The White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant

185 Victoria Street
West Melbourne VIC 3003
03 9326 6040
Thu, Fri, Sat: 6pm-10pm
Ever so often, I’d get wind of sketchy rumours about this place…
“…oh, it’s got good vegetarian food” 
“I think it’s closed down, I’ve not seen it open for sometime…”
“Have you tried the fish?”
I think I know why White Lotus sounds so clandestine. The restaurant only opens for dinner three days a week from 6pm to 10pm. That’s it!! Good god, how do they stay afloat financially? When this place isn’t open, the dusty outsides, unlit logo, and shuttered-down blinds makes the eatery look as if the business has closed down for good. In the 6pm dark of winter, along the quieter stretch of Victoria St, you could almost imagine The White Lotus as an ephermeral bioluminescent sea-bottom dwelling organism… making brief appearances just to feed people soul food…

I’ll make a quick announcement now. I’m promoting Jo as of today. Her blog character ID will no longer be “Jo”, Henceforth, I’m going to call her “Fakegf”, lol. Why, you ask? Well it’s simple, we hang out so much and eat out together so much that people are starting to assume we’re an item. The clincher was at an industry dinner a month back, the event photographer forced us to pose with our heads touching. *o.m.g* right? So yes, “Fakegf” is a much more apt name for what was previously known as “Jo”. Congratulations, ex-Jo!! Wow… I can’t believe how very generous Lordbooo is. Oh dear… so touching… *sniff* … where are the tissues???

It was Fakegf who’d told me that this place is still open and that the fish dish is really gooood. On our way in, she warned me that I might get put off by how dim, dingy and dirty the interior was. Lies… compared to the delightful rustic kopitiams that I adored visiting in Melaka and Singapore, this restaurant isn’t what I’d call unkempt or grubby in any way. Granted, the shiny tiles and white walls makes the place look a bit like the interior of a large restroom. But really, it’s very clean and cosy inside, with an almost respectful atmosphere. No problems dining here at all. And with the hanging red lanterns, vinyl chairs and Chinese paintings, kinda makes you feel like you’re in a quiet sanctum of a Buddhist temple in Asia.

And that’s what White Lotus’s philosophy is like, a belief where “no life is sacrificed for your meal”. It’s food served with a deep respect for all sentient beings. No dairy products or alcohol is used in the cooking of the dishes. In fact, they don’t even use chives, garlic, spring onion, leeks or shallots. Very Buddhist. We formed a company of three for this vegetarian pilgrimage: Footscray Food Blog’s Lauren, Fakegf and I.

Roast Vegetarian Duck $19
Seasoned and roasted gluten on a bed of snow peas and bean sprouts
I was somehow half-expecting this dish to come out all soggy soft and covered in that stupid gooey sauce like the way it’s served at bad Chinese/Malaysian restaurants. I imagined wrongly. When the roast ‘duck’ arrived, I simply couldn’t believe it was mock meat. Goodness, it looked so real!
Lauren and I kept commenting enthusiastically about how amazing it looked. Ha ha, we are such noobs in the mock meat department. I love eating with Lauren, she’s just as expressive as I am when it comes to seeing exciting dishes arrive. None, of that restrained, stiff-collared food-critic frown-and-poise here. We’re more like kids playing in a bubble bath of food. :D
Both the outside skin and the internal side’s ‘skin’ were texturally crisp and shockingly delicious. Even inside, it’s got the stringy appearance of duck meat. While the texture felt more springy than actual duck flesh, you could still almost somehow imagine there was a ducky flavour to the dish! It’s a surprisingly good dish and cleverly prepared too, with the tasty gluten ‘duck’ sitting on a bed of snow peas and bean sprouts that’s seasoned in a gentle sauce that didn’t overpower. Loved it! Even though it’s not real duck, I’d rather eat this dish more than the real duck dishes at quite a few other places!
Vegetarian Fish in Tamarind Sauce $19.00
Oven-baked and grilled, compressed and seasoned soy sheets and seaweed, with a mildly spiced tamarind sauce
Another signature dish. When it arrived, Fakegf instantly stopped all our cooing over the ‘duck’ by saying ‘hey, you gotta try the fish, man…”.  Just look at that piece sitting in my rice bowl, so nicely grilled and crisp on the outsides. Lauren and I took a bite and our eyes widened together.
“mmm mmmm…!”
To date, I haven’t found good Nyonya-style assam (tamarind) fish in Melbourne. Guess what? White Lotus’s vegetarian ‘fish’ actually tasted like a plate of authentic assam fish that you could find in Singapore or Meleka. The grilled seaweed ‘skin’ was so cleverly seasoned that it rendered the taste of the sea and really did remind me of fried fish skin. The flesh itself was crafted into a soft and flaky fish-like texture, although it tasted just a tad on the oily side and again, ever so slightly rubbery. The beautiful assam sauce had the right balance of tanginess and heat to offset the savoury and oiliness of the ‘fish’. Such an enjoyable dish. As I ate into it, I realised this: why bother searching for assam fish in Melbourne when this version actually tastes spot-on like the real deal? Love it!

White Lotus Special Vegetable Combination $16.00
Vegetables with black and white wood ear funghi, 3 types of mushrooms, lily flower and lotus root
Lauren and I couldn’t stop gushing how unexpectedly good this meal was. Fakegf was glad she suggested this place to us and that it didn’t disappoint. The combination vegetable dish was the blandest of the three dishes, cooked delicately without the usual presence of garlic, ginger or spring onions. Lauren ate at the lily bulbs, wood ear fungus and snow fungus with curiosity but I could tell she didn’t really take to the texture of these real (non-crafted) vegetables. Lol. While it definitely wasn’t as exciting as the gluten dishes, the mild taste of this dish helped with cleansing your palate between mouthfuls of amazing ‘duck’ and ‘fish’.
This was an extraordinary meal that truly took me by surprise. I’m definitely coming back for more. I’ve heard some people gripe about paying $19 for a vegetarian dish. But if you really think about it, this isn’t pricey considering how much skill has been put into crafting such artful and almost authentically delicious ‘meats’. And if you think about it more, you can literally satisfy your omnivorous palate here without hurting any animals in the process. That’s a concept that’s worth more than the price tag listed on the menu.
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