Fitzroy's veg restaurant hotspot, at the northern end of Brunswick St, is approaching boiling point with the opening of Transformer. Situated off to the side on Rose St, this converted warehouse won't have any problems luring customers from the main drag with its bright lights and huddle of hopefuls out the front.
Transformer accept both reservations and walk-ins, and appear to be running two fairly strict sessions per night. At 6:40pm on their first trading Saturday there was a 2 hour wait for a table, so we planned ahead and reserved our 6:30pm spot a few weeks later. Inside it's cavernous and moody (in the evening, at least) with spotlights centred on each table. The light pine tables and decorative plants hint at lighter, brighter brunches by day.
The menu is entirely vegetarian, with vegan, gluten-free and adaptable items well signed. Your waiter will recite the inner-city restaurant mantra: The Plates Are Designed To Share.
Before we picked plates, we picked beverages. Michael's G & T ($12) was unusually garnished with pink grapefruit and fresh fennel. From their list of non-alcoholic tonics, I chose a blend of watermelon, mint, strawberries, chia seeds, lime and lavender salt ($9). It was thick, fruity and fun, though the lime and lavender didn't feature strongly.
From the small plates, we tried the still-in-season grilled figs ($14), charred and smoky, with orange-balsamic glaze, hazelnut croutons that reminded us of polenta chips, and cubes of house-made almond feta, the vegan alternative to the standard goat cheese. The 'cheese' lacked the tang and grassiness of goat curd, but was delightfully creamy.
Next up we trialled a tower of roasted sweet potato wedges ($9) topped with coconut yoghurt, togarashi, coriander leaves and a slice of lime. These reminded us of a certain Ottolenghi recipe, and the comparison didn't do them any harm.
From the Garden Plates, we ordered the compressed watermelon ($11) dressed in chilli and pistachio oil, studded with cherry tomatoes, almond feta and mint. It was light and lovely, a celebration of the summer just gone.
Our one Mid-plate was Michael's favourite of the night, a brick of polenta and wild rice ($18) with an assortment of steamed and sauteed vegetables, an almost-astringent Thai pesto and coconut reduction.
We made sure to leave room for dessert. Nostalgic for Japan, Michael set it off with a glass of delicious plum wine ($10).
We spoiled an otherwise vegan evening with an order of the chevre cheesecake ($12), served with pear sorbet, honey caramel and poached fig. While the textures and presentation were outstanding, the chevre didn't offer quite the sharpness I sought to offset its sweet counterparts.
I was more deeply impressed by the vegan and gluten-free chocolate buckwheat mousse cake ($14), which a cakey base and creamy two-tone top, sherbetty freeze-dried raspberries and sorbert, with a strip of date syrup.
At just over $50 per person including drinks and dessert, we were mightily pleased with what Transformer has to offer. Where the similarly-pitched Smith & Daughters down the street is deep-fried and meat-mocking, Transformer seems more produce-focused. We're optimistic that Fitzroy has room enough for both fancy veg*n approaches.
There's a positive review of Transformer on the blog pineapple.
99 Rose St, Fitzroy
shared plates, desserts and drinks 1, drinks 2, drinks 3, drinks 4
Accessibility: The entry is wide and with a shallow ramp. Tables are well spaced, a mix of mid-height tables with booths and backed chairs, plus higher tables with backless bar stools. There's full table service. The toilets are highly accessible - individual unisex cubicles with marked wheelchair and ambulent options.