Melbourne has so much to offer. I love experiencing new places and events and sharing them with you.
I have an interest in gluten free, vegan and vegetarian diets so I will let you know if you these can be catered for in my reviews.
Published October 13th 2012
Mama Roots is the latest vegetarian restaurant to open in Melbourne. Having opened it's doors just this October, it is yet to gain the trust and following of Melburnians. We dined there on a Saturday night to 'check it out'.
A large set of scales greet you as you walk in the front door a feature which hopefully will not have you thinking about your own weight as you are greeted and seated in this cheerful restaurant. The walls are bright and colourful, offset by the wooden tables, flowers and ornaments around the room. There is a front room and further seating around the back. Tables are set apart enough to be comfortable too.
Our host was pleasant and explained that for a larger group, such as ourselves, we might like to try the banquet. Which is, she explained, is the chef's selection of dishes for the evening. Eager to try and famished, we all agreed on the banquet, and duly advised there was one vegan in the group, which we were assured was no problem. We also asked them to flag any dishes with coriander.
We didn't have to wait too long for the entrées to come out served by one of the other waitresses. It was difficult to determine what they were. So we curiously asked, "What is that"? To which this waitress giggled and said something under her breath and walked away. So we sat there – seven of us looking at each other, looking at these dishes and waiting to hear what we might be sampling. Waiting for some serving cutlery too, we poured ourselves some more wine and looked around to the other wait staff for an explanation. We did get a partial explanation for some of the food on the table, and served ourselves with our own cutlery.
There were tofu balls, rice balls, three dips served with pumpkin pancakes and corn chips and bean nachos (without dairy). All delicious and nicely presented, especially the bean nachos, which had a lovely spicy taste.
The mains were similarly presented, with no explanation, no serving cutlery and no identification of any non-vegan items. They didn't all come out together, so just when you thought that was it, more food was presented. There was a lot of food! On this evening we had a polenta dish, risotto, quinoa salad, Moroccan style stew, couscous, and gnocchi. Coriander was probably in the stew, however we were not informed.
Usually when vegans are catered for in a banquet, set menu or degustation situation and are paying the same as everyone else they will have alternative dishes to substitute for the ones they cannot have. Not here, the vegan, me, was advised to take food from underneath the melting cheese. It was treated as trivial and I found it highly disrespectful and offensive, particularly from a restaurant that is trading as a vegan and vegetarian restaurant. It makes you wonder how much trust to place in the food presented as vegan.
No customer likes being short-changed or lied to. With cheese on at least two of the banquet items, I asked f they could provide me those dishes without the dairy, in particular the gnocchi that according to my friends was the standout item. I was told that there was no more left, and they did offer to make me some risotto. When I saw two serves of gnocchi delivered at another table later in the evening I knew I had been lied to, in addition to having less dishes than others at the table to try. Despite the tasty food I did eat, the experience left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
Desserts were all vegan we were advised and included a strawberry tart with hazelnut shortcrust, cake (of some sort), and apple strudel. They were on the counter to tempt, which they did. They were good but might have been better served with an accompaniment such as vegan or non-vegan ice-cream. There was no offer of tea of coffee, neither did we ask.
Ordering from the menu, vegan items are clearly identified and perhaps had we not ordered the banquet we might have been happier because we would know what we were eating and what was vegan. Some items look as though they could be gluten free but were not marked.
Overall, the setting and mood is nice. The food is delightful. However this restaurant is let down by its service. We found ourselves asking a lot of questions and for basic things like serving spoons and more water. Perhaps as staff learn about the food they are presenting and experience builds, this restaurant will get better at catering.
The lack of attention to dietary requests is not trivial, which made the table uncomfortable and unlikely to go back in a hurry.
Note that corkage is two dollars per glass and dessert was not included in the banquet, which we all felt should have been.