Where: Vegie Hut, 984 Whitehorse Road Box Hill
What: Frawns, feef and ficken cooked to perfection
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
Most people find the idea of fake (or mock) meat unfathomable or reprehensible or both, which is why I was slightly hesitant to tell people that I was celebrating my birthday by going to Vegie Hut, a vegetarian restaurant in Box Hill famous for its fake meat. The best part of any night out is being able to round it off with a box of fake nuggets (which I’ve termed fuggets) from Lord of the Fries, so why wouldn’t I indulge this fancy with a more upmarket iteration?
Two common gripes with fake meat that I feel entitled to respond to, despite not being vegetarian, are:
- Why eat fake meat when you’re vegetarian and have sworn off meat for life? Because you’re not killing an animal, duh. As my partner said, he didn’t give up eating meat because bacon doesn’t taste good, but there are ethical and environmental implications that come with eating something that used to be a living thing, as opposed to a pack of fuggets made out of a mound of gluten/soy and probably a lot of MSG.
- It’s not healthy. Well no, you’re probably better off eating a celery stick, but since when has health solely dictated people’s eating habits? Fake meat isn’t the unhealthiest thing out there, but it seems to cop a lot more flak than hot potato chips and pizza.
Not that I need another reason to justify Vegie Hut’s place in my pantheon of favourite restaurants, but it is also onion and garlic-free and that includes variations of the onion and garlic family that make me sick i.e. leek, shallots and spring onions. I associate fake meat with feeling good, as many other places that offer it – like Yong Green, Loving Hut and Fina’s Cafe – also actively disclose when onion or garlic is used in their food, if they use it at all.
I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my life wondering what my last meal would be, and I still haven’t come to a definitive conclusion, but my partner’s would without a doubt be the satay skewers at Vegie Hut. As much as my upbringing was characterised by memories of buying chicken satay skewers from roadside hawker stalls in Malaysia, the garlicky composition of it always makes me sick now that I’ve somehow acquired every intolerance under the sun.
The waiters’ eyes always widen in shock whenever we order four serves of the satay skewers at Vegie Hut, but these guilt-free morsels are one of the best things you can order here – succulent, moreish and nutty. They don’t bear the signs of having been cooked on a charcoal grill, as per tradition, but they don’t make me swell to the size of a balloon and for that I’m thankful.
On this occasion, we also ordered the curry soy chicken, the sizzling black pepper steak and the spicy mince on green beans.
The curry soy chicken (read: ficken) was perhaps the weakest dish of them all; the full-bodied nature of a regular curry was compromised by the absence of onion and garlic or real meat. But it was tasty all the same – the light broth gently complemented by little pieces of soy-based chicken, soft potatoes and little pieces of carrot.
The sizzling black pepper steak (read: feak) was so much more enjoyable than the tough and rubbery pieces of overcooked steak that I’ve become accustomed to. Maybe it’s because of my Hindu upbringing where I’ve internalised this idea that all cow = bad, but I don’t enjoy beef much and this dish was the perfect way to enjoy a sizzling plate of steak without actually eating it. The pieces were tender and flavoursome, having soaked up the peppery marinade, and the addition of snow peas, celery and broccoli added some much-needed crunch.
I’m a sucker for the deep fried green beans with pork mince that you get at the average Chinese restaurant (the ones at Juicy Bao are to die for), so I thought: why not try the vegetarian equivalent? This was another standout dish – the mince (read: fince) was made up of fake pork, mushroom and capsicum, and the smoky flavours perfectly complimented the green beans.
Add a dollop of onion and garlic-free chilli oil to a serve of steamed rice and I was in seventh heaven.
Unfortunately, I’d started the week-long celebration of me a few days ago, and had been somewhat lax/plain negligent with following my intolerances. The usual no-bloat experience that I’m used to having after Vegie Hut was tempered by the consumption of a full-wheat pizza for lunch and a fructose-heavy dinner with my parents the night before. While I can’t claim that I felt only one bloat after this meal, I feel like the more honest assessment would be to prize it with one bloat because why should Vegie Hut have to suffer for my past follies?
If you can’t bribe someone to drive you to Vegie Hut for a special occasion, it is also easily reachable by taking the 109 tram to the last stop or the train to Box Hill station. Either way, it is worth booking a table in advance (the little restaurant packs out rather quickly) if you enjoy the likes of fake meat as much as I do.
Vegie Hut is open from 12pm to 3pm and from 5.30pm to 10pm everyday but Tuesday.