HECTOR’S HAS ESTABLISHED something of a tradition for holding a special vegan celebration just prior to the beginning of the annual World Vegetarian Month, and they pulled out all the stops for this delicious degustation menu.
It’s an occasion where you know you’re amongst friends, and can luxuriate in the kind of sophisticated flavours and textures that would have seemed like science fiction to vegetarians in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
If nothing else, chef Jinu Abraham’s creations are proof that vegan cuisine is constantly evolving, and accelerating interest in veganism is of course causing accelerated evolution in the art of fine vegan dining.
Tonight’s meal began with an Amuse Bouche – described as ‘potato sphere with watermelon, almond yoghurt and tamarind chutney.’ It was my favourite thing on the whole menu, mainly because I’m a fried potato nut (huh?): it was a perfectly crunchy potato ball that appeared to be fried, although we’re not sure, because most of Abraham’s food is cooked at low temperatures to avoid loss of essential nutrition. The potato balls were so yummy that I could have eaten a bowl full of them, but that’s just the bogan in me talking! The vegan yoghurt was tasty, as was the tamarind sauce. Again, tamarind sauce is one of my favourite components of Indian cooking, and if I’d had a jar I would have ladled it on, but it was interesting to savour the mere hint of flavour it added to the yoghurt and potato balls when it was applied sparingly. My one question mark was around the use of watermelon when it’s out of season, delicious though it is.
The Amuse Bouche succeeded in wetting the appetite, so I was ravenous by the time the Wasabi Cauliflower Panacotta (with crumbed lotus stem sandwich, carrot miso, orange vinaigrette and shiso salad) was placed before my slobbering embouchure.
The panacotta was of a soft, creamy texture and consistency, and the lotus root, with its refreshing crunchiness, provided an interesting contrast. On the outside were breadcrumbs with a pleasing texture. The sauce, while adding in subtle ways to the taste experience, didn’t noticeably display its spicy wasabi flare, and the shiso sauce was also subtle to the point that neither myself nor my (Japanese) wife could really identify it.
Next up was a palate cleanser of Pineapple & Chilli Granita, essentially a pineapple sorbet. This was sweet and refreshing, with just a tiny bit of dried and shredded chili to give it a mild taste twist.
The main was a Spinach & Semolina Filo with grilled organic tofu, warm quinoa with pomegranate, kale and pinoli sauce.
This generously sized dish featured filo with layered potato and mushrooms, and baked tofu on the side, with quinoa taking centre field. Pomegranate was a great taste explosion, while the tofu was cause for a mandibular frenzy. Again, the bogan in me (do bogans eat tofu?) wanted to munch down a few more chunks of that!
My one criticism of the main was that the filo was quite heavy and potato-laden. Oddly, it was probably the least delectable thing on tonight’s menu, although those eaters who were secretly craving a meat-like experience may have found that via the rich flavour and meat-like texture of the mushrooms.
Dessert was Steamed Coconut & Pistachio Stuffed Rice Dumpling with candied lemon and rose parfait. Neither Yoko nor myself are big on rice used for anything other than savoury purposes, which made the following even more surprising: the rice dumpling was divine! It was certainly chunky and filling, and it was complemented well by the glob of rose parfait and the literal lemon twist of, well… a candied lemon. Lemons can never do wrong in my book, so this dessert did the business, especially with a strong espresso just round the corner.
I seem to remember some kind of incredible chocolate to follow, maybe with a strawberry interior, but by this stage I had consumed just enough of the rather moreish vegan wine that my memory for specifics starts getting just a little fuzzy…
Overall, this was another spectacular Vegetarian Month celebration at Hector’s, and another excellent menu creation by Jinu. Subsequent feedback from other attendees confirms that the meal met with the approval of one of the most culinarily demanding audiences in the community. Certainly, we left with satisfied palates and (comfortably) full tummies. What more can you ask for? GARY STEEL
NOTE: Thanks to Yoko Steel for her detailed post-event description, without which this review would not have been possible.
Learn about the November 1 World Vegan Day special degustation dinner HERE.