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Best of Canberra – Vegetarian

By 14 August 2014 3

Note – this week I outsourced our review to one of our team. As a Vegan, I figured Jess was far better place to make judgement on good vegie food than me. Thanks Jess! Canfan

Dickson is basically vegetarian heaven. The restaurant choices are Kingsland, Au Lac and My Rainbow Dreams, and neighbouring Braddon also has Sweet Bones. Additionally, a trip to Dickson is an opportunity to fill my pantry with delicious meats and sauces at the Asian Quay supermarket.

My assignment was to attend Au Lac and Kingsland, two restaurants with enormous menus. To narrow down the choices I ordered with regard to healthy eating, as in the last few years many people are giving up carnism with regard for their own health.

Vegetarian eating is also easy on the pocket as I have mentioned before and either restaurant would qualify for the cheap lunch series.

Kingsland is closed for lunch on a Tuesday so we started at Au Lac which seems to be never closed (they take off Monday lunch only).

We were greeted and seated by a single waiter on his way to run a take-away order to the neighbours and quickly presented with menus and offered drinks. Running an entire restaurant with no backup service is a challenge with even a single table (what if the phone rings while you’re offering them drinks?) but the service was great.

The bright open rectangular space is mildly reminiscent of a cafeteria but they played a little light pop music keeps the atmosphere cheerful, we were comfortable in the window and the baby had no trouble sleeping through lunch.

I asked for a low-fat and healthy meal and on recommendation I ordered a noodle dish: vermicelli with spring rolls and tofu ($12.50). I also ordered a young coconut juice ($3.90) which was surprisingly sweet and which I wouldn’t recommend.

Set on a bed of rice vermicelli were the three different small selections and a sour and chilli sauce to pour over the top.

au-lac-veg-a

The shredded tofu was mixed with crushed peanut and a little shredded mock ham providing a good helping of protein, a rich umami flavour and a fun texture.

The spring rolls had a hint of curry about them and were not overly crispy or oily, rather more like a baked dish.

au-lac-veg-b

The salad was a crunchy mix of shredded lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and mint which blended perfectly with the sour sauce and crushed peanut, leaving an overall impression of freshness. By mixing the dish together the flavours blended and produced more fun, fresh textures and flavour combinations.

Kingsland was a bit of a disappointment compared to our lovely trip to Au Lac from the moment we walked through the door into a cacophanous din that woke up the baby and upset him the whole meal. We then waited awkwardly to be seated while both waiters served someone at the counter although our waiter quickly offered us a drink and a high chair once we were served.

We began with fresh rice paper rolls ($3.80) which were well made but very conservative. For a light meal I was recommended to try a tofu dish and I selected Tofu in the Meadow ($12.40 plus rice $2.60).

kingsland1

With such a beautiful name I expected fresh flavours but it couldn’t compare to the multiple delicate flavours served by Au Lac. It was not uncomfortably salty but salt was the overwhelming flavour. Sometimes playing it safe means playing it boring and this has been my experience during other visits to Kingsland where most dishes have one predominant flavour but if you share with a big group the meal becomes more interesting as there are many different flavours to choose between.

I also found the service at Kingsland, while very friendly, thoughtful and accommodating, was very poorly trained. One young waiter was touching his colleague’s hair when I went to pay my bill and even whipped out a tissue to wipe his nose while serving. Both waiters spent plenty of time behind the counter sharing simple tasks when one could have been making a round on the floor a while the other arranged bills and manned the phone.

So it seemed Au Lac was the winner but Kingsland had one last card up its sleeve: cake ($5.30). Despite my promise to eat healthy I realized I’d better take one for the team and reluctantly ordered the cake of the day which was strawberry cheesecake.

kingsland2

If I hadn’t known that I was at a vegan restaurant I would be very nervous. It was sweet, smooth and with a very delicate crust. It most certainly wasn’t healthy and I think I put an inch on my waistline by eating that one slice but YUM!

So if you’re a sweet-tooth and dessert is the most important part of your meal, or if you’re going with a big group and want to experience many bold flavours Kingsland is good value, but for a healthy meal with the flavours to make dining an occasion, good service and good vibes, Au Lac is a definite must-visit.

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3 Responses to
Best of Canberra – Vegetarian
Holden Caulfield 12:34 pm
14 Aug 14
#1

Thanks for the review, the pics from Au Lac look yummo, even for this heartless animal killer. But…

“Additionally, a trip to Dickson is an opportunity to fill my pantry with delicious meats…”

What?! Unless that’s a saucy euphemism I must have a bit to learn about what it takes to be a vegan.

Argonaut 2:44 pm
14 Aug 14
#2

As a review, this functions as a good compare-and-contrast of two Canberra vegan venues, but I can’t help feeling that it was a missed opportunity to expand the vegan/vegetarian culinary borders beyond the mock-meat landscape, which features heavily on the menus of both Au Lac and Kingsland.

Ben_Dover 1:40 pm
15 Aug 14
#3

I moved to Canberra 14 years ago as a Pommy vegetarian. Canberra is now where the UK was 20 years ago in terms of catering to vegetarians. Good, but getting better.

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