Vegan oasis

We don’t know how lucky we are...

While there’s a day-time vegetarian cafe of sorts in Maungaturoto on the Kauri Coast and a day-time vegan salad bar in Whangarei, that’s pretty much it. By the time I met them, the British couple were quaking in their boots at the thought that they might find Auckland to be as meat-obsessed as the Far North. Happily, I was able to tell them about the remarkable transformation of Auckland’s inner city, and especially, Ponsonby/Grey Lynn.

It suddenly seems as if our stomping ground is in a rush to become the most vegan-friendly conjoined suburbs in the whole of New Zealand, and given the fact that on the other side of the same city in a suburb like Remuera you’d struggle to find anything resembling plant-based cuisine, it really is remarkable.

The wonderful thing is that when a new vegetarian or vegan restaurant or cafe opens up there doesn’t seem to be much - or any - customer attrition from existing venues, either. I ate at Kokako the other day and found that, to my delight, they were as busy as ever despite the potential lure of that splendiferous vegan cafe, The Butcher’s Son.

Another remarkable side effect of this wellspring of vegetarian and vegan activity is that many meat-oriented restaurants are getting inspired to include vegan options, or even separate vegan menus. One such is Café Viet on Surrey Crescent just over the road from Tart vegan bakery and around the corner from The Vegan Shop.

I’ve never been game to indulge in Vietnamese cuisine because it’s notoriously meaty, and as with so many supposedly Thai vegetarian dishes that have fish stock in them, I’m probably overly suspicious of meat-tainted dishes. But because it has a healthy accent and has a section of its menu that’s completely vegan, I’ve more confidence that they’re serious about getting it right.

Café Viet is a small, relaxed venue with low lighting that feels like
a great hideaway. While the vegan menu does feature some ‘fake’ meat, it doesn’t dominate the dishes like it does at the Sunflower Thai vegan restaurant in the CBD. For instance, if you order the Summer Rolls you get a choice of either vegan roast duck or tofu, and yes, there are ‘beef’, ‘chicken’ and ‘prawn’ dishes, but also other options.

I opted for the Café Viet Vegan Spring Rolls ($13), which were mind-blowingly good, and not at all like conventional spring rolls. These were, as the menu describes them, ‘crispy spring rolls filled with taro, mung bean, mushrooms, vermicelli then wrapped again in fresh rice paper, and served with a soy vinaigrette sauce’. These large rolls were both soft and crispy, piquant with herbs and a delight for the senses.

My only problem was how to eat them, as I found them too heavy to pick up with the chopsticks, too sticky to jab a fork into, and too hot for my stubby fingers to manhandle.

Then there was the Kumara Curry Puff Noodle ($18) which again was pleasingly herbaceous and just a great mix of sensual and olfactory delights. Described as ‘rice noodle dressed with coconut sauce, mum-in-law’s kumara curry puffs and salad of the day topped off with crushed peanuts’, I filled my tummy to bursting point and left Café Viet feeling certain I would be back. (GARY STEEL)