Kuan Yin Tea House is one of only three Chinese-style vegetarian restaurants on the Gold Coast. It’s a steamy summer day when I visit, escaping the heat to the cool inside, warmly welcomed by owner Thomas Lin. The restaurant opened in May 2012, a simple lino-floored café with beige walls and feature panels of bamboo wallpaper, catering for the needs of vegetarians on the Northern end of the Coast.
Being modest in décor and price, however, does not mean a lack of choice! There are several pages to the menu, which is divided into snacks (entrées priced below $7), ‘meat’ and rice sets, noodle dishes and soups, almost all under $10. Drinks are featured separately – two whole pages listing milk teas, black and green teas, Taiwanese specialty teas and fresh juices.
There’s a saying that you should never trust a restaurant whose menu features photographs of dishes, however when you cross cultures and cuisine types, especially when you know your ‘meat’ is vegetarian, it’s helpful to ignore such generalisations! In fact, the photos on Kuan Yin’s menu are a great guide to each dish’s size and appearance! It’s also clearly marked (in pink) which dishes are suitable for vegans, which are gluten-free and which include dairy or eggs. So much choice! It’s all healthy, so I can eat anything!
Thomas comes over to help me decide, but I still manage to stuff up my order. I’m dining alone, and trying to be mindful of portion size, so I order an entrée serve of Vegetarian BBQ Pork Roll, followed by Sour and spicy dumpling with soup. The Pork roll is absolutely delicious: a mix of sweet soy-based protein and salad wrapped in a tender roti-like bread. It’s an absolute winner! But the soup is huge and far more suitable for cooler weather. It’s hearty and spicy, packed with vegetables and delicate melt in your mouth steamed dumplings filled with vegetables and tofu.
I call Thomas over to ask for a container, taking the chance to glean more information about the restaurant. He tells me that this is his first restaurant, based on a sister restaurant in Fortitude Valley, which belongs to his friend. Kuan Yin, he tells me, is not only a female persona of the Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy, but also the name of the founding restaurant in Brisbane.
About 80% of the dishes are the same as the original menu, but Thomas and Miranda are always experimenting, adding new items to suit the season. All the food is MSG and additive free. For protein sources, they use soy, tofu and gluten, all of which are familiar to me. Wheat gluten, first developed in China, is commonly used in Asia, particularly by Buddhist vegetarians. It’s a great source of protein, but less common in modern vegetarian cuisine in Australia because of our relatively high level of gluten intolerance.
A devout Buddhist, Thomas has been a vegetarian for 18 years. The menu shows off not only his Taiwanese heritage, but also Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean culinary influences. He’s happy to talk about the menu, and scoots away to bring me a couple of samples of other dishes: Vegetarian Takoyaki, textured more like a compressed prawn ball than calamari, served with a sweet and sour sauce; as well as a couple of Fried dumplings, parcels of soya bean meat, carrot and cabbage – a delicious lighter version of Gyoza. The Won Ton Noodle Soup is very popular, he says, and kids love the Cheese and vegetable pancake.
There’s something about Thomas’ unassuming and gentle humility that’s really endearing. As we talk, he smiles and pours my Taiwanese Mountain tea into the glass jug so that it does not become too bitter. Thomas’ patience and gentleness is reminiscent of the golden Buddha resting in my own private sanctuary, and we’re a world away from the festive mayhem on the streets outside.
2/152 Scarborough St., Southport Ph: 07 5511 5121
You’ll find a full article about vegetarian and vegan restaurants here.