For me, this place was a little like seeing a big pile of dust and sweeping it under the carpet. You know you really want to just clean it up, but until you have time to really address it you don’t want to know it’s there. It probably helps if I tell you I really love cleaning, but I don’t like doing anything by halves. So knowing a new vegetarian restaurant had opened up literally around the corner from me, but not having time to go and enjoy it, was really something I didn’t want to think about, until I did.
Assuming it wouldn’t take reservations, I waited until 10 minutes before being hungry to call up. Apparently this really isn’t the way to do things at the Nourishing Quarter, even for takeaway, so when the voice at the end of the phone says fine, wander down now but please be ready to leave in an hour’s time, this suits just fine. Accompanying me is my father, who is not one to wait for anything. When we enter this little hole-in-the-wall shabby-chic Victorian style parlour and find a room full of nattering women and one poor, unsuspecting fellow in the corner, I am just pleased that we appear to have the last 2 seats left in the place. I am even more pleased when we are led outside where the quieter, mixed groups seemed to be convening and are seated at a small table with black and white plastic floral tablecloth. It is underneath a market-stall tent and next to an outdoor heater, which seems to be melting the marquee above us only slightly.
I consider myself an efficient decision-maker, but when it comes to food there is usually little to choose from vege-wise in the Sydney scene. An entire menu of vegan and vegetarian fare takes about 10 minutes to study before I come up with a menu to suit both parties. Ingredients are fully listed and next to each menu item sits boxes indicating when something is Dairy Free, Wheat Free, Wholesome, or “First Encounter”. I don’t dare ask what this means, but apparently all the food is healthy and prepared by a team of inspired vegans on a quest for nutritional value after one of the four developed Type 2 diabetes. Good enough reason for me! Although the 3 Sisters Combination Rice Paper Rolls come highly recommended, I am SO sick of rice paper rolls, so I skip that page and go straight for the Quinoa Patties. We are told these will come as two giant sized patties, but in fact arrive delightfully deep-fried and bite-sized with a tasty dipping-sauce on a bed of fresh lettuce.
Next up are the Pretty Dumplings. They are filled with Royal quinoa grains, diced tofu, chopped vegetables and served alongside fresh watercress and served with NQ dumpling sauce. They are a little slimy and could be “meatier”, so-to-speak, but they are fresh and full of coriander and feel like they are doing good as they are inhaled off the plate.
Following the dumplings is the Ancient Pearls. Filled with quinoa, coriander, diced vegetables and sprinkled with sesame seeds, these lettuce cups to be eaten in-hand are quite delicious. Actually, they remind me a little of a similar dish I make at home, and to be honest I am pleased that it is really easy to see this is how food actually tasted without sneaky shrimp or fish sauces finding their way into the vegetarian dishes.
By this stage I have ordered 2 sides of chilli, and as the main arrives I ask for another, which comes as a chilli-paste with big fresh seeds throughout. It is very mild, hence the re-order, but it goes well with the Passage to India (via Saigon) curry served with quinoa. It is made with pumpkin, chickpeas, amaranth and spongey tofu and served with a side-salad consisting of healthier-than-thou carrot shreds and slices of apple. The flavour in general is quite mild, but everything is brought nicely together with a dash of chilli on the side.
As we finish up our main we are greeted by a lovely lady by the name of Tien, who we learn is one of the “cooks” (she tells us none of the 4 owners are professional chefs, but are all healthy vegans who are full of ideas about food). She says she hails from the South of Vietnam, but they also have the North and Centre of Vietnam covered and this brings a nice variety of flavour to the food. She talks quite a lot about quinoa and its health benefits, then helps us pick out lemon and blueberry vegan “cheesecake” for dessert, which is apparently $11.50 a slice due to the “quality” and “worth it”. Personally I will always go for the chocolate version of everything (and both the chocolate and strawberry and chocolate and rasberry options are sounding good), but as I was given free-reign over the rest of the ordering I decide to leave this one alone.
The cheesecake arrives, delicately surrounded by paired slices of strawberries, apple and orange. I find this super convenient, one for each diner, what could be more even than that? The cake itself is extremely creamy, but I can taste a distinct hint of avocado and no evidence of cheese to speak of, which is fine with me. The swirls of blueberry throughout are tasty, the base is crunchy and crumbly and the whole thing is sprinkled with pungent cinnamon.
As our meal winds down I am completely stuffed full. We had anticipated an over order, in which case I was going to take some home for the next-day’s lunchbox, but due to the portions and bite-seized nature of the dishes this isn’t really an option. The food is full of herbs and rather tasty, although I am very keen to come back and sample some of the other selections to really get a feel for why this place has been so raved about since it opened in August (!!! sweep, sweep that dust from under the rug) of last year. Now that I have been, I expect I will be back, again, and again, and again.
The Nourishing Quarter
315 Cleveland Street
Redfern NSW 2016
(02) 8399 0888