Words by Kate Iselin
Photography sourced from Shu website and Facebook.
Vegan food tends to have a bad reputation. Even to vegetarians, it can conjure up images of runny silken tofu, claggy quinoa, and cardboard-like ‘fake meat’ products. To meat eaters, it can be an even scarier thought – take out the eggs, and the butter, and the milk, and what do you have left? One can not live on kale alone, right?
To anyone with a fear of vegan food, I set a challenge: wander off Smith Street and take yourself to Shu, a sweet little New York-style eatery where vegan food is less of a challenge and more of a crown jewel.
Shu’s menu is designed around the ever-changing fresh, organic, and free-range produce that the team purchases weekly from local and independent farmers – meaning that there is actually no menu. One must simply put their trust in the team to conjure up something delicious; and that’s exactly what I did when I popped in on Wednesday to try the twelve-course vegan degustation menu.
I would urge any food cynic to suspend their belief in meat and three veg dining (just for one night) and let the team at Shu show you that vegan food isn’t the same old scary broth and wilted lettuce that it was twenty years ago.
Our first course was a version of raw sushi rolls with enoki mushroom, followed by grilled eggplant with a house-made chilli jam. So good that we almost begged for the recipe.
Two different versions of beans followed – one spicy hot, the other salty and peppered – and we were treated to cold silken tofu and eggplant rolls dusted with crunchy nuts before the main course, a salad of quinoa and an organic tofu curry. Shu’s menu is designed around bringing Sichuan spice and flavour to organic and local produce, which is done exceptionally well – spice and heat complemented the flavours of each dish, rather than overwhelming them, and each particularly spicy dish was followed by a milder one.
All the staple vegan ingredients are here at Shu – the quinoa, the tofu, and even the stereotypical raw mushrooms; but it’s all done so well that it’s impossible not to find yourself converted. By the final course – lemon ice with lychee – we were well and truly stuffed, although the ample vegan wine list surely had a part to play in that.
Shu is, without a doubt, Melbourne’s best kept secret. How has a $45 degustation menu flown under the radar for so long? For vegans and vegetarians, this is a must – affordable enough to go the week before pay day, yet fancy enough to take a date. As for the meat eaters who just aren’t sold yet, think of it as your first step towards putting a little more green on your plate. If there was anywhere that could take lentils and kale and turn it in to a feast fit for royalty, it’s Shu.
Disclaimer: Photography provided do not directly correspond to the food described.
Mon – Tue: Closed
Wed – Sun: 6pm – 10:30pm