Thursday, 26 June 2014

Vegan Tasting Menu at Sono Portside

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by Lindsay Bennett marketing to attend Sono Portside to experience their tasting menu. I promptly replied with "Will they do something vegan?" and was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were happy to come up with a vegan tasting menu.

Sono Portside is the sister restaurant of Sono Brisbane CBD (in the Queen Street Mall), opened some 10 years later with a slightly more modern look, but the same commitment to tradition. We had a brief chat with the owner of both restaurants who considers himself simply an "coordinator", someone who organises the best of the best for the various areas of the restaurant (waitstaff, bar, restaurant (in fact, he noted that many of the chefs are brought over from Japan)). Rather than chasing food trends, and aiming to find the latest Japanese "fusion cuisine", Sono's aim is to provide a consistent and traditional Japanese restaurant experience, with a menu that has slowly evolved, but rarely changed, over the years that both restaurants have been trading.

We all slowly gathered in the bar, where we each enjoyed a libation of our choosing. When everyone had arrived, we were ushered into one of the private tatami rooms, which meant our shoes had to come off (I was very glad I had picked non-holey socks, not that I have any holey socks, that's crazy who would do that). Once we were all seated, and had wisely opted to do the matched wines/sake, the meal began.

First course: pumpkin with edamame and tofu in broth. I thought the edamame could have been much more salty, but I absolutely adored the tofu in broth: delicious!

Second course: assorted sushi with wasabi and pickled ginger. Yes, I finished off that whole lump of wasabi and, yes, I couldn't talk for about 10 minutes afterwards. But hello clean sinuses!

Third course: eggplant with miso. The slice of eggplant was a little thicker than I'm used to having it (and made it difficult to eat with chopsticks!), but it fell apart and melted in your mouth, and had absolutely no bitterness. The miso was quite thick, so it will difficult to eat without getting too much miso in every second bite, but as a big miso fan, I was pretty happy with that. 

Fourth course: mixed vegetable tempura. This photo doesn't really capture how beautiful it looked when it came out. Not at all oily, and delightfully crispy.

Fifth course: tofu, shiitake mushrooms and mixed vegetables in teriyaki sauce, with miso soup side. As I'm sitting here writing this, the cold air is blasting through the windows and I just want to jump inside these photos and have this dish again. The teryaki sauce was well balanced, and mushrooms and vegetables were perfectly cooked and SO MUCH DELICIOUS TOFU. I don't think I've ever eaten this much protein at a non-vegetarian restaurant. I nearly cried. This was also the only course that had it's own matching wine distinct from the omnivore courses. The miso soup was also lovely. I think I may go and make some now.

Dessert: fruit salad. Eh.

Matt trying to convince Charelle to top him up a little more
What stood out most for me during the whole meal was the service. We were served Charelle, who managed to perfectly be present when ever we needed her, but then seemingly disappear when she knew we didn't. Before each meal was served, she gave a detailed description of the wine or sake matched with each course, including how it would match with the dish. She was also sure to inform us that they weren't sure about the fining agents for some of the wines, something with a number of sommeliers (from our experience!) are apparently ignorant about! She was truly wonderful and is such an asset to the restaurant.

The food, for me, was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I found several of the dishes felt rushed in their conception, or weren't quite flavoursome enough for my tastes. This is a common complaint amongst restaurants offering vegan options (even in vegan restaurants, to be honest), however, and is often easily fixed with a bit of practice and feedback. The biggest disappointment was, of course, the fruit salad (especially as the omnivores had brownies with chocolate sauce!). On the other hand, it is probably the most protein-rich meal I have had at a non-veg restaurant in Brisbane (I was particularly pleased that they didn't skimp on the tofu for the final savoury course; I actually left satisfied!), and many of the individual elements of some of the courses were wonderful.

As for drinks, I couldn't name a single wine or sake we had on the night (which is why Charelle has the job, not me!), but all were wonderful. Though most of the wines were only matched to the omnivore menu, I was very pleased that our "main" had it's very own wine matched to it.

Finally, I could not find one thing to complain about with the decor and ambiance; it strikes a fine balance between traditional and modern, and though the restaurant was packed, and the door to our private room open, we never had any trouble with noise. The view is also quite lovely, though I was facing the wrong way to enjoy it. (I would suggest, with the cooler weather, wearing some thick socks if you're in the tatami room, though!)

In sum, I had a very enjoyable evening. The menu was diverse (both in flavour and texture) and very protein-rich (and, consequently, satisfying), the drinks were wonderful, and the service and ambience were impeccable.

As we only had the tasting menu (designed for us on the night), I can't comment on how many vegan items are on the regular menu, so I would still recommend calling up in advance to check what's available, or simply calling up to book in for a tasting menu! Portside is close to several bus lines, about a 10 minute walk from the CityCat, and, due to the large number of other venues there, usually has plenty of cabs available, should you choose to also do the matched wine/sake.

Thank you to Lindsay Bennett for the invitation and hosting a delightful evening. It was good to get back in the game and try somewhere new!

Sono Portside
39 Hercules St Hamilton (in the Portside Wharf precinct (where the Dendy is))
3268 6655 | | facebook

Lunch: Wed-Sun, 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner:  Tues-Thurs & Sunday, 6pm-9.30pm; Fri & Sat, 6pm-10pm

Sono was busy when we went (a Tuesday night), so it would probably be wise to make a reservation no matter what day you decide to go. Sono is on the second level of the Portside centre, but is accessible by stairs, an escalator and an elevator. While the bar may provide some accessibility issues, the main seating area would provide no problems, and the entry is quite wide. Other guests on the night included Miss Foodie, Eatin Mess and Food Me Up Scotty.


In unrelated news, I have partnered with Laneway Learning Brisbane to do some cooking classes! It's only about a week til the first class, so I probably should've promoted this a bit earlier but HEY that's life. I will be taking a "breakfast" themed cooking class, where I demonstrate how to make vegan savoury crepes, pancakes, scrambled tofu, and a quick and easy marmalade, and then a dinner class where I demonstrate a couple of entrees (dips, bruschetta), a creamy pasta, and then an easy chocolate pudding.

Each class is limited for about 20 people, so hopefully it's popular and I have to tell you to rush but please rush anyone because it will make me feel good and not nervous, which is how I feel right now!

Register for the breakfast class and/or the dinner class.


  1. That eggplant sounds amazing! A big blog of eggplant that melts in your mouth, oh myyyy. I understand about the fruit salad completely. It bugs me when places go to such great effort to provide vegan food but the desserts are fruit salad or So Good ice cream. I keep anticipating school camp desserts of tinned peaches with ice cream...

  2. Based on this restaurant's online menu, I would never have bothered to visit as a vegetarian - it's interesting to see that they came up with a respectable, protein-rich tasting menu for you.

    Hope the cooking classes have been going well!


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