I always thought Transformer was a slightly odd name to call the new, fine-dining version of that old Fitzroy stalwart, Vegie Bar. That was until I attended a Vegan and the Vine event as part of Good Food and Wine month. I’ve concluded that it is called Transformer because it will transform the way you think about vegetarian food.
Vegan and the Vine was cohosted by Yalumba Wines, which you may know is Australia’s oldest family owned winery. What you probably didn’t know is that all Yalumba wines are vegan. Animal products in wine isn’t something we usually think much about but it is not uncommon in the winemaking process to use egg-whites or skim milk in a process known as fining, to remove haziness (in white wine) or harsh tannins (in red wine).* Quite a few years ago Louisa Rose, head winemaker at Yalumba made the choice to be more selective about the fruit she used, by paying more attention to when the fruit was picked and how it was handled, reducing the need for fining. It had never really occurred to me how difficult it is to get vegan wine until recently when I spent a good 30 minutes in a bottle shop with a buddy, reading the back labels of everything to find a wine that she could drink.
As you know, I am pretty vegetarian-friendly. I was vegetarian for six years and now eat meat only once or twice a week. Even so, a vegan banquet had me a touch sceptical, I can deal with no meat but no eggs or cheese too!?! The food at Transformer was so beautiful and creative that I did not notice or miss animal products.
An entrée of cucumber, rockmelon, dill and a smoked nut ‘cream’ was crisp and juicy with such a beautiful combination of flavours ( I was convinced I was eating some kind of goat or sheep milk cheese).
The second course featured a large potato croquette which hit all the comfort food buttons.
This beautiful mushroom ‘fairy garden’ (my words not Transformer’s) was almost too pretty to eat.
The following week My Love’s mum, who is vegetarian came to stay so I simply had to take her.
We opted for the ‘Feed me’ menu which is a selection of share plates from the menu, very reasonably priced at $45 per head. The regular menu is vegetarian, not vegan but there are a number of vegan (and gluten free options).
A vibrant beetroot dip came topped with generous chunks of fetta and walnuts.
Steamed boa (buns) with crispy tofu, pickled cucumber and a lovely slightly spicy gochujang mayo had the right balance of crunchy batter and tangy condiments.
Sweet corn fritters in the shape of huge crunchy fries were teamed with a chipotle mayonnaise; the fresh, sweet kernels popped in our mouths as we chewed.
Heirloom carrots were cooked ’til just tender and served with a current puree, roast red onion and a generous dollop of creamy goats curd with some crunch from fresh witlof and a dusting of dukkah.
At this point it got a little dark to continue the photography but the grilled king oyster mushrooms were served with a creamy pine nut and confit garlic purée. A grain salad filled with freekah, quinoa, lentils, barberries and hemp seeds was a perfect carbohydrate serve – rich and satisfying, a delightful range of textures, without being heavy. The only disappointment (and it was a minor one) were chargrilled leeks that were a bit dull and stringy.
The service at Transformer is casual and friendly. The dining space is huge and the restaurant was full both nights I went but service was prompt and reasonably attentive. There is an excellent wine list with a large range of options by the glass and bottle, a good list of beers, and there were some impressive looking cocktails making their way to the next table too. I am thoroughly impressed with Transformer and am looking forward to taking some carnivorous friends there to see if they too can be transformed.
*Wine geek explanation: How fining works is that the undesirable characters in the wine attach to the proteins in the fining agent and precipitate out of the wine. The fining agent is then removed by filtration. Yalumba does sometimes use an inert clay product called bentonite to clarify white wines, one of the few vegan fining products around.
I attended Vegan and the Vine as a guest of Yalumba Wine.