A Vegan Thai Pop-Up Episode at The Hatter & The Hare

2019 is undoubtedly the year of going vegan and business is booming for vegan creators and foodies. Customers are seeing an awakening within the non-vegan market, particularly in the food sector. More and more vegan options are emerging on menus and vegan-only nights are sprouting. One in particular was at The Hatter & The Hare in Melbourne’s outer east last weekend. The Hatter & The Hare is showcasing a series of pop-up dinner episodes. Last weekend’s episode was in celebration of World Vegan Day with a five-course all-vegan dinner curated and prepared by with Chef Saruttaya ‘Na’ Lakchai of Chef Na’s Plant-Based Kitchen.  Let’s recap, scene by scene, so that we can see why the non-vegan world is embracing the vegan movement.

The Venue

The Hatter & The Hare is a magical destination in the unlikely location of industrial Bayswater. Once you walk in, you are transported to another world, a wonderland of possibilities and gorgeously presented food. One of the owners is vegan so it’s only natural you’ll find vegan options on their everyday menu, as I found out in a previous blog post. As the event was a showcase for some of the finest vegan Thai food in Melbourne, it was inevitable that The Hatter & The Hare would pull out the stops. From lotus flower candle holders and gold cutlery on the tables, to individually-wrapped portions of vegan brownies for each guest (sadly, no gluten-free option), cosy lighting, flowers hanging from the ceiling and vases filled with flowers around the room. Plants were the obvious hero for this event. On a vine terraced wall upon entry, a sign illuminated: “Your adventure begins here.”

The Food

Chef Saruttaya Lakchai, known in Melbourne vegan circles as Chef Na, is a vegan chef who runs her own food business Chef Na’s Plant Based Kitchen. Her internationally-renowned Thai culinary style is bold, innovative and fun; all served with a love and appreciation for those she cooks for. Chef Na has headed up kitchens around town including Monk Bodhi Dharma, Loving Hut and the iconic Shakahari, Melbourne’s first vegetarian restaurant. Her story is inspiring, starting in Thailand. In 2003, she received a scholarship from the Thai government called Thai Food for the World. With this scholarship, Chef Na started creating Thai sauces in Thailand and was invited to Melbourne to create Thai vegan menus for vegan restaurants and gladly accepted.

What a gift Chef Na has given to Melbourne, even here at The Hatter & The Hare. Chef Na delivered further by creating the entire menu gluten-free as well as vegan. Over five courses, Chef Na took everyone on a Thai vegan food journey, first stopping at her dish Yum Mamuang. This raw vegetable and green mango salad was a crunchy delight, flavoured by fresh herbs, toasted cashews and a bed of mango lemongrass mint sauce.

Next stop, Kanom Jiin Nahm Phrik was a dense rice vermicelli creation that put a vegan spin on this meat-based street food tradition with a leafy noodle salad and creamy lentil peanut sauce, topped by sliced chilli, a thick slice of soy wrapped in seaweed and a deep-fried, crispy kale fan. What a treat this was, complete with a squeeze of juice from a lemon wedge. What was also fascinating about this unique dinner event was that guests could view each dish being plated up in between courses. It was thrilling to watch the team serve for a vast full house; cool and calm as Chef Na, orchestrating any final touches with integrity.

Arriving back to the table for Phla Pak Yang, guests were transported to a spicier Thai flavour – a bouquet of grilled mushroom species and vegetables with a Chef Na signature spicy sauce, garnished with five herbs including my particular favourite, coriander. There was ample breathing space between courses, which was welcomed before the main finish of Geng Kari. Roasted vegetables, tofu chunk and steamed coconut rice complete with a small pitcher of yellow curry sauce to pour over the top.

Chaf Na’s cooking has a homely feel to it, and I felt particularly at home eating this dish. The roast potato transported me back to childhood memories of Anglo-style crispy roast potatoes with a mashy interior; such a perfect texture to partner with Chef Na’s yellow curry recipe. It’s incredible to find the room after so many courses and what struck me were the flavours that Chef Na has developed which are kind to the palate. Subtle Thai flavours without too much of an overpowering chilli spice that Thai food can be known for.

Dessert was found in a whole young coconut, Ice Cream Kati Songkurng, filled with cubes of vegan jelly prepared with jackfruit and palm seed atop delectable coconut ice-cream and slivers of fresh mango. A mango cheek anchored the rim of the coconut as a garnish while a long-armed spooned invited guests to scoop out more of the young coconut flesh.  All that was left on the serving plate were drippings of coconut syrup to mop up for that final sugary hit.

The Drinks

Upon booking, guests of the World Vegan Day Episode chose whether they would choose a wine-pairing add-on to their five course experience. This part of the night was in the hands of Sibling Vegan Grocer & Liquor, another of Melbourne’s vegan businesses. On arrival, all guests were treated to a choice of sparkling wine or sparkling fruit soda. I opted for the soda, a gorgeous tall glass of fizzy lychee soda, sweetened by a whole lychee and hints of rosewater.

Thai Vegan Chef Na The Hatter & The Hare

The soda was topped with gorgeous dried rose petals and stirred by a paper straw (an eco-friendly touch to the start of the evening). Those who didn’t purchase a wine package could order wine, Thai iced tea, juices by the glass at an additional cost on the night.

At the end of the evening, I chose a hot chocolate; a creamy and sweet beverage made with warmed soy milk. Unfortunately, the marshmallow served aside the cup was not vegan. It was a good thing staff was asked before it was eaten. A learning for The Hatter & The Hare for next time – ensuring all house items served are vegan on a vegan pop-up night.

Another VIP Dinner Partner

Non-vegan businesses now understand the power of partnering with vegan businesses. Another partner of the night was Messy Veggies, one of Melbourne’s premier sources for all things vegan. From food to shopping, fashion, groceries and travel, Messy Veggies has vegan Melbourne covered. Messy Veggies was another cast member for World Vegan Day Episode, being one of the key contributors in making the night happen.

 Closing thoughts…

This is how a vegan pop-up needs to be embraced by the non-vegan world, in all its curiosity and wonder to possibility, paired with a genuine work ethic to make it happen.  By embracing the urge to try and to create, while learning from those subtle mistakes, this is where the future of veganism lies.  I love being a part of a world where non-vegan and vegans alike are partnering together to create and discover what is possible. Thank you to everyone involved to make the World Vegan Day Episode at The Hatter & The Hare a reality.

The Hatter & The Hare’s World Vegan Day Episode was a special one-off vegan dinner event hosted at the café as part of their Episode series. $95.00 per person without wine pairing or $140.00 including wine pairing. Additional beverages available to purchase on the night at an additional cost. 1/21 Scoresby Road Bayswater Victoria 3153 Australia. Phone: +61 3 9720 5230. For more vegan events announced in the future, visit their website.

Chef Na has created her own range of vegan Thai products. To learn more or to purchase her products, visit the online store or a range of locations around Australia. You can also catch Chef Na and her creations at future events as they’re announced.

To learn more about the events around Melbourne that Messy Veggies will partner with in the future, visit their website.

Justine de Jonge of Fire & Tea attended The Hatter & The Hare’s World Vegan Day Episode independent of the partners mentioned in this blog post.

Justine paid for her place at the World Vegan Day Episode which included a 50% off discount, courtesy of The Hatter & The Hare’s special friends discount received by her husband. Additional beverages were paid in full. All views expressed in this blog post are her own and she did not receive any additional payments.

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