March 29, 2016
Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery is one of the two biggest oversights highlighted in our Cheap Eats project spreadsheet - it's a vegetarian eatery that's been open the entire decade we've lived in Melbourne, yet we've never visited and blogged it until now. I put this down to the dining hall's opening hours, which are restricted to weekday lunch times and therefore quite inaccessible to us non-city workers.
My workplace issued me with an Easter Tuesday off this year, and I used it to sneak in and give the gallery tea house a go at long last. It was quiet, almost hushed, and I had no trouble getting a four-seated table to myself.
The menu is much longer than I'd expect for such an unassuming operation. The appetisers alone run to twenty mostly deep-fried options, and then there are several dozen more stir-fries, tossed noodles, noodles and noddle soups. Most dishes involve mock meat, with a few centred around tofu or mushrooms instead. Each day of the week has its own set of three bento specials, and there's a range of hot and cold teas. I enjoyed an iced kumquat tea ($4), which had the syrupy sweetness of cordial and a contrasting pithy aftertaste.
At my late arrival time, two of the Tuesday bento choices were sold out; I didn't mind ordering the remaining nasi lemak ($12). It arrived quite swiftly and contained (clockwise from top left): lots of tangy pickled vegetables; a spicy mock beef rendang with potatoes, carrot and generous gravy; firm tofu with a chilli dipping sauce; steamed rice, mock anchovies, cashews and diced cucumber. It was all fun to graze on, and I was especially delighted to see the mushroom-based mock anchovies that we first discovered at Vincent last year.
This eatery's reputation has waxed and waned over the years. I don't think it serves the best mock meat in Melbourne, but my bento box was pleasant, varied and very reasonably priced. The venue's greatest appeal is as a quiet, comfortable respite from the bustling city workday outside.
Most veg bloggers are very fond of this tea house, see praise on Veganopoulous (twice), vegan bullsh*t, easy as vegan pie, Nouveau Potato, and two contrasting posts on Miss T: Princess Vegan.
Omni bloggers seem to have always been divided, with I Am Famished, New International Students, The Hungry Grub, Eat & Be Merry, Chomp And Slurp, Edible Posts, Confessions of an Eco-Food Dude, melbourne gastronome and We Do Chew Our Food in favour, MEL: HOT OR NOT against, and Mon's Adventure, Consider the Sauce and Ms I-Hua having mixed experiences.
Water Drop Tea House
Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery
141 Queen St, Melbourne CBD
menu 1, 2
Acessibility: The entry from the street is wide and includes about ten stairs (and I didn't see an alternative approach). The floor inside is flat, tables are low and chairs have backs, with furniture well-spaced. I ordered at the table and paid at a high counter, and didn't visit the toilets.