Keen followers of the Ministry will note something of trend in introductory paragraphs when it comes to our visits to restaurants in the Port City of Fremantle - namely, that our meals are few and far between and that the city's lack of vibrancy has led it to be a distant second city when compared to the exciting developments happening throughout Perth and Northbridge. While I still contend that Fremantle has a long way to go to catch up to Perth and the sight of the horribly boring and dead High Street Mall fills me with great sadness for a city I grew up in, there are signs that change is slowly finding its way into a city that is strangely conservative when it comes to progress considering it renowned progressiveness when it comes to social change.
While walking around Fremantle during a recent visit, Alissa and I enjoyed a stroll through the impressively eclectic MANY in the old Myer building before catching up with our friends Casey and Karis at the Raw Kitchen. The Raw Kitchen is not new, however it is a standout example of the New Fremantle that has been slowly blossoming over the last few years. Starting out at as a market stall before setting up shop in Piazza Lane, the Raw Kitchen had been in its new, larger home on High St for just over a year by the time of our visit. Alissa and I had popped in for a fairly expensive coffee and cake last year (a topped up long macchiato with cashew macadamia date milk will set you back $6!), however we wanted to reserve a post for a proper sampling of their food menu. A clearly converted warehouse that could just as easily be part of a hip eat street in Fitzroy, the rawness of the venue's look is a good visual representation of the restaurant's dedication to 'plant-based cuisine without the use of dairy, gluten, refined sugar or additives', with a large number of dishes catering for the dietary needs of raw vegans.
Not really keen to spend so much money on a cup of coffee and wanting something refreshing for the hot summer day, Alissa and I went with the slightly more expensive (but more easily justified) healthy cold drinks of Red Dragon Organics Living Elixir and Mojo Kombucha. Both drinks were very tasty; after trying Kombucha for the first time at Co-Op Dining last year, I have to admit to being quite a fan of its pleasingly vinegary flavour, and the turmeric-rich Living Elixir was just as good.
For an entree, the four of us decided to share a serve of Rubi-Lou Wedges - paprika, fennel & caraway seasoned hand-cut potatoes w/ raw cashew macadamia aioli, sumac and thyme. This was unfortunately not a very good start to the meal. For me, the bare minimum requirement for wedges and chips should be that they are crunchy; sadly, these were soggy and slightly rubbery in texture. I'm not sure how they failed so significantly, as most chips and wedges are vegan by default if they are not cook in animal fats, and if they were trying to go for something healthy they would have been better served thinly slicing potato and dehyrating them into crisps. The texture was a real shame, as the combination of spiciness and fennel worked really well here, and the vegan aioli was very tasty too.
Our mains thankfully fared better. Alissa's chose the Live Zucchini Pasta with Tomato Pasta Sauce, Avocado, Mushroom, Kalamata Olives, Basil, ‘Parmesan’ & Cracked Black Pepper. Alissa really enjoyed this fresh and flavoursome dish, and commented that the dish was very well seasoned and contained a nice balance of classic Italian/Mediterranean flavours. She also really liked the texture of the 'pasta', which was a nice faux al dente. I was sceptical of this dish as Alissa had made zucchini pasta at home and I hadn't been a fan, however I had to admit that the results were surprisingly delicious. While I dislike the use of the word 'pasta' for the long zucchini strands (more on this in a second), this was a dish that was at once both guilt free and healthy while being a delight to the taste buds.
Karis ordered the raw Pad Thai - Zucchini Noodles, Raw Almond Satay Sauce, Capsicum, Baby Corn, Snow Peas, Tamarind, Kaffir Lime, Fresh Herbs & Mung Bean Sprouts. More so than the pasta of Alissa's dish, I felt the reference to a well known dish was a disservice. During our honeymoon in 2013, Alissa dined at a restaurant called Nox in the Dark in Singapore, where you dine in the dark eating a secret menu. It wasn't the most impressive food to be honest, however it was an invaluable experience. Not knowing what we were eating, it was hard to work out what some of the dishes were, and it made me realise that what we judge as a good dish is largely an act of recalling previous similar dishes and trying to discern the quality against experience. Unlike the Live Zucchini Pasta, Pad Thai is a pretty specific dish with well known conventional ingredients - and one that could be made (non-raw) vegan with very little difficulty at all. On its own merits, this raw Pad Thai was a good dish - nice tasty peanut flavour, good texture to the 'noodles' and a sourness that approximated real Pad Thai. What Raw Kitchen's chef Georg Martin can do with raw ingredients is quite incredible really. Did it have flavours that made it taste somewhat like a Pad Thai? Yes. But did it taste like Pad Thai? Not Really. By that measure it was not a great Pad Thai, however this was a very good dish if judging it on its own merits as its own thing.
Casey and I both ordered the Yellow Coconut Curry with Spicy Margaret River Lupin Tempeh, Broccoli, Sweet Potato, Sugar Snap Peas, Crispy Shallots, Sugar Snap Peas, Crispy Shallots, Lime, Fresh Chilli and Coriander with a side of Quinoa. As someone who enjoys vegetables but prefers them cooked and in a hearty form this was right up my alley, and was for me the best dish of the three mains. While not 100% authentic - how could it be? - this nice and thick Curry was nevertheless excellent, with a good spice mix, depth of flavour, and a keen understanding of the cuisine and how to make it work. It was better than some yellow curries I've eaten in non-vegetarian restaurants, however I couldn't help but notice that something was missing - namely gapi (shrimp paste). This disgustingly smelly yet incredibly delicious fermented paste is what gives Thai food that wonderful umami flavour, and without it the dish lacked a certain depth. This is something I had commented on when we ordered a vegan Laksa at Formosa Vegetarian Eating House, however I think this dish was ultimately more successful at making do without this fairly essential ingredient. The Tempeh and the Sweet Potato worked as very good meat analogues, and the Quinoa was cooked in such a manner that it had a soft fluffiness while still displaying its characteristic nuttiness.
The Verdict: Excellent
Given my hesitation regarding the raw dishes, I have to saw that the Raw Kitchen was a lot more impressive than I was expecting, and Alissa and I would definitely return for another meal here in the future. There are obvious limitations to not cooking food and/or not using animal products, however Georg Martin and his team were very much up to the task of creating inventive dishes that went beyond the limitations. My dislike of the use of the terms 'pasta' and 'Pad Thai' for dishes that only barely resemble the real thing is more a semantic complaint than anything intrinsically about the food; everything other than the rubbery Wedges was of a high standard. The dishes were a bit pricey when compared to the similarly delicious vegetarian food at Melbourne's Vegie Bar, however given the niche and quite specialised ingredients used, it not entirely unreasonable. For me, I still think the Tuesday Experimental Vegetarian Degustation at Co-Op Dining is the best vegetarian meal in town, however The Raw Kitchen would definitely be a strong contender as its food that is good without needing to qualify it as good for vegan.