Vegan queen Lynda Stoner
Photo Courtesy of: altmedia.net.au
2-4 College Street
I KNOW I often resort to flashbacks. But this was fifty years ago. Holy crap! Where did five decades go? Shortly after arriving in Sydney in 1963, this callow reporter would spend those barren pubs-closed Sunday afternoons wandering down to Hyde Park with a couple of journo mates to listen to the Commos and assorted ratbags on their soap boxes at Hyde Park Corner.
Once quickly absorbed into Sydney, those Sunday forays were replaced with (flagon) wine and women and visits to Hyde Park became exceedingly rare.
In fact, until a recent walk-through on the way to lunch, the only other time I remember being there was when courting Jacki Weaver in the early 1980s. I watched the nocturnal filming of Jacki and Henri Szeps doing Balance the Budget Blues for her ABC series The Girl From Moonaloo with David Atkins.
The latest, long overdue, visit was to lunch at a well-hidden CBD legend called Bodhi. Apparently, they’ve been serving vegan yum cha there for about 25 years.
It’s sort of hidden under College Street, on the Cook and Phillip Park extension to Hyde Park, in the shadow of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
I went with Australia’s best-known (and still most glamorous) vegan, the indefatigably zealous animal protector, Lynda Stoner.
Bodhi is relatively easy to find. Just follow all the Japanese brides to the steps of St. Mary’s, the obligatory backdrop for their wedding pics, and turn right – down the steps.
The menu at Bodhi is massive. There’s yum cha with noodles and dumplings (steamed and fried), oriental tapas, share plates, roti, rice and curry. Eclectically oriental.
And when I said in the blurb that ‘you won’t even know there’s no meat’ I wasn’t joking.
What they do with soy and mung beans and curd is amazing. There’s a beautiful ‘sausage’ in a bread roll that we had to try even though we spotted them after dessert. My only complaint with that dish was that the bread roll was too sweet for my tooth.
I had ‘duck’ envelopes which were scrumptious. Likewise the spring rolls with crunchy vegetables inside and my favourite steamed dumpling was spinach.
We didn’t have time to do the desserts real justice but, when the rain cleared and we could sit outside on the big wooden tables, we sampled a lemon custard tart and a subtle but refreshing coconut cube. Finished off with some Japanese tea. I’m still intrigued how they make ‘dairy free vanilla ice cream’. That’s for next visit.
I don’t lie. It was a magic meal and I wasn’t being influenced by the company.
I did go there with some trepidation. Not because of the meatless menu. I consider myself a vegequarian these days: vegetables and seafood. My favourite nightly soup – now I’ve lost 8 kilos back on the famous (infamous) Hinch Soup diet – is homemade and consists of vegetable stock, chunky mushrooms, cauliflower, zucchini and carrot with crushed garlic and a small teaspoon of Valecom Thai green curry paste for zing.
My trepidation was over the comments I’d read online in customer reviews. There were some stinkers – attacking the food and the slow service. We were there on a busy day and the service was fine after I convinced a doubting waiter that my bottle of red was really non-alcoholic.
And there was no complaint about the variety or standard or heat of the food.
I do have one small whinge…and it was a reminder of why I stopped my regular Sunday yum cha habit in Sydney and Melbourne more than a decade ago.
The nature of yum cha is intrusive. You keep getting interrupted by teams of trolley dollies or platter maids offering the next selection of bun or roll or dumpling.
Free-flowing conversation is difficult, especially when you haven’t seen somebody for a long time and have a lot to catch up on.
One Melbourne Chinese restaurant had the right idea. You stood your menu upright if you wanted your table to be passed by. Lie it down and the yum cha swarm was on again. Maybe at Bodhi, a red and green flag, or a little cardboard Buddha would be good. Although lying Buddha on his face might seem disrespectful.
It’s especially frustrating if you are prone to telling jokes – which do seem to flow around the lazy Susan on a Sunday.
Picture this: You are in full flight, nearing the climax of a joke, and just as you reach the punchline (which is ‘raw prawns’) the yum cha waitress cuts in and says: ‘Chicken feet?’
Of course, that couldn’t happen at Bodhi.