Where: Gong De Lin, 3/264 Swanston Street Melbourne
What: Best fuggets (not a typo) I’ve ever tasted
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
It’s no secret that I prefer fake meat to real meat (read about past fake meat dining experiences here and here), which is how I found myself at Gong De Lin mid-last week. Accessible only through a ramshackle lift to the third floor of the same building that houses rooftop bar Goldilocks, the restaurant is tightly contained, pared back and cosy.
Judging from the Buddha stage show poster on the wall, I correctly guessed that Gong De Lin served up Buddhist cuisine, which isn’t just vegetarian, but also devoid of onion and garlic. Vegans will be pleased to know that Gong De Lin is vegan but for three dishes made with honey, though they too can be made vegan upon request.
Gong De Lin’s menu is demarcated into cold appetisers, soups, main courses, rice dishes, noodle dishes, snacks (which curiously come towards the end of the menu) and desserts. I’d been here once before and had tried the curry vegie chicken on rice and the pan-fried vegetable dumplings, both of which were good enough to make me return on this occasion.
Unable to tempt my perennially picky partner with the likes of the deep fried salt pepper veggie squid, we eventually settled on the ‘fried rice with vegetarian pork in casserole’ and the ‘deep fried crispy veg chicken nuggets’ (which will thereby be known as fake nuggets i.e. fuggets).
With not even white people able to agree on what a casserole is, I would call the fried rice more of a claypot dish than a casserole. A good fried rice has to have easily separated grains, with each grain coated in a perfect combination of oil and flavour – something that I’ve never managed to recreate at home, but that Gong De Lin delivered with aplomb.
Bite-sized pieces of fake pork and finely chopped spinach were scattered throughout the rice, which was garnished with six large pieces of fake pork. Add a few dollops of onion- and garlic-free chilli oil and you had yourself a veritable bowl of simple yet good flavours. To paraphrase Hugh Grant when he was playing a lousy Prime Minister in Love Actually, this dish may have been a small fried rice, but it was a great one.
The fuggets were crunchy and fibrous, somehow recalling the texture of chicken better than those things that call themselves chicken nuggets at McDonalds. The fuggets were generously sprinkled in what tasted like chicken salt, which only compounded my enjoyment of them, because regular chicken salt is nothing if not garlic powder and onion powder. These were incredibly addictive and I could have easily polished off two plates of these.
We were sated and pleasantly surprised by our bill after sharing one rice dish and one entrée between the two of us, but know that a) my partner eats miniscule amounts and b) main dishes at Gong De Lin can range from $16.80 to $28.00 (seems as though vegetarian abalone is no cheaper than the real thing), so it’s not a cheap and cheerful place if you order a main meal per person.
That aside, Gong De Lin has an incredibly diverse menu – crispy vegetarian goose and vegetarian shark fin sit alongside sweet and sour vegetarian pork and fried rice with moss and pinenuts – and there are plenty of vegetable- and tofu-based options if fake meat isn’t your thing. For those intolerant to onion and garlic, Gong De Lin is one of a handful of places where everything on the menu is an option.
Gong De Lin is open from 10am to 10pm Saturday to Sunday and from 10am to 3pm and from 5pm to 10pm Monday to Friday.