One night on twitter I wrote the following sentence "I need a tshirt that reads: 'I survived an Elliott family dinner'"
It was a simple enough request. Find a restaurant for Mr NQN and his brother for their joint birthday. Make it vegetarian/vegan friendly. "Oh and I don't want to pay over $15 a person" the Assman said. Hmmm even fast food restaurants are about that much nowadays so having to ignore the last request I found Vina, a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant in Newtown that specialised in vegetarian dishes. We have about 8-10 of these family birthdays a year and they usually start and end in drama, confusion, endless repeated questions, more drama and hysteria. And that's mostly from Mr NQN's parents!
We arrive at Vina and it's a very casual looking restaurant. There's a display of food just past the door and some painted bamboo and butterflies on the wall. There are two waitstaff and we've taken up the large table in the centre. Some of the Elliotts are late but then the food starts coming out. Then others that had RSVPd only that morning and who had turned up half an hour late needed to order. Mr NQN leaned over and whispered to me "You can see how we never ate out right?"
Steamed mock BBQ buns (2) $4.50
The steamed mock BBQ pork buns actually do a very good job of simulating real meat with a sweet Chinese barbecue sauce in the small, fluffy buns.
Steamed curry bun (2) $4.50
The curry buns are stuffed with a sweet vegetable curry with a sesame seed studded pastry and although nice enough, I prefer the bbq pork buns.
Fried Spring rolls $6.00
After everyone saw Sam's order for the crunchy spring rolls, several more orders were put in for them. They were long, crunchy and packed with a flavoursome filling. They were served with the cabbage, pickles and fresh mint salad although I enjoyed these on their own with the nuoc cham dipping sauce.
Crispy mock fish nuggets (10) $6
We were curious to see what these were like. They came out as 10 pieces of crumbed squares and I take one and dip it into the viscous sauce. It's actually not too bad at all, quite good really and with somewhat of a fish type of texture as distinct from the other mock meats. And well you know how they say that nuggets aren't made from real meat here there is no doubt about that!
Savoury Vina Pancake $14
We always adore the Vietnamese pancakes which apart from having prawns and pork are filled with mung beans and fresh salad. It's crunchy although not quite as crunchy as I've had it at other places. However the fresh, crunchy salad redolent with mint hits the spot.
Fresh rolls (3) $6.00
I didn't try these as there was a bit of a kerfuffle down the other end of the table with people saying that they hadn't had enough food and there was a small but explosive hissy fit from a couple of people at the other end (one was in fact a parent). Let's move on shall we? ;)
Mock beef noodle soup $12
Service is friendly and sweet and they bring our food out all the while being absolutely flat out with a full restaurant. Our mains started arriving and first up was the mock beef noodle soup or their version of Pho. The broth is actually delicious, heady in flavours and star anise and the noodles are appealingly slippery. I do get a piece of beef and it's not bad although I find that the mock meat varies. It's a warming meal and I could easily imagine curling up with a bowl of this and being quite happy.
Mock Chicken BBQ for two people $25
An enormous dish, this was a serving for two. Cleverly they have laid out the rice papers on a stack of eight individual plates (which is good as we sometimes have trouble separating the rice papers). We take some vermicelli, some mock chicken (one of the better mock meats) and some herbs and salad and roll it up.
Stir fried flat rice noodle $12
We didn't try this. Halfway through dinner some people forgot that we were sharing things and finished the dish. Yep, that happens at these dinners...
Vermicelli with spring rolls, mock chicken nuggets served with fresh salad, mint leaves, bean sprouts and dipping sauce $12
I ordered this for my mother as I knew that she'd like the idea of having some crunchy and deep fried within a salad. The bun wasn't bad although the sauce needed a bit more flavour as it was a bit bland.
Fried tofu with curry sauce $15
The fried tofu was excellent and they have a knack with the sauces. They're all quite different and they're all very moreish and the plump fried tofu and vegetables with the curry sauce is particularly good.
Mock Fish hot pot $15
The mock fish in this is actually one of my favourite dishes-it even looks like fish. The sauce is thick and sweet and complex and we go back again and again for the sauce which we have with rice.
Satay Hot plate with seafood $18
Another favourite was the satay hot plate with sizzling seafood. The mock squid is very tender and has been cut to look like squid. The prawns, looking and tasting less so like prawns are still quite tender and are similar to those fish cakes.
There are no desserts here but we have brought birthday cake. And delightfully there is no cakeage charge! :)
And the funniest part of the whole night? When Mr NQN gets a Dr Phil self help book from his father! Ahh irony, you cruel mistress... ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, are you family dinners calmer and less confused than this?
Vina Vegetarian Restaurant
395 King Street, Newtown, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9557 0456