at 8pm if there'd be a table then."
Staff member: "It's really better to make a booking."
Me: "So would we be able to get a table if we came back at 8?"
Staff member: "Ummm. I'm... not sure."
Me: "..."

So we left, standing outside to figure out a new plan. As I looked up Yulli's on my phone, a full table of six came steaming out the door, muttering about the ridiculous wait for service and their inability to get anyone's attention. We ignored the substantive content of their comments and decided to try our luck at snaring their table. Success! As long as we got out before that second sitting at 8.

It's a cute place - all mismatched furniture, twee crockery and strange old paintings of the queen. Foodwise, its whole schtick is couched in the ridiculous super-food and eat-yourself-fitter nonsense that so often characterises vegetarian dining. Seriously, open this photo in a new tab and try to make sense of it:

The menu, which is billed as a Vietnamese/South American fusion, is basically a series of Vietnamese dishes including quinoa and amaranth in the ingredients list (seriously, every dish had at least one of these and most had both). There are dumplings, rice paper wraps, mini pancakes in the entrees, soups, curries, noodles and tofu in the mains. It's all vegan and gluten-free. We decided to sample as much of the menu as possible, ordering two entrees and a main.

We were reassured by speedy service - our order was taken in no time at all, and we managed to make it clear that they should bring everything out whenever it was ready and we'd share it all. First to arrive was our main: the bun rieu (tomato-based broth with shitake mushroom, creme de tofu, crispy tofu strips, shredded cabbage, served with amaranth and rice noodles, $16.50).

This was excellent - tangy and spicy, with fresh and healthy fillings and long strips of delicious crispy tofu for dunking.

Next up, our sacred khot (a popular savoury mini-tart from Vietnam, made with quinoa, amaranth and rice flour bases, topped with mung bean mix and spring onions and served with lettuce, fresh herbs and a flavoursome and fruity Nuoc Cham sauce, $16.50 for 7).

These were very reminiscent of the mini pancakes from Than Nga 9, albeit without the weird mock-meats. We liked this version, bursting with minty and spicy toppings and with a crispy base, but they probably weren't quite as good as you'd want when you're paying almost twice what you'd pay in Richmond.

As our shared plates were cleared we held onto our individual plates, explaining that we'd use them for our final dish - the much hyped three sisters, a set of rice paper wraps ($14 for three) with a variety of fillings (all of which include royal quinoa!). We waited with some anticipation.

And we waited.

And we waited.

After making puzzled eye contact a couple of times but never approaching too close, our waitress finally wandered over and gave us our bill. We enquired about our missing wraps and she looked confused and headed back to the kitchen. After another decent wait, she came back with the bill, which now had the wraps crossed out. It was almost time for the second sitting you see, and we had promised to be out by 8. So with the vaguest of apologies and a dish short we were on our way. I'd chalk it all up as bad luck if I hadn't overheard the table next to us having a very similar conversation about a noodle soup that had never arrived.

I was kind of expecting that they might throw in our pancakes for free or something, but no. We didn't really care at this stage, and just laughed our way around the corner to Yulli's to fill up on dessert (and be amazed by the comparative efficiency and slickness of the service).

I dunno, it's hard to be too grumpy about honest mistakes, but it's also hard to be that understanding if a business is getting by on whimsy and mysticism rather than, y'know, providing the service that people are paying for. We probably should have booked, and maybe we struck them on a particularly off night (there's certainly not too many complaints in the blog reviews below), but a few of our twitter friends reported very similar experiences. The food that did come out was fresh and interesting and packed with flavours. It's great that the whole menu is gluten-free and vegan, but everything is really expensive ($28 for a tofu and pumpkin curry!) and the whole experience was so chaotic that it's hard to imagine we'll ever muster the energy to go back.


I was somewhat surprised to read almost uniformly positive reviews of Nourishing Quarter from a decent number of veg and omni bloggers: urban usher, Gucci & Gyoza, Fashimi, Glutenfreewheeling, Like a Vegan, The Screaming Artichoke, Lucy in the Larder, Soul Kitchen Blog, opinioniste, Trick of Fate, Wandering Vegans, vegansydney, Fooderati, The Happiness Cocktail, beautiful food, Eternal Darkness, one hungry mami, Veg for 30 days, Does My Bomb Look Big In This?, cool sydney, Not Quite Nigella. Only 4 & Fare had any complaints, and they were food-based rather than about the service, so they mustn't struggle quite so much all the time.


