January 28, 2016
Our recent morning visit to Ray was handy for making comparisons to our earliest Ray breakfasts in 2007. But we were actually much more curious about the evening menu that the cafe has introduced of late, including a $30 per person vegan degustation on Thursdays. Just two days later we arranged to meet our mate Troy there and get a more extended show of their vegan cheffing skills.
Course 1 of 5 was a nice array of finger food - Tooluka olives in sherry vinegar with charred quinoa bread, and steamed edamame seasoned with a lively coriander salt and squeeze of lemon.
Course 2 really raised the stakes with molten cauliflower & miso 'cheese' croquettes, sitting atop piccalilli puree. A pretty salad of raw, pickled and fermented vegetables added piquancy and crunch, and included dabs of black tahini and hemp oil.
As our third course arrived, it was clear that Ray was willing to provide quantity as well as quality. A dish of crushed Kipfler potatoes was dressed with tarragon and a white wine vinaigrette and garnished with caper berries. I couldn't believe it was bettered by a risotto! This one was barley based, offering both bite and comforting brothiness, made green and fresh with peas, asparagus and watercress. The nooch on the side made it clear that this kitchen knows its vegan staples.
The course was made massive with these dense lentil kofta, served in a 'hummus' that reminded Troy of Indian butter chicken sauce, with dollops of macadamia cream and a sprinkling of duhka. This will be the dish that we'll always remember from the meal - hearty yet fancy, with gorgeous spices.
The fourth course was a lovely dial-down, a modest dish of watermelon cubes with a show-off garnish of pomegranate seeds, coconut 'cheese', microgreens and a tart raspberry dressing.
We finished up with chocolate - hooray! A rectangle of soy chocolate icecream sat with microgreens and a medley of crunchy and caramelly bits of biscuit, popcorn and smoked almond butter. The more formidable block of 'cheesecake' tasted equally of chocolate and banana, with just a hint of chilli.
While we've always known Ray to be a damn good cafe, this did not prepare us for the spectacular bargain offered by their Thursday night vegan degustation. The complexity and variety of these dishes rivals Transformer, yet at $30 a head it's half the price. Mock meat-free and vegetable-centred, it's generously portioned and very filling. (Of course, what's served will vary week to week with produce availability.) Whether you've got a special occasion to celebrate or you're just really very hungry, we urge you to find an excuse to visit Ray on your next available Thursday night.
332 Victoria St, Brunswick
Accessibility: There is a shallow and slightly narrow ramp on entry. Tables are quite densely packed, but there is a clear corridor through the cafe. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. Toilets are unisex, fully accessible individual cubicles.