Friday, 3 May 2013

Kitchen Sanitarium - The Vegetarian Experience

Vegetarian food is not a cuisine that I normally willingly submit myself to.  I'll be honest, I love meat in all of its forms, beef, venison, duck, chicken the list could go on.  When you're onto a good thing, stick with it I say.  I have a lot of friends who are vegetarians though, and they are forever espousing the benefits of a pescetarian, vegetarian or even vegan  lifestyle.  

There is a vegetarian restaurant in the CBD that is a stone's throw away from the front of my building and coincidentally right next door to my favourite restaurant Esquire.  Kitchen Sanitarium seems to be one of the more popular restaurants in town for lunch and I was keen to figure out why, so when the opportunity came to have a team lunch to say goodbye to a colleague, we decided to check it out.  Originally there were going to be two very dedicated vegetarians coming along with us to lunch, but at the last minute this number was reduced to one.  We would have to rely on the expertise of SG to get us through the lunch as our guide.

Kitchen Sanitarium is perhaps the best known vegetarian restaurant in the CBD and is run by the Sanitarium company owned by the Seventh day Adventist Church, who are considered pioneers of the health food movement in Australia.  Sanitarium are best known Australia wide for their successful breakfast series and one of my perennial breakfast choices, Weet-bix!  I would be interested in how Kitchen Sanitarium would go as a restaurant and if my poor previous experiences with vegetarian food would be repeated.

I was intrigued to find out that Kitchen Sanitarium had secured Steve Warden-Hutton as the head chef to take over the restaurant in 2009. Steve is a classically trained chef who learned his trade at Brisbane favourite Baguette but also spent time in some of Brisbane's best restaurants, including Montrachet, Michael's and Lure @ The Corro.  Steve's philosophy in the kitchen is to create dishes with the best possible produce and treat them with respect and simplicity, balancing flavour and texture to create a fantastic dining experience.  In keeping withe the theme of healthy and sustainable living, wherever possible will source ingredients from no further than a 200km radius of Brisbane.

I was the first to arrive at the table for out celebratory and farewell lunch for RT and was able to peruse the menu to see what would capture my attention.  I had looked at the menu online and was buoyed to see that there was a risotto of the day on the menu but was a little dismayed when I noted the ingredients for the daily risotto included some of my least favourite flavours of all time.  The rest of the team arrived and we sat down to contemplate what we would order.  The approach at Kitchen Sanitarium is to order and pay at the counter once you have decided on your selections.

I will admit to being a little out of my depth when looking at the menu, with literally nothing on the menu that interested me.  I spent quite some time weighing up the pros and cons of most of the menu items before finally settling for the risotto of the day.  Normally, I would get excited about a risotto that came of of a kitchen run by a chef of the calibre of Steve Warden-Hutton but I had a feeling that this might be a very rare exception to the rule.  

The risotto of the day consisted of white bean with gorgonzola and pumpkin, the latter two ingredients being on my list of 'avoid at all costs'.  While I would normally avoid such ingredients, I was pretty surprised that the risotto was, on the whole, quite palatable for me.  I'm not going to say that I enjoyed it, but I certainly was able to eat most of it.  Given how strong gorgonzola normally is, I was really surprised that I could not taste it at all and truth be told, the risotto was perhaps on the bland side.  It definitely needed seasoning and it was a little gluggy.  The risotto was the most popular selection from the team and the consensus (at least with the boys at the table) was that it was quite bland.  

The next most popular dish with our group and the selection that I probably should have gone with was  the fried haloumi salad with heirloom tomatos, avocado and olive tapenade with a lemon and basil vinaigrette.  This plate looked really fresh and appetising with three large pieces of perfectly cooked haloumi and a refreshing tomato based salad underneath.  The acidity of the tomato salad worked really well with the sweet and chewy haloumi cheese.  Probably the only thing that I didn't like with my little sample was the olive tapenade, which was overpowering for my palate.

MM went it alone in choosing the daily curry special which was a green curry with sweet potato, lentils and chickpeas on a bed of rice.  The flavour of the curry was really nice with a very traditional Thai green curry that was bursting with flavour.  There was a contrasting texture of dried lentils sitting atop of the curry which added a nice dimension to the dish.  MM commented on how much she enjoyed the dish and those that had a little taste around the table agreed it was quite nice.

I was still feeling a little peckish after finishing much of my risotto and wanted to try something else on the menu, just to make sure I gave the whole vegetarian thing a fair go.  After contemplating some of the other dishes from the table that tasted OK, I decided that I could not go wrong with the soup of the day which was split pea and vegetable.  Boy, was I wrong about that!  I love pea and ham soup, really, really love it and I was anticipating some flavours similar to my favourite wintertime soup.  What I got was an incredibly strong flavour of split pea and not much else.  It was so overpowering that I could not really force myself to eat more than a few mouthfuls!  When the wait staff came to clear the table and asked if why I had left most of it, I had to admit to them that I just didn't like it.

So, it was a mixed bag for our visit to Kitchen Sanitarium with a pretty even split down for those who enjoyed the meal and those that didn't.  Essentially, all the boys at the table were disappointed with their choices and the meals as a whole and all the girls really enjoyed their choices and the flavour combinations.  The lads and I had to have a laugh about the fact that we all thought a little meat in each of the dishes would probably have elevated the meals.  All the girls thought we were crazy!

Every time I have walked by Kitchen Sanatarium on a week day, the restaurant is packed with city dwellers enjoying a their lunch and this day was no exception.  All of the tables inside and out were packed with people who were seemingly enjoying their meals.  The wait staff were really friendly and the service was mostly good.  The main issue was that by ordering individually  the meals came out at different times.  I was halfway through my risotto before any of the other dishes were delivered and even then they still came with large time gaps in between.  While we did have a big table, you would prefer that all the meals come out at the same time.

I had been to Kitchen Sanitarium once before about six years ago and had one of the worst food experiences of my life, which essentially eliminated vegetarian cuisine as an option for me.  I had hoped that coming back would have redeemed vegetarian as a cuisine......  While this type of food is OK for some, I have not been able to develop a palate that can deal with vegetarian food.  I have said it before and I will say it again, give me meat in my meal any day!


The philosophy at Kitchen Sanitarium - the food was fresh, I just didn't really like it
The berry and banana smoothy was nice
A great spot to have lunch in a sunny Autumn
My apartment building in the background
Kitchen Sanitarium is mostly hidden from Eagle Street

Kitchen Sanitarium on UrbanspoonKitchen Sanitarium

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