“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
Fine dining for vegetarians? Transformer in Fitzroy is run by the Vegie Bar clan, who are heralded as the queens and kings of vegetarian and vegan dining. I had never quite understood the hype behind Vegie Bar and I always assume the popularity is partly down to catering for a specific diet. I recall admiring the frontage of Transformer one late evening, after a few stormy cocktails at the Black Pearl. The interior is impressively fitted with vine leaves swirled around corrugated iron, high ceilings and a stripped back cool. A projection of fishes lightened the walls next to our table.
We were served by the bewhiskered embodiment of Fitzroy – cool, classy and enthusiastic about the food we were contemplating. Detailing my odd allergies is analogous to throwing a rubix cube at the waiter and declaring “solve this riddle!” before throwing down a smoke bomb. Having ruled out almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, the waiter expertly suggested dishes to be served in the “Feed Me” degustation. . Unswayed by tricky dietary requirements, Transformer delivered a delicious vegetarian degustation suitable for our party of 5.
First up was the organic popcorn sprinkled with Japanese sea salt and nori. This popcorn was clean with the umami of the nori kick starting the flavour receptors. A fine way to arouse the palette in anticipation of what was to come.
The crispy sourdough served with a creamy pumpkin dip was surprisingly decadent. The only downfall was the ratio of dip to bread was a bit skewed towards ending up with too much dip. Even after generously slathering a thick layer, there was no way to scoop up the remaining dip, which remained on the table, teasing us.
Oh-so crispy organic tofu with cucumber, housed in a pillowy spelt bun was absolutely moreish. The vegan gochujang mayo was beautifully creamy. For those playing at home, gochujang mayo is produced from Korean red pepper paste and is as creamy, if not more creamy, than your ol’ run of the mill egg-mayo. The tanginess of these bao was such a delightful pairing to the white wine we had selected.
Roasted sweet potato, togarashi , coconut yoghurt and lime. The roasted sweet potato was crusty. Swirled in the zesty coconut yoghurt with a squirt of the zesty lime created a summery flavour combination.
Soba and kelp noodles with sprinkles of nori, cashews and bursts of goji berries. The soba noodles were cooked to al dente and the flavours were refreshingly light.
Soon after, the juiciest grilled oyster mushrooms arrived. These meaty mushrooms were seeped in confit garlic, pine nut puree, with hints of smoked shallot and porcini salt. Despite their fungi origins, these oyster mushrooms were hugely filling.
Next up was the melty cumin braised eggplant served with chemoula, smoked labneh and quinoa chips with a dash of mint (not pictured). This dish reminded me of a similar Sicilian dish, with Moroccan influences.
The dense, spherical, creamy burratta served with squash and courgette was a textual delight. The stringy resistance of the mild burratta married well with the accompanying squash. This dish is usually served with almond but alas, my almond was suitably omitted. The flavours still managed to intermingle perfectly despite this slight subtraction of ingredients.
I had experienced a unique vegetarian degustation at the wonderful Transformer. Being an omnivore, a vegetarian restaurant is usually not on my radar but my experience here was no less than exceptional. The “feed me” option for $45 on a weeknight is a great way to sample a myriad of interesting dishes. I was delightfully surprised that I did not have to feel sickly-full afterwards, which is usually my experience when devouring a heavy degustation menu. Transformer’s offerings are light, with thoughtful attention paid to the medley of flavours in each plate.