There isn’t a country, city or town that doesn’t have – at the very least – some approximation of a vegetarian restaurant. In our city, there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian spots. Although the stigma surrounding vegetarian food has lessened, some people still treat it with suspicion. Yes, even in 2015, suggesting a meal-out with the guys to a meat-free restaurant, will most likely have someone flicking V-signs at you – and I don’t mean vegan or vegetarian here.
Already nearing its one year anniversary, Lotus Vegetarian Kitchen on Wilmslow Road is simply vegetarian dining at its best; it’s an experience. Born from a need in the market, it is the only Chinese vegetarian restaurant in the whole of Greater Manchester.
Naturally, TNT turned up early, only to find the restaurant still shut. Rather than loiter outside, we decided to pop into the convenience store next door. Now look at this for impeccability of service: our host at Lotus, Sally Li, rushed into the shop we were in to ‘fetch us’, “Hello, I think I’m expecting you next door in the restaurant”, she gracefully summoned us.
While that may be normal in China perhaps, it certainly isn’t common in Britain. We followed her to the restaurant; a clean, quiet and empty space with simple, classy decor. The red-tinged wooden furniture and Chinese bamboo-inspired pictures and window blinds, were in-keeping with the authentic oriental artistry of the place.
“Upstairs or downstairs?” Li beamingly asked us, to which we chose the second floor seating area. As sunshine spilled in through the windows, the blinds were strategically half-closed so as not to blind inhabitants. Each of the two floors accommodates around 30 people. The audibly low music was a relaxing classic playlist which massaged our senses into the warm ambience.
The menu, with its wide variety of dishes, makes it rather challenging to decide on which dish to order. In our case, Li warmly suggested “Leave it to me” – meaning she would pick and serve us dishes in a ‘tapas’ style. ‘Why not’, we thought, ‘everyone likes surprises’.
Before the food came up, Li mentioned she has been a vegetarian for over 23 years, adhering to her Buddhist faith. Having previously run takeaways, she sought to open up Lotus to draw people away from animal cruelty. “Think about how many animals die every day” just to cater for an entire restaurant, she said. Her love for authentic and organic dining is evident as she passionately launches into the health benefits of vegan and vegetarian food.
The drinks were first up to our table; Diet coke [£2.00] and a pot of Three Flower Burst tea – an artisan hand-crafted tea – comprising Lily, Osmanthus and Jasmine [£3.50]. Served in a transparent glass teapot, enabling us to see the opening flower, the tea kept warm whilst sat atop a glass stand with a tea-light stationed beneath. The tea was very light, fragrant and refreshing. Li added “It cleanses and aids digestion”, preventing bloating after the meal.
All traditional meat dishes here are replaced by ‘veggie meat’, created from soya – like quorn but fresher tasting. For starters, we had a trio of artistically presented dishes. First were succulent chicken skewers with peppers and pineapple in satay sauce. Then tofu covered in dark sticky caramel and spice – sweet on the tongue, but fiery on the throat. The tofu was served with artistically shaped cucumber which complimented the heat. Lastly were soft dumplings filled with mint and spinach, besides thin strands of carrot, with a soy dip. At £4.50, all starters tasted beautifully.
For the main course, the chef prepared a couple of dishes that weren’t on the menu yet – the mushroom and dim sum being our favourite. Once more, there were three dishes of smaller-than-usual portions, yet still substantial for two people. There [£7.90] crispy noodles with meat strips, served with a garnish of a rose-shaped carrot atop cucumber slices, softened on the tongue.
An aubergine and tofu hot pot (£7.50) was served with broccoli and carrot in an authentic black iron pot on a wooden palette.
Olive leaves with different varieties of mushrooms (not yet on the menu) was served with baby sweetcorn in the foil in was cooked in. The different types of mushrooms provided a variety of textures. Flavours were exquisite.
For dessert, we had deep-fried milk with delicate threads of toffee and a scattering of sesame seeds. Li told TNT was the secret of how this is prepared but we are unable to disclose this. The coolness and velvety texture of the inside contrasts with the crispy warm exterior.
TNT Food Yasin Chinembiri