With the opening of Ren Dao, Melbourne now has at least three fake meat, vegetarian restaurants. They are all Asian and serve dishes in the style of Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai cuisines. Their owners adhere to certain Buddhist teachings forbidding onions, garlic and animal flesh.
The fake - or substitute - meat products are very close in texture if not flavour to the originals. Created from soy and mushroom proteins and gluten, Ren Dao puts them to use in dishes like Satay Chicken, Black Bean Beef and Sambal Fish.
Other oriental favourites include spicy Ma Po Tofu, Malay-style Kampong Fried Rice and Hainanese Roasted Chicken Rice, which is fibrous and oily and impossible to distinguish from the real thing.
That's not to say mock meat is healthy, but it's a great novelty to try now and then. There's plenty of vegetable and tofu or tempeh dishes as well, like Dao Vege - sauteed broccoli with an excellent braise of mixed oyster and shiitake mushrooms.
Lunch set menu, delightfully named 'Happy Lion Head'
Entrees include dumplings - panfried and tasty; spring rolls, 'prawns', vegetable satay skewers and wontons.
Portions are generous and made to share. Two of us managed only an entree, a main and some rice between us. Unless ravenous, a group of three need order only two mains.
There's a daily lunch special ($10.80) with a choice of two soups, three fried rice dishes, 'chicken' and rice or a noodle dish.
Or, choose from eight dishes served in the lunch or dinner set menu ($15), great value that includes rice, soup, pickles and sago pudding.
Service at Ren Dao is friendly and quick enough unless full.
In a street full of eateries, Ren Dao's instant success showed that people will flock to a novel food concept. A couple of months after opening, it appears they're also coming back. And no one but me cares about the menu's punctuation.