Nourishing Quarter
315 Cleveland Street, Redfern
(02) 8399 0888
entrees $10.50-$17.50, mains $16.50-$28

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway but the interior is ridiculously crowded. Everybody bumped into each others' chairs/the door on their way in and out. There's full table service (or at least, there's no alternative to table service). We didn't visit the toilets.


  1. It seems that this is a case of that old chestnut of "omnivores wanting different things from a veg restaurant than vegetarians". You're right - the food is good, in a healthy-ish kind of way - but how do they get away with the rest of the insanity!?

    1. Matt - I really don't know. Maybe it was bad luck for us, maybe it's novel and entertaining for other folks. In that respect it reminds me of Melbourne's Moroccan Soup Bar (which, for the record, I do like) - it's in high demand, it's tough to walk up and get a table, and the service has its idiosyncrasies. Perhaps I just know what to expect there?

  2. quirky indeed - I think I would have been more annoyed than you at the last dish not coming - the service suggests that they aren't after people returning and becoming regulars

    having a back up dessert plan sounds like a good thing when going to any restaurant

    1. Johanna, I think we were somewhat in holiday mode and happy to laugh it off - in hungrier or more time-sensitive circumstances I would have been grumpier for sure!

  3. Hoo boy, I have such an aversion to these kind of hippy dippy vegie/vegan places that completely fall down in terms of basic service. Especially when they're charging those kind of prices!

    I do really want that duck plate though!

    1. Hayley - agreed, that plate is a cutie. Perhaps we should have paid that first bill and snuck off with it!

  4. "For, if one day U are no longer here! nor am I!"

    For crying out loud, if your sentences aren't going to make sense in the first place, at least have the decency to spell out words properly. I'm surprised the whole thing didn't end with "LOL CU l8r".

    1. Hannah - I think I've read that thing over four times and I'm no less baffled. Is U the customer, the body, the food? (It won't be me or my body again, anyway.) It brought the LOLs, even if it didn't spell them out. ;-)

  5. Hi Cindy and Michael,

    First of all thanks so for coming and trying the food at Nourishing Quarter. We have only just saw your blog review of the restaurant just now and, as manager of the restaurant, I thought I should reply and apologise on behalf of the restaurant for some uncomfortable situations experienced on your last visit there.

    For us, it's all about the experience, and if patrons don't feel good on their visits- right or wrong- then really, we, as an eating abode operator, we would not feel good as well.

    Regarding, the waitress, who appeared aloof without a proper answer?! - don't really know which one you are talking about, but I can only guest as being one of the new waitresses for the night with a European accent? - more on going training on our part obviously!.
    Regarding, the waitress who has given you the bill without the 3 sisters dish and not knowing how to appease the situation and satisfy the customer's perplexed predicament ? I can apologise again for this mishap, but at the same time can excuse for the waitress' behaviour as she must have been under pressure at the time due to the change-over time, and perhaps her limtation with the English language! Yes, if a more senior person was there, you would have had a discount for sure from the restaurant for missing out, despite having to leave on time.

    We also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your comments about your likes for some of the dishes. Thank you.

    NQ have survived in a very tough environment and this is due to us being supported by various quarters with genuine comments like yours, which we take on board to digest, learn, and imrove where we can. Our humble beginnings started at the organic farmers markets around Sydney way back in 2007, with people following us on this plant-based nutritional eating tradition. Some of the owners have diabetes level 2. One is also from a Vietnamese background, with half of thegroup are vegetarians - 4 owners altogether. That was how they got involved, in making Vietnamese cuisines with south-american high protein/complex carbs ingredients incorporated, and also because of the low GIs as well in the Quinoa and the Amaranth seeds. The Chia Seeds with a lot of Omega-3 also provide the owners with much needed energy level. To date they have avoided sayin too much about health components to avoid telling people what to do, as everyone is different. Their philosophy is about being creative with traditional dishes and make it more nourishing - not for trendiness, but really coming from their personal experiences - and it started with using theses ancient grains and doing a 'fried rice' version about 6 years ago. Next was the Congee. The asian cookng versions would all used white rice with high GIs component.

    So, in summary, we apologise again for not being able to provide a 'valued experience', and that I, or one of the owners, were not there to mitigate any mishaps due to whatever the causes were to make the situation less uncomfortable for you and your friends.

    Kindest regards,
    Nourishing Quarter

    1. Hi Liam,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to us so graciously! I am sure that your willingness to hear criticism, reflect on it and consider adapting your business will serve you well.

      Nourishing Quarter certainly does provide an 'experience', and as a slow eater the pressure of two sittings doesn't suit me best. It's clear that many other diners do enjoy it, though, and we wish you the best for the future.