Thursday, January 10, 2008

I was completely vegetarian yesterday – not on purpose, mind you – and by the time (late) dinner came round, I was feeling the craving for some good, old-fashioned meat. I attribute this to my being Chinese. I can’t imagine the idea of not eating meat (especially my beloved char siew and siew yoke) for a week, much less for a lifetime (although there was a period of two months when I first arrived in London when I didn’t eat any meat whatsoever and ended up losing two to three kg before I decided meat was indeed safe to eat).

In any case, as I couldn’t find anything appealing to eat in my staff cafeteria (which had, among other things, a bastardised version of sayur lodeh), I decided to opt on the safe side and eat vegetarian pasta and salad for lunch. I’d become rather hungry by the time I left the office at 8 pm, but valiantly decided I would go back to my place and check out some of the restaurants around there, which is renowned for having nice, affordable eating places.

However, I hadn’t counted on my not feeling like Indian or Chinese and so, after wandering around for close to half an hour, I decided on eating at Rootmaster, a relatively new ‘bustaurant’ (double-decker bus converted into a restaurant) near me, not knowing that it was a restaurant devoted to serving organic, vegetarian food. Rootmaster even served organic beer, wine, juices and cola!

The concept was rather cute. As it’s winter now, we decided to eat on the upper deck as opposed to the tables located outside. While cosier, it meant that whenever anyone walked up the stairs, or across the upper deck, the floor would sway, not enough to inconvenience us, but definitely enough such that we felt it.

The menu was seasonal, with plenty of winter vegetables on offer. I wasn’t particularly swayed by any of the items on offer (not because of the choices, but because I really did crave some meat) and decided on a mixed filo lentil purse served with garlic polenta and seasonal vegetables drizzled with chilled gravy (£10). My dining companion decided on the dish I had originally intended to get: the tofu tower consisting of pan-roasted tofu served with crispy wontons and coconut curried vegetables (£9 + £1.50 for rice). As far as I could tell, this turned out to be the most popular dish of the night as every table around us ended up ordering one of these. We also had a plate of olives (£2.50) to start off with, while my companion had a bowl of carrot and coriander soup which came served with freshly baked bread (£4).

The olives were fantastic. I am not too fond of olives as I usually find them a bit salty but these were not salty in the least. They were nicely succulent. I don’t know where they were from – somewhere in Italy, according to our waitress, though she didn’t quite know which part – but if I ever find out, I’m definitely going to get some if I’m anywhere near that part.

The soup was nicely piquant; it reminded me of a slightly spicy pumpkin soup. I have not had carrot and coriander soup before, but I definitely didn’t expect it to taste like this. The bread was incredibly delicious. It was slightly sweet, had a nice soft crust and was, quite possibly, the best bread I have ever eaten.

The filo lentil purse was done quite well. I liked that the broccoli and cauliflowers (the seasonal vegetables) were served just crunchy enough so that the goodness of the vegetables was preserved, and yet not so hard that it was difficult to eat. It may seem like a simple thing to do, but I’ve eaten a fair amount of mushy broccoli so I do note these things. The garlic polenta was not overwhelmingly garlicky which was good, and the chilled gravy was awesome. I don’t know what was in it, and in the faint candlelight, it looked almost purplish so I suspect it may have been pulverised aubergine, but no matter, it was delicious.

My companion’s tofu tower tasted like a slightly spicy korma. I love kormas, so, quite naturally, thought this tasted rather nice as well.

By the end of the meal, I found myself surprisingly full. I didn’t expect vegetarian food to be this filling, although the downside was that I found myself incredibly hungry the following morning even after eating breakfast. I guess my stomach’s just not used to eating healthily!

The service at Rootmaster was excellent; the waitress came by to inform us of items not on the menu shortly after we sat ourselves down, and also came by to check on us after our food had been served. In line with the whole hippy-ish feel of the restaurant, tipping is optional (it’s stated that “tipping is sexy” on the menu and your bill).

As you can tell, I had a pleasant dining experience in an unusual dining venue. Would I come back here again? In spite of my carnivorous leanings, hell yeah! Our overall bill for two came up to £35 inclusive of two drinks and tips. For food and service of this quality in central London, that’s amazingly affordable.

Address: Elys Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QL
Tel: +44-79-1238-9314

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