It is hard to live in Melbourne, let alone Collingwood, and be totally against vegetarians and vegans. They are plentiful, and growing by the day. And good on you Melbourne with your accepting, hipster culture. For those who take this animal rights higher ground leap, Melbourne will be right there to catch you.
We walk past Transformer frequently on our way home, never failing to admire its defining funky artwork and peer into its windows longing for the day we would dine pink cheeked on scrumptious food in Transformer’s warm embrace. I had promised Fran some sister time that week, having spent a lot of time engaging in holiday merriment with my friends and colleagues in the recent weeks (it was mid December). Booze intake had been (unintentionally) high the night before, but as I am not one to back out on commitments lightly, I walked/staggered into Transformer on the Thursday afternoon, ready for a fantastic hang-over curing meal with my dear foodie sister.
It only dawned on us when we scanned the menu that Transformers is a vegetarian establishment. I know what you are thinking – how could we not know? That section of Brunswick St is pretty much exclusively dedicated to vegetarian and vegan food! All I wanted was some hearty food – fried chicken at the best, was some curry and rice or hot steaming pasta too much to ask?
We made do, committed to the cause. We ordered tomato tartare (i.e. tomato) with taro chips. This was a fresh appetiser, and the perfectly salted taro chips were a wonderful accompaniment. Next the chestnut and ricotta gnocchi with pine mushrooms, porcini puree and bay oil. One of the lightest, pillowy gnocchi we’ve ever had, and yes people, it was boiled and then fried off for texture. Our third and final dish was lightly pickled zucchini ribbons with burrata. To be fair, all in all it was a decent meal and if I wasn’t hung over, I dare say it would have been satisfying. But I wanted three times the gnocchi served to us (there were literally 10 little pieces on the plate), and the zucchini ribbons swirled around with all the other existing alcohol in my tummy, which made me blue in the face. Slapped with a bill every vegetarian loathes (i.e. having to pay an arm and a leg for a few vegetables), we left Transformer vowing not to return.
And then Fran met some friends there at the start of the year for a mid-arvo catch up. *passes the keyboard to Fran*. On a cold, rainy and fairly miserable afternoon, after seeing Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s “Pixar in Concert”, we ducked into Transformer to keep the party going. We warmed ourselves up with a matcha latte and 2 bowls (yes, bowls) of mork ganache hot chocolate. (Side bar: Wondering whether Mork chocolate is like Mock chocolate from Friends, Britt scurries off to do some research and for those interested, Mork chocolate seems to be a Melbourne brand of ethically sourced chocolate.) While Janny and I marvelled at our very elaborate deconstructed hot chocolates, Justin sat there very contently sipping his matcha latte. For nibbles, we shared the grilled king oyster mushrooms and 2 serves of the organic popcorn with nori. The mushrooms were great, despite the small serving size (there were 3 half mushrooms on the plate -_-”) but the popcorn was possibly the tastiest and healthiest I’ve ever had. I was yearning to get a third serve!
Months later, we were due to meet up with our cousins (one was coming to visit from Sydney). I don’t know what that phenomenon is called (you know where you have one friend who is vegetarian/vegan and the rest aren’t but you always seem to end up at a vegetarian/vegan place), but if we were on Friends, it would probably be the one were Joey leaves the show. Anyway I digress, one of our cousins is vegetarian and Transformer was suggested. Fran and I decided to let the visitor decide.
So there we were, on a Saturday night, 4 cousins and a plus one at the table. Don’t worry, taking from our previous experiences, we had big lunches to make sure we didn’t show up hungry (which we all know leads to getting hangry). In order, here is what we had:
Freekah salad with fresh apple, snow peas and fennel, which was a fresh and light start to dinner. A palate cleanser if you will. Slow roasted tomato tartare as mentioned above, was as good the second time around. Haloumi served with figs and caramelised onion in a tiny ironcast pan. Gooey, sweet and fatty, the cheese lovers at the table attacked the dish like a pack of wolves. The rest of us had our eyes set on the Chickpea chips, which I imagine are made by smashing chickpeas, forming it into chip shapes, and deep frying them. As unappealing as that sounds, the chips had the crunch of a potata wedge, and the smoothness of creme corn on the side – delicious. Next, jerusalem artichokes, pickled pear, walnuts, butter milk curd and smoked salt. This was one of the most creative dishes of the night. Who knew artichokes grew on stems. We only see the flowers or bulbs being used. This was sustainable eating at its best. Artichoke stems have a wonderful texture like melon, and the pickled pear was also surprisingly sweet, and the buttermilk curd tied the dish together beautifully. The steamed broccolini, Hazelnuts, Dates, Parsley + Brik Pastry, Saffron Infused Feta was a good staple dish. The red cabbage stewed in apple cider with rye bread sauce turned out to be a stunner. Deep rich flavours from the red cabbage brought out by the cider could have fooled anyone that roast pork was on the plate, and the rye bread sauce completed the ruse. Finally, the cumin braised eggplant, Chermoula, Smoked Labneh, Quinoa Crisps + Mint dish was served just when we thought we were done for the night. Silky eggplant served with spicy tomato sauce and chermoula was the cherry on the cake.
To sum up: Transformer is the place to take your vegetarian/vegan friend/partner if you want to spoil/treat them to a bit of sophisticated, refined and elegant vegetarian/vegan food. The creative menu promises bold and punchy flavours, and together with the drinks list on offer, the service and the warm ambiance, the meal will be enjoyable even for the most staunch meat-lover. Definitely on the pricey side (you need more volume to compensate for the lack of protein), but trust me, the brownie points will be worth it!
P.s. Fran got a bit too excited on instagram stories and snapchat and forgot to save the photos afterwards… these photos are courtesy of Transformer’s website.