For those who follow my tweets, For the past few months I’ve been based in Melbourne for work. Believe it or not this meant it was the first time I have been to Melbourne, and I love it. I find that good cafes, restaurants, small bars and good coffee is a lot more accessible especially in the CBD. In Sydney, whilst there are fantastic restaurants and bars you generally have to explore the fringes of Surry Hills and surrounding areas.
Working interstate can also get quite lonely. You can spend all day at the client site, everyone goes home and you have no choice but to grab a quick bite to eat and retire back at the hotel to either do more work or bum around in front of the television watching Foxtel. Fortunately, a few of my Sydney colleagues are also working here in Melbourne which means I have a few more buddies to go exploring the Melbourne food scene with.
One of my good mates and colleague Abs (who owns a great blog on movies, android, technology and the Lost television series) has been an interesting person to dine with. He is a Vegetarian and if you have been reading my posts over the past few years, I am definitely the total opposite to him to the extent that I have written a step by step guide on how to roast a suckling pig on a spit roast. Abs’s ancestors would be rolling in their graves if they knew he was dining with such a carnivore! As a compromise, over the past few weeks Abs and I have gone to a few pure vegetarian restaurants with Shakahari being one of them. The verdict? It was a total surprise, find out why.
We opt for all the dishes to come out at once but my eyes are fixated on the vibrant green of the coriander, almond and coconut dip. The dip is tangy, fragrant and is eaten with pieces of warm and crusty flatbread made from chia seeds, buckwheat and chickpea flour. The flatbread is good enough to eat on its own and I find myself snacking on it long after the dip has turned into a pile of nothing.
I’m not the biggest fan of gnocchi purely based on the fact that I’ve never had a version of it which has knocked me off my feet. But perhaps it’s not supposed to? It seems like almost comfort food to me. Due to this preconception, I was a bit skeptical when Abs ordered this as an entree. Not for the first time, my gut feeling was proven wrong. This dish was unique and the depth of flavour took me by surprise. Four gnocchi triangles made of red quinoa, rice flour and shredded veg are pan seared in a chilli olive oil. They didn’t taste like ordinary gnocchi at all, with the outer layer of the gnocchi having a crisp texture due to it being pan seared. The balsamic reduction took out a bit of the heaviness of the gnocchi, though the wilted asian greens were a bit underwhelming.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was lured by the words “deep fried” during the ordering process. This was a good dish but if I had to pick one which was the ‘weakest’ link this one would be it. The dish consists of deep-fried skewers of bean curd dressed with a mildly spiced peanut sauce. The beancurd was crisp and the sauce was packed with flavour but I felt that the side additions of pickles and blanched greens disrupted the balance of the dish as a whole. Either way, fried stuff is good especially when it is vegetarian, less guilty for me I suppose.
By now we are kind of regretting ordering so many dishes. They are all quite deceptive, with a lot of the ingredients causing us to be quite full. Either way, we power on with our meals like men on a mission, men who have not eaten for days. The croquettes come in the form of crunchy patties of mashed yam, potatoes, roasted macadamia nuts and veg. The roasted macadamia nuts really shine through and the patties themselves are good enough to eat on their own without the side of greens, kim chee and black ginger sauce.
We’ve finished our mains and feel that we are in a state of content. However, I manage to convince Abs that if we walk back to our hotel (2.5km) we can probably fit in some dessert. I might as well enjoy myself whilst travelling right?
I opt for the Thai delight which looked good on the menu, but didn’t quite deliver the delight as the name suggests. For $13.50 I expected a bit more from the duet of baked cassava fudge,coconut blackrice pudding and fresh mango slices. I’ve been spoilt with similar renditions in Cabramatta for half the price, if not less.
The cheesecake on the other hand renewed my faith in the desserts at Shakahari. The cheesecake was pandan flavoured and made from coconut mascaporne. I loved the short biscuit base as well, not a huge fan of thick based cheesecakes. Finally, its topped off with a dollop of kahlua coconut syrup which was the money shot to finish off a well-balanced dessert.
By now we are well and truly stuffed and make our way home on a chilly Melbourne night through the bustle of restaurant hustlers on Lygon St. It reminds me a bit of Chinatown in the Sydney CBD where restaurants wave their menus in front of your face and try to get you to come dine in their restaurant. I’m not sure we have a place for that in Australia as people are generally wary of that sort of behaviour.
Shakahari exceeded my expectations from a vegetarian restaurant and proved that I could survive a meal without eating meat. I’ve been told that Shakahari has been around for years and has a great reputation for vegetarian and vegan food which does not compromise on flavour or creativity. A quick look at the menu validates some of these rumours, with the majority of dishes containing a variety of Asian influences. If you are looking for a well-rounded vegetarian meal, Shakahari is a good option to explore. For the vegans and allergy sufferers out there, they also specify on the menu whether a dish is vegan, non-dairy or gluten-free.