Hello and welcome to a new kind of post! I thought I'd give this blog a little extra Canberra flavour and include some reviews of my favourite local eateries, with the focus still firmly on the vegetable, of course. This is definitely not an excuse for me to go out for meals more often…
In my experience, dining out with vegetarians and vegans can too often be an awkward exercise in unhappy compromises. Either the vegos end up with limited choice, or everyone has to commit to a fake-tofu meal. I recently had a restaurant tell me that could probably put together some kind of mushroom risotto for a vegan if they really had to; cue exaggerated eye roll. Come on guys, its 2018. Have options.
A solution is at hand, however, as I was delighted to discover that Kingston Foreshore favourite Morks Restaurant has a 'secret' vegan menu. I say 'secret' (in quotes) because it's pretty well known by the vegan community (they all talk, have secret meetings etc), and the staff are very excited to tell you about it. More than just a few altered dishes, this is a dedicated list with three entrees, five mains, and even a dessert.
Morks first opened at Florey shops in 2008 and for many years they were a fine example of the culinary gems located in suburbs all around Canberra. My housemate's family have been big fans since the very beginning and are now able to smugly say that they were eating at Morks before it was cool. A change in location to the Kingston Foreshore in 2013 has introduced Morks to a wider group of Canberrans and they've reaped the benefits with multiple awards and mentions in Lonely Planet, Good Food Guide and more.
Despite being a proudly family-run establishment, Morks is far more than your standard Thai takeaway. The menu is contemporary and classy. No pad thai in sight! They source sustainable ingredients and the menu changes regularly with the seasons. Their Instagram account is a wonderful mix of beautiful food, family photos, foreshore puppers, and messages of social justice. These guys are proud to be part of a sustainable, inclusive and diverse community (and they also really like dogs).
What We Ate
Thai cooking usually relies pretty heavily on fish sauce to balance flavours and to add that underlying salty-umami situation. I'm not sure how they've managed it but Morks has done a brilliant job of substituting other flavours to create vegan dishes that still feel authentically Thai.
I've told you all before of my proud omnivore status, so I was more than happy to forgo meat for the evening in order to share a maximum amount of dishes with my vegan dining partner. Priorities, right?
To begin the meal Tessa had the Chinese Eggplant Tortilla. Having been served one too many soggy veggie stacks in her life Tessa is, controversially, not a huge fan of eggplant. She happily conceded, however, that if more eggplant was served like this she would eat it all the time. It was sticky, sweet, spicy and...
I couldn't resist the (not vegan but vegetarian) Sweet Potato Dumplings, which came in a fragrant Panang Curry. The dumplings were perfectly pinched with chewy wrappers and smooth sweet potato filling. A few bits of crunch in the curry sauce and lots of baby shiso leaves finished the dish very nicely.
For our mains we shared three dishes between us:
- Charred Wombok, Chilli & Peanut Salad,
- Wok tossed Bok Choy, Shiitake, Chilli & Tofu, and
- Old School Fried Rice
The charred wombok salad was beautifully balanced and full of contrasting flavours and textures. The wombok was warm and rich, and the peanuts added great crunch. Lots of fresh herbs lifted whole dish and made it feel really fresh and light.
The bok choy and shiitake dish was nice, but not outstanding. It's a little less inventive than some of their other dishes, however, the flavours were great and again, very well balanced. If you wanted to have it as a side, or to share with a less adventurous dining partner then this would still be a nice plate to have on the table.
A big winner of the evening was the old school fried rice. Plenty of the usual vegetable suspects were thrown in with very thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms, a liberal sprinkling of crisp fried eschallots, fresh herbs and a wedge of lime. I could easily imagine myself devouring a full serve, it was so comforting and moreish. Fried rice is often extremely oily, leaving you feeling drenched and heavy, but this was fluffy and light with just enough oil to linger on your lips.
My only disappointment was that the main dishes were uniformly mild, despite chilli being name-checked on the menu. I understand that lots of people might prefer less heat but we were both looking forward to a little fire. Perhaps next time it's worth asking for extra spice!
There is a vegan dessert option but we were delightfully stuffed and so did not try the Pikachu- *I choose you* (mango sorbet). Next time...
Service, Staff and Overall Vibes
The staff at Morks were super friendly, knowledgable and enthusiastic; Tessa got a fist bump in vegan solidarity. I was delighted to see BeerLao on the menu, and the staff indulged me as I insisted on keeping the empty bottle on the table for aesthetic purposes (yes, I was 'that guy'). We were well taken care of by the staff and, despite our ravenous impatience, the food came fairly quickly.
What I loved most about the experience at Morks was the way that dietary requirements were celebrated, rather than treated as an inconvenience. Previously I've eaten there with friends who have a number of intolerances and the chefs have taken a sharpie to the menu in order to re-write dishes to suit their needs. The secret vegan menu is a sign of how eager they are to provide options for all their customers, no matter how picky they are! There were also a number of gluten or dairy free items noted on the menu.
In a nutshell, it was damn good. Morks has got fantastic food, excellent service and fucking awesome choices for the vegetable lovers in your life.
Where do you like to eat? Let me know! Maybe it'll end up on the blog, or maybe I'll just get to go out for another delicious meal. That's fine too.