Fo Guang Yuan Water Drop Vegetarian Tea House, 141 Queen St, Melbourne. Phone: 9642 2388
The restaurant for lunch is part of a broader set-up.
The dining room proper has a meditation hall right above it, while the outer dining area – in which I am sitting – has a gallery right next door.
They’re all part of a Buddhist centre tucked away in an old Queen St building.
I’m loving the vibe. It’s almost as if I’ve arrived plenty early just so I could spend some time sucking it up.
In a lifespan rapidly approaching the proverbial – or should that be Biblical? – three score, the time I spent as a fully paid-up card-carrying Buddhist seems a long time ago and very brief.
But there’s no doubting the influence Buddhism in general continues to have on my life.
Even if that first-hand experience was in another country and involved the traditions of yet another country and what is generally regarded as a much more complex and some might even say political branch of Buddhism.
It’s a pleasure just to sit, as they say, and rapidly regain my equilibrium in what has been – so far – a crazy week.
I think about the fun to be had in meeting another blogger, Katherine, who writes prolifically in her own pithy and fetching style at New International Students.
The card motto on our table seems weirdly un-Buddhist to me – but I could well be wrong.
And I think, of course, about food on offer here.
It’s a hardcore vegetarian place, with mock meat prominently featured – something that still doesn’t grab me.
But there’s plenty of other action.
There’s daily specials that appear to be served in bento boxes with bowl of soup on the side that look like they play he same role as miso soup in Japanese box meals.
There’s quite a long list of $8 appetisers such rolls, puffs, dumplings and buns that would seem to offer scope for a nice vego yum cha sitting for two or more people.
And there’s stir frys and soup noodles of various kinds.
But I wonder if I’m soon about to wish we’d chosen somewhere with higher levels of salt, oil, spice and oomph.
And surely ordering laksa in such an establishment is an invitation to be presented with something watery, anaemic and comprehensively lacking in spice or heat levels – or any allure whatsoever.
I order the laksa ($12).
I’m instantly surprised and delighted.
There’s three chunks of what I presume are mock beef. I eat one. It’s chewy, meaty but – to my mind – kind of creepy.
I wish they’d replace the mock meat with eggplant, but other than that my laksa is a winner.
The spice levels aren’t extreme but it’s identifiably an authentic laksa, denoted – if the taste, flavour and texture were not enough – with a great many curry leaves.
In addition to the regulation egg and rice noodles and bean sprouts, there’s broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, tofu and – most delightful of all – shredded cabbage.
I’d be happy to get such cabbage an any laksa – vegetarian or otherwise – anytime. It’s cheap, healthy and adds textural interest.
This is a beaut laksa – not as fine as, say, those from my favourite laksa joint, but much better than the listless, weak speciman Bennie and I shared the previous week at the new dumpling place at Highpoint.
Curry puffs ($8) are excellent – grease-free with crisp short pastry outers and mildly spicy spud-based innards.
Katherine likes her vermicelli with vegetarian dumplings in vegetarian minced pork sauce with soup on the side ($10.50).
It’s presented in a sort-of Korean/Japanese fashion and I’m pretty sure it tastes a whole lot better than it looks.
Certainly, my companion cleans her bowl so it gleams.
For all its charm, I wouldn’t want to visit here to too frequently. I reckon the prevalence of mock meat and certain sameness across the menu might lead to interest fatigue.
But as it’s a tranquil, affordable hideaway/retreat, if I was working in the CBD I would be a regular – even if it was of the sometime variety.
By the time we leave halfway through this mid-week lunch sitting, the place is doing brisk business.
Nice to meet you, Katherine!