Some restaurants have Hero Foods. It might be a widely acknowledged cult item, like Shakahari's avocado tempura trumpet rolls, or a drop-dead personal favourite that you simply must order or will feel like you were cruelly cheated, like the way I cannot conceive of going to Lord of the Fries and not ordering satay sauce on my chips. And then there are little teeny gems, passed on through osmosis or blogging, that take hold of your imagination and keep you going back and drooling for more.
Like three times. In a row. Shlurp.
I first read about Idea Food and Wine at where's the beef?, when Cindy and Michael found their way there from The Melbourne Veg Food Guide and sampled the recommended Szechuan eggplant hotpot. Well crack out the cape and flying boots, and start imagining an intergalactic backstory. This is a Hero Food.
I have eaten at Idea on three occasions, once with Miss Snax, once with Miss Sarah, and once with the Misses Julianne and Zaana. Each time I have been impressed with the cut-above service and the willingness of the staff to make egg- and dairy-free versions of the extensive vegetarian menu, and each time I have been kapowed by the Szechuan eggplant. Like, lick-the-hotpot-clean kapowed.
But, in order must I blog. Entrees first.
Miss Sarah and I ordered the vegetarian san choi bau, which was finely diced and sprinkled with sesame seeds, giving it a substantial mouthfeel before you crunched through the lettuce cup. Not having had much opportunity to eat san choi bau pregan I'm sorry to say that I spilled it terribly, but unashamedly scooped the rest up with my fingers. I ordered it again with Misses Julianne and Zaana.
Snax and I shared two entrees. We ordered spring rolls, which were light and freshly crisp. The innards were simple and were a mash of two or three veg, which when compared to the bog-standard takeaway fare of oily, soggy spring rolls from the shopping centre bain marie is an even greater achievement.
A spinach dumpling was also fresh and hot, lightly steamed and containing a fine mince of vegetable and more spinach. I felt not like Popeye at all.
The Misses Julianne and Zaana and I shared another kind of dumpling, which I am including solely for the adorable yet slightly anthropomorphically weird picture I took:
Snax and I shared a spicy tofu main. Silken tofu swam amongst a very hot and spicy sauce, with onion sunken within and plenty of spring onion sprinkled atop. It was a punchy dish with a range of flavours from a thick tomatoey base to the heights of the chillied top, but it was a little too much for me and had the misfortune of being served next to a Hero Food.
I repeat: three times I ordered the Szechuan eggplant, in a row. The Melbourne Veg Food Guide was bang on the money when it highlighted this dish for special mention, and I hereby declare and affirm its status as a Hero Food.
The Szechuan eggplant is a spicy, soft amalgamation of eggplant and mushroom coated in a thick, smoky sauce with deep bottom notes and a pepper kick.
Small pieces of chilli, spring onion and, I think, capsicum, provide a lighter, more watery contrast to the thick and soft eggplant and mushroom.
The eggplant and mushroom are browned to a slightly charred finish, which works back with the smokiness of the sauce.
So there you have it, a dish capable of rescuing kittens from trees, finding lost children, stopping muggers in their tracks and restoring peace and order to Gotham. Or whatever. It tastes great, and I highly recommend and crave it.
Idea Food and Wine
146-148 Little Bourke St, Melbourne 3000 VIC
Phone: (03) 9663 8829