Tucked away near the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale Streets is the vegetarian Chinese restaurant Gong dè Lin. Though, be warned – it’s above ground level so you could walk right by and miss the sign completely!
After taking a short elevator ride to level 3, we’re met by a menu of traditional Chinese cuisine featuring mock meats as well as customary vegetable and tofu meals. I tend to keep my mock meat intake to a minimum due to its highly processed nature, plus it’s a little contradictory for me to eat it when I don’t eat the real deal. However, it’s a one-off chance for me to consume some old Chinese favourites with a new culinary angle.
Warm sweet corn soup is offered as a light start to our banquet-style meal, and wards off the hunger pains as we settle into our cosy booth; the décor here is light, fresh and modern. It’s starting to get busy despite the early hour and the 6pm dinner rush adds to the restaurant’s intimate and welcoming feel. To follow is a plate of crispy tofu stuffed with mushroom, a delicately crunchy and tempting dish. We quickly arm ourselves with chopsticks and pick a slice up each. Dumplings are next on the agenda, a bamboo basket of plump morsels filled with a vegetable stuffing. We make a quick mix of soy sauce and brown vinegar in our bowls to dip these spongy pillows into. Steeping away next to me is a pot of oolong tea and I’m treated to a dainty, English-style cup and saucer. This is one vessel from which to sip oolong, though not exactly traditional. I love this quirky touch!
For mains, our happy and efficient waitress delivers sweet and sour “pork” and kung pao “chicken”. The battered and tender mock meat in both of these dishes comes very close to the real thing, so much so that I’m skeptical that I’m actually consuming the fake stuff. Still, the kung pao is spicy and tasty – reminiscent of the same dish I experienced in its traditional home of Szechuan a few years ago. All of this isn’t without a bowl of fluffy steamed rice so we’re feeling the squeeze in our tummies towards the end. We rummage for some digestive space for dessert – bowls of glutinous rice balls bobbing up and down in sweet, warm ginger syrup with goji berries. This is a dessert that’s new to me, and proves to be a delicate end to a generous and hospitable experience here at Gong dè Lin. It's no wonder Melburnians book out the place on a regular basis!
Get initiated into the world of Chinese vegetarian and mock meat cuisine at Gong dè Lin, Level 3/264 Swanston Street Melbourne Victoria 3000. Phone 03 9663 7878 Open Monday to Sunday 10am to 10pm.