Sunday, April 15, 2007

April 13, 2007: The White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

Edit 11/11/2017: Sadly White Lotus is no longer in business, but there's a Loving Hut here now.

It could only be a matter of time before Michael and I sampled the 2007 Cheap Eats vegetarian dish of the year, from the White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant in West Melbourne. As luck would have it, this restaurant is a leisurely bike ride from Michael's and my workplaces. Well, it would be leisurely if it didn't involve negotiating Victoria St in peak hour. For the last couple of blocks I took the safe but wussy option of walking my bike along the footpath - it's the only way to observe the regular honking and occasional yelling from the streets with a detached air and perhaps a short, dismayed laugh.

Had I been utilising my prop in the way it was intended, I could easily have glided right past the White Lotus, mistaking it for the local greasy takeaway. The cheap-looking tiles, paper tablecloths and vinyl seats are all there. The menu, however, is a study in the fine Buddhist tradition of mock meats. Sure, you could order some tofu, soup or noodles, but wouldn't you rather try the "fish" in tamarind sauce, succulent "duck" fillet with mushroom gravy or the Mongolian "beef"? Michael had already claimed the dish of the year for himself ($17) and it took some time for me to select a second faux-meat to sample. Nostalgia won out with a plate of lemon "chicken" ($14), surely one of the most popular orders from the suburban Anglicised Chinese takeaway. Most of the mock-meat dishes come with minimal veges (the waitress explained that the "fish" came with "five slices of cucumber" and lo and behold, she was right!). Thus, we ordered a plate of the mixed vegetables with bean sprouts ($11.50); rice also needs to be ordered separately (simple steamed is $1.50 per person).

The much-anticipated "fish" with tamarind sauce arrived first, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Thin sheets of bean curd are layered on top of one another to produce a soft, flaky, somewhat fleshy texture; a top layer of seaweed gives a crispy skin and the essence of the sea; finally, the moderately spicy sauce has just the tangy kick that so many of us seek to accompany fish.

The lemon "chicken" looked flourescently familiar, and must surely be colour-enhanced, right? The battered chicken bites measure up to the most convincing mock meats I've tasted previously, but all of them are at the 'processed' rather than the 'high quality, lean' end of the meat spectrum. Thankfully the lemon sauce proved to be a little less gluggy and sweet than those of my childhood experience, and I found that mushing the garnishing lemon slices into my bowl brought the sour element up to my liking.

The mixed veges were a welcome respite from our heavily sauced feature dishes, and the roasted cashews were a tasty, crunchy treat. The veges weren't jaw-dropping material, but then I really only had eyes for the fake flesh - I just know I would have missed the greens if we'd stuck with "meat" and rice.

Astoundingly, Michael and I nearly cleared the three huge plates between us - it was that good. No chance of a tofu ice-cream this time! I'd actually recommend one mock-meat and one vege dish to share between two for dinner, but on this first visit Michael and I couldn't resist ordering more. We're unlikely to reduce our order in the future either: although it's not accessible from the customer side of the counter, there are some takeaway menus tucked away. I think there'll be many future nights where one of us pulls out the pushy for a trip down to the White Lotus to pick up a mock-meat banquet that'll last two dinners and leftover lunches. This little vego has re-discovered the guilty pleasure of a night in with Chinese takeaway.

Address: 185 Victoria St, West Melbourne
Ph: 9326 6040
Price: vege mains $10-18, rice extra


  1. i love this place. i have been meaning to go back forever.

  2. White Lotus is amazing! Total present from the universe to have a place to eat where everything is vegan! The sweet and sour tricken is my favourite which is ironic because I hated sweet and sour dishes when I ate meat as a kid.