There was once a time when you had either to wade through hemp seeds and wheat grass or turn up to the nearest Buddhist monastery to find decent vegetarian restaurants in this town. All that has changed with the arrival of a slew of new vegetarian and vegan options, making this an almost trendy diet choice; a nice change in a city that caters mostly for carnivores.
While it’s been open for almost a year, Vanimal wasn’t on our radar until recently. Once we’d navigated our way through Kennedy Town’s dining district we were pleasantly surprised to find a venue that resembled a nice bistro, with a cool dark interior and leather seats – and not a wheatgrass shot in sight.
We started with a couple of signature cocktails: Leeches Blood ($98), while having a terrible name, was light and refreshing, and the beetroot juice and pomegranate made it feel slightly virtuous; Mad Man ($110), meanwhile, was decadent and rich, but a little strong for a Wednesday evening.
For dinner we opted for a four-course tasting menu, which began with an endive, bean and capsicum salad with tahini ($98). Every ingredient was crisp and fresh, and the tahini was delicate and not overpowering as it can sometimes be. We followed this with Pop and Corn Soup, an interesting take on a classic. I liked the way the chargrilled corn and nutty popcorn balanced out the sweetness in the soup.
Our main dish was orzo pasta with mushrooms, baby asparagus and heirloom carrots ($148). This was a great, hearty dish full of surprises. The tiny pieces of pasta were cooked to al dente perfection, as were the brightly coloured carrots. While I’m not a fan of mushrooms, a staple of too many vegetarian dishes, these were interesting in their variety and textures, and added a nice punch of flavour to the pasta. The sprinkling of dried fruits and nuts over the top were a delicious addition, and gave the dish a Middle Eastern edge. And the baby asparagus was fresh and crunchy. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole dish.
Dessert was a challenge for my sweet-loving taste buds. The chia seed, maca and cauliflower pudding ($98) was a very healthy take on a traditional chocolate pudding, and the maca made it sweeter and richer than I expected. At the end of the day, though, I’m just not a fan of chia seeds, and couldn’t get past the idea that I was eating a vegetable for dessert, so I probably wouldn’t order it again. But there were plenty of other delicious-looking options on the menu for next time.
Overall, this was a great dining experience. As a vegetarian I’ve gotten used to having to make do with limited options. But at Vanimal I could eat everything on the menu with reckless abandon and that makes me very happy indeed! Prices were very reasonable and the service from Jims Yuen and his team couldn’t be faulted.
Corner of Belcher’s and Cadogan Streets, Sai Wan
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