Gong De Lin (功德林)
Level 3, 264 Swanston St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9663 7878
This post ties in with my visit to aja – A Journey to Asia. Shing, Jeremy and I were talking about visiting more vegetarian places in Melbourne, and Gong De Lin sprang to mind. Funny how my tastebuds keep changing each year.
Sunday night in the CBD… we found ourselves three floors above Noodle Kingdom on Swanston St, bemused by the graffiti’d elevator that sent us up. The metal doors opened up into a bright space… there’s a clean sense of earthy woodiness to the restaurant, and we scored a table with a view of of the quiet city below us.
Pan Fried Vegetable Dumpling (6pcs) $12.00
Like with many Chinese restaurants, the menu is extensive and full of interesting and unfamiliar dishes. We each picked a main and agreed on a couple of sides, and then sat back… hoping the dishes won’t come out too freaky.
We started off with a tasty platter of pan fried vegetarian dumplings. They came crispy with lots of fragrant spring onion and chives.
Bean Curd Dumpling $16.80
Next came the main dish that piqued my curiosity… unique dumplings with tenderly soft bean curd as its skin. It tasted gentle with a healthy vegetarian filling, uplifted with coriander and ginger. Some of my companions found the presence of ginger a bit too strong, but I liked this dish.
Deep Fried Shredded Black Mushroom with Sweet & Sour Sauce $12.80
Next came the unanimous winning dish of the night. A lovely fried shiitake mushroom dish that tasted crisp and ‘meaty’, counterpointed with fragrant Chinese black vinegar. If you didn’t know it was mushrooms, you might even think it’s an excellent version sweet and sour pork, only with better texture.
Diced Hedgehog Mushrooms with Macadamia Nuts $18.80
Maybe things got lost in translation, but none of us knew what a hedgehog mushroom was, so we ordered it! Out came a platter of squishy-spongy feathery-looking mushrooms stir-fried with gingko nuts, water chestnuts and cooked cucumber. My more Westernised companions baulked a little with its mushy texture, but I didn’t mind it. It reminded them of vegetarian lambs brain…!
Sautéed Diced Vegetarian Chicken w Hot & Spicy Sauce $16.80
And of course there’s the customary mock meat dish… springy gluten in a mildly spicy sauce. I found the sauce too salty. I’ll skip this dish in the future.
Pan Fried Baby Bamboo & Seasonal Vegetable $18.80
Baby bamboo sounded safe and interesting, but it turned out quite unusual. Soft and spongy with a crunch, it reminded us of vegetarian tripe. To me, the sauce was too salty and I found the bamboo had a strange aftertaste of… laundry powder! Maybe it was preserved and then rehydrated for cooking.
Definitely one of the more unusual meals I’ve had this year, with some great dishes and a few freaky ones. Including rice and wine corkage, the bill came up to $26 each and we were full to the brim.
Service leant towards the slow and inattentive side… we had to wave our young waiter to provide us with plates, cutlery, water etc… it annoyed my companions a little. But to put things in perspective, we’re not doing fine dining here. I find that with cheaper Asian places… the busy ones are efficient but brusque, while the quieter places tend to be a bit forgetful.