Wednesday, October 22, 2008

FGY Art Gallery, or: I explore some mock-meat and reminisce over pumpkin cakes

Miss Natalie kindly suggested lunch at Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery as my leaving-the-team lunch, so we hauled ass all the way down to Queen Street from our office at the Paris End of Collins (no less!), and entered the world of kumquat tea.

FGY (sounds a bit gynaecological, doesn’t it?) is a purely vegetarian restaurant/art gallery/meditation space housed in what I think is an old bank. The menu
is a choice of lunch special, chef’s special or a la carte, but the highlight is, was, and always will be the kumquat tea. Sweet, syrypy, like hot cordial but nasty when cold, the tea comes served with whole kumquats in a glass tea pot and is a golden, Cottees cordial orange.

Things got off to a hysterical start when I asked what dishes were vegan, and the waiter replied that there was no vegan as it was a vegetarian restaurant.

He thought I said bacon.

We ordered twice as the first time (our waiter being a ri
ng-in because the first waiter’s electronic notepad wasn’t working) didn’t write anything down, came back, repeated the order quite incorrectly, and had to record it all over again. Our mains arrived, then one half of our entrĂ©e, and then a little later the other half. Friendly as the service was, I don’t need to be asked three times if I have ordered; not be able to make myself understood to my waiter even in the most basic terms; then have my order taken again; and then have my meal arrive in dribs and drabs. Luckily the kumquat tea arrived with little cookies and I was able to sate my annoyance with sugar.

The menu is pretty heavy on the mock-meats, which as a rule
I avoid but when faced with such a selection, was suspiciously keen to order something that I wouldn’t normally get to eat. Natalie and I ordered a Hainan “chicken” bento-type box which arrived with two types of salad, a frighteningly realistic pork-like mock-meat, and a pumpkin cake.

Check out the top left corner: I haven’t had pumpkin cake since high school, when we would troop down to the Snappy Happer on Canterbury Road … and yes, that’s Snappy Happer. No-one could ever say Happy Snapper properly and after a while no-one even noticed. The Snappy Happer was a fish’n’chip shop that served both potato and pumpkin cakes (…we have both kinds … country and western!) and I haven’t seen pumpkin cakes since. For those overseas readers not familiar with the humble potato cake, it’s a round thin potato patty deep fried in batter, salted and eaten with fish’n’chips (or just chips if you’re me). A bad potato cake is thin, soggy, yellowy-white and evenly battered. A good potato cake is golden with fat, has grotesque battery bubbles poking out of it like some kind of disease, and is piping hot and extra salty. Sadly the Snappy Happer is now closed, but the memory of those pumpkin cakes still makes me misty-eyed (and hungry).

So my FGY pumpkin cake brought back fond teenage memories, although it was extra fatty and oily and somewhat of a surprise in my bento box. The “chicken”-that-looked-like-“pork” was grey and textured and also on the oily side, and to be quite hone
st I ate it with some trepidation. It tasted … like … mock-meat. That said, I have no idea what chicken really tastes like so it could have tasted like human flesh for all I know. It wasn’t highly flavoured; it was a little bland, and the dominant sensation was the chewy texture smoothed out in oil. It arrived with some very orange ginger rice, which was patchily flavoured but interesting nonetheless. I’m not sure what Hainan-style is meant to taste like, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t taste it.

The vegetable dumplings were cute little things; not overly spiced and recently steamed. I really liked the mushroom buns suggested by miss Caitlin although I had initially wanted to try out the “pork” ones just to see; they were steamed well and hadn’t yet begun to harden post-heat, and I suspect that these two dishes were the only things only our table made freshly.

Trying to be just a little polite, I didn’t take photos of my companions’ meals, so also didn’t ask what they thought (although Miss Susan enjoyed her Korean-style sauce). Miss Susan, Miss Natalie and Mr David are all omnis, so it was generous and thoughtful of them to suggest FGY so that I and Miss Caitlin, a pescetarian, could eat with some choice. Although I thought improvements could be made in the service (vast improvements!) and some of the flavourings, I really did enjoy the meal, ate heartily, and commend FGY for its vision.

The real joy of FGY is the breadth of selection, if you choose well; the old-school Lazy Susan on the plastic-tablecloths; the company you go with; and without a doubt, above all, the kumquat tea.

Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery: 141 Queen Street, Melbourne. Ph. 9642 2388.


I'm Philippa O said...

i really love fgy (or 'faggy' for short) so it sucks your meal experience was a bit higgledy piggledy. I usually don't order the lunch boxes, but stick to the entries and noodle dishes. but always have a pot of kumquat tea. there's no reason to order anything else! and the taro cookies are so good, that strange mix of sweet and kinda salty... I wish I didn't work so much during the week so I could go more often!

Miss T said...

Yeah, I've definitely had better experiences in the past! I think I just may have stumbled on a slightly forgettable dish (and some student-waiters who, although lovely, were hampered by their youth and English skills) so I certainly intend to keep on trying!
Miss T

Lisa Dempster said...

I haven't been but this is the first not-glowing report that I've heard. Man, I can't wait to try that kumquat tea.