Updated: 2011-10-24 13:50
By Ye Jun (China Daily)
A vegan lobster with red tomato "tail" and a body made of falafel and a pot of hummus topped by a head of pita bread and greens. Provided to China Daily
Ye Jun curbs the carnivorous cravings and discovers the joys of a Veggie Table.
The biggest motivation behind my visit to The Veggie Table was curiosity. I've been to quite a few Chinese vegetarian restaurants, but what would a Western vegetarian restaurant offer?
The restaurant at Wudaoying, a budding tourist enclave just opposite the Yonghegong Lama Temple, is located deep in an old hutong area. The old Beijing ambience gives the place a certain appeal, especially on a clear, sunny day.
Once inside, you'll find The Veggie Table comfortable and relaxing, with high wooden ceilings, and pots of herbs and plants on the windowsill.
I liked the soft, pure brown chickpea soup. Hummus, which the menu boasts is "the best in Beijing", is beautifully presented, with a swirl of olive oil and dusted with sumac. It was paired with pita bread.
Chef-owner Laura Fanelli is from the United States, and has traveled all over the world collecting more than a thousand vegetarian recipes. Her policy is to use organic ingredients wherever possible, and to that effect, the restaurant is also a pick-up point for the produce from Little Donkey, a local organic farm.
Fanelli recommends the ajvar, a blend of Macedonian eggplant, onion, and red-pepper paste. The smoky paste is another good mate for pita bread.
The restaurant's beet salad changed my impression of the vegetable, which I had disliked for its strong earthy aftertaste.
Here, the Georgian-style beet salad is peppered with a combination of chopped walnuts and prunes, adding sweetness, contrast and texture.
Another dish I liked was the falafel, with pita bread, tahini and fresh vegetables, presented lovingly like a lobster, with cucumbers at the flank, and tomato slices at the tail. Eating falafel alone was a bit light, but with pita bread and hummus, it makes a satisfying treat.
Other highlights on the menu were the hand-cut sweet potato fries and the sun-dried tomato pasta. You must also indulge in the desserts - organic chocolate cake, carrot cake and chocolate fondant. The restaurant is vegan, which means no milk or egg is used. Instead, you get vegan mayonnaise and coconut milk.
There are other fascinating items on the menu I have yet to try, and will do so on a future visit. Among them are the vegan pizza, and the grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with whole grain bread.
Most dishes are priced from 20-35 yuan ($3-5) a portion, although the burger, sandwiches and hot dishes cost around 60 yuan each. It is a good place to linger on lazy afternoon, catching up with friends over a cup of very refreshing mint tea.