It's early days yet, though, and fine dining in Brisbane is still finding its way with veg food: we have never been told "No, we don't serve vegans" (as if we're some sort of disease-ridden sub-citizens), but sometimes... we wish they had. We have actually spent a little too much money trying to get vegan options on menus and to get chefs to experiment with them, and I really hope that comes back to us one day in the form of a massive benevolent wombat who bestows psychic gifts upon us and grants us a Free 1 Million Year Frolicking Pass in his Giant Acreage In The Sky (vegans: you owe us).
But until then...
After the fantastic Good Food Guide 2013 launch (ok, the next evening, after the alcohol had worn off), I was reading through the guide and noticed a "top 5 veg eats" section, and decided it would be good to put this to the test. We'd already been to three of the restaurants (though we'll certainly go back and reassess them), so we decided to start with one we'd never been to: Mondo Organics in West End. I sent an email asking if they'd be able to do a vegan tasting menu (they have an omni tasting menu as part of their regular menu), and was told that, if I could give a few days notice on my booking, we most certainly could.
We picked a Sunday, and decided to have a leisurely lunch (Matt was, after Sarah's birthday drinks, thankfully hungover, and as such was happy to be propped in a corner and just enjoy the various dishes as they came to our table).
Mondo Organics comes across as a yuppified wooden shack at the quiet end of West End: worn wooden slats cross over windows meet earth-toned, rendered walls; natural light shines through the gaps, illuminating your meal; all the while, a gentle stone fountain bubbles in the corner. Far from the hustle and bustle of Boundary Street, the only sounds are the occasional rumble of a bus, and the raucous laughter of fellow diners (which only appears about an hour into lunch, as the wine bottles slowly empty...).
We arrived a little later than we'd planned and found the restaurant empty: we were calmly directed to our table and waited for the meal to begin. I always associate dining with rush: "Quick, our booking is for 12 and it's already 11:50!"; quickly making your way through a restaurant to your table and hurriedly placing your order; fighting for the attention of the waitstaff with that much louder table opposite. Not at Mondo. It's difficult to tell whether it was the day or the fact that we were alone in the restaurant until our second course arrived, but I felt absolutely serene.
The waiter serving us was a little shy to begin with, but halfway into our second course offered us each a glass of Muscato (which she said always helped her when she had a hangover, with which Matt was suffering (though gladly sitting!)) and was extremely polite and helpful. With each course, she described the dish without hesitation, and answered any questions we had (we didn't have many).
|Vegan tasting menu at Mondo Organics (courses in chronological order, L-R, from top left)|
The third course, and without a doubt the favourite of us both, was confit endive, cauliflower and mushroom. I ate all the cauliflower first (one of my least favourite vegetables, though not unpleasant in this dish), and then took my first bite of one of the mushrooms: gorgeous, buttery, just a little bit sweet. I was in love, until it was surpassed by the endive: crisp on the edges, delicate at the centre, and perfectly seasoned. I think we both stopped after our first bite and look at each other in awe, savouring the delicate taste as it lingered on our palettes. And then, of course, I ate the rest all too quickly and, sadly, it was gone (though I cast a furtive look around and quickly scraped the bowl with my finger to get every last drop of the juices!)
The fourth course was Jerusalem artichokes, sauteed potato, zucchini and kale with a salsa verde. This was one of the few times where I was disappointed that I'd saved so much potato til last: though beautifully crisp on the outside, the centre was bland and quite dry beside the very flavourful dish. The Jerusalem artichoke, on the other hand, was stunning, and I wish there had been more! The kale was also perfectly cooked, and made me realise that as well as being delicious, the dish was also nourishing (hey, we think about these things!).
Finally, and all too soon, we moved onto the dessert courses. The first was a coconut pudding with fresh strawberries, dehydrated strawberries and rhubarb. I have only had rhubarb one other time (also in a dessert, albeit pureed), and unfortunately this dish brought home why it is such an unpopular vegetable. I dutifully finished mine (Matt was defeated by his) so I could enjoy the rest of the dish. The coconut pudding was lovely and soft, and slightly sweet, pairing beautifully with the strawberries.
The second dessert course consisted of caramelised bananas with poached quince, a quince jelly (made from the poaching water), and an caramel-almond powder. I found the almond powder a tad bitter, but the lingering taste was wonderfully caramel-y, and worked well with the other elements. The quince jelly was (oddly) my favourite element, though the banana was also moreish.
All in all, despite our disappointment with some elements, our lunch at Mondo was among my favourite meals that I've had in a long time. The calm environment, the slow (but not labouring) progression through the courses; I believe I could've happily sat there and continued the meal for another hour or two. And when we received our bill, we were pleasantly surprised to see we had been charged according to the meal we had received: rather than the $80 for the omni tasting menu (which had 8 courses), we were charged for our 6 course meal ($60 each). Again, I cannot tell you the number of times when we have received a (let's be honest) inferior meal but been charged the price for the omnivore meal. Finally, all the staff who served us were helpful and friendly.
We have heard some mixed reports from other veg people about their experiences with Mondo, but, for us, it was an absolutely wonderful experience, certainly deserving of its recognition in the Good Food Guide. I will happily return in future.
Mondo Organics' regular tasting menu is not vegetarian, so if you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you let them know when you book (give about 3-5 days notice so they can plan your menu). Their full menu contains a number of vegetarian options, and most dishes are gluten-free, wheat-free and dairy-free, or can be made gluten-, wheat- or dairy-free (vegan items or items that can be made vegan are not marked, so best to ask what will be available when booking). As well as being open for lunch and dinner, they are open for breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8.30 - 11.30am.
Mondo Organics, 166 Hardgrave Road, West End
3844 1132, www.mondo-organics.com.au
Dinner: 6pm-Late (Wed-Saturday); Lunch: 12pm-3pm (Fri-Sun); Breakfast: 8.30-11.30am (Sat & Sun)
1 down, 4 to go! We'll continue to FORCE ourselves to visit these other restaurants for your reading pleasure and culinary edification, so please keep an eye on here, or look at our tag gfg2013top5veg to see all of the posts (and check out the tag on twitter, and we'll endeavour to use it).