Englightened Cuisine is one of theĀ  few Chinese restaurants in Melbourne that specialise in Chinese vegetarian food. Basically, this entails using a lot of tofu/bean curd/seitan (a wheat protein) to replicate meat and seafood, with varying degrees of success.

My mum is a big fan of Chinese vegetarian food so I decided to take my parents and a family friend to lunch at Englightened Cuisine. It’s located in a nondescript semi-industrial block in Southbank but despite the fact that you’re unlikely to stumble across it, the restaurant was almost full on a Saturday afternoon.

The decor is kitschy Chinese – some watercolour paintings, paper napkins folded into shapes and faux antique wooden furniture. The lunch menu boasts a lot of rice and noodle dishes for a good value $10 but we wanted something a little different so opted for some items from the dinner menu as well.

To start, the Four Seasons combination platter (small $35). This transpired to be fake scallops, fake char siu, fake sweet and sour pork and fake chicken nuggets. It was reasonably tasty but not a particularly deft dish – sort of a Chinglish-fish-and-chip-shop-in-a-country-town combination of items. Everything tasted and looked remarkably like its real counterpart except for the char siu which neither tasted or looked like BBQ pork, sorry.

Highly recommended is one of the claypots – we had the combination claypot (fried tofu and vegetables) with yee mee ($10). This was more of a traditional vegetarian dish with no fake meat but simple soy-based flavours soaked up by the slippery noodles.

Speaking of noodles we ended up with another two noodles dishes. That’s because the spicy eggplant and tofu noodles we ordered where super spicy ($10). To the point where it was unpleasant. In order to temper the heat we hastily ordered the Yee Mee combination, a basic hokkien style fried noodle the shreeded Chinese mushrooms and egg ($10) and the two lots of noodles combined gave the right amount of kick for us.

As you can see, all of the noodle dishes were sitting in a large pool of sauce and the flavours of every dish were very forceful. It was quite different to the delicate flavours of Cantonese vegetarian food that we were used to and expecting. But we discerned that the restaurant was probably run by Taiwanese people, whose cuisine is generally more robust in their use of soy and chilli.

Given my preference for Cantonese vegetarian food, it’s hard to say whether I’d make a special trip to return to Englightened Cuisine – but if I was in the area and looking for something different for a cheap lunch (it cost us $65 for 4 people) then I’d certainly go again.

For more reviews (written by vegan/vegetarians), check out Vegan About Town, Where’s the Beef and Easy as (Vegan) Pie.

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