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Friday, March 25, 2011

Au Lac Vegetarian Restaurant, Dickson, Canberra

It looks like roast duck, doesn't it? We lean in closer and admire the golden crackle of thin crisp skin, marvelling at its beauty, because guess what, this dish is completely vegetarian.

I'd been drawn to Au Lac not just for its entirely vegetarian Vietnamese menu, but for its reputation at creating mock meat dishes. The idea of vegetarians eating mock meat may sound a little ironic but theories abound that mock meat was first developed by Buddhist monks to serve to visitors who were not necessarily vegetarian. The visitors could enjoy a "normal" looking meal of meat and vegetables without the monks breaking their beliefs.

Inside Au Lac

We find Au Lac in Woolley Street, Dickson - Canberra's Chinatown located just north of the city centre. The restaurant is humble in decor, neatly set out with clean but dated furniture, and dotted throughout with bamboo ferns. There are couples, groups of friends, and yes, a serene monk in saffron robes who greets the owners with a warm handshake and a smile.

Vietnamese cannelloni $12
Banh Cuon

We start with a menu item called Vietnamese cannelloni that arrives as banh cuon. Traditionally these soft sheets of steamed rice noodles are swaddled around a filling of pork mince and minced wood ear mushroom. Here the meat has been replaced with soy meat, and the dried prawns that are usually on top have been substituted with flaky shreds of mushroom floss.

Soy meat is made by processing soy beans to extract the proteins, and combining this with wheat gluten to create a faux meat substitute. This entree provides an easy transition to the world of soy meat, and we savour the noodle parcels with splashes of sweet chill dressing.

Coconut juice $3.50
Nuoc Dua Tuoi

Paw paw salad $10
Goi Du Du

The paw paw salad is made with soy squid, refreshing shreds of daikon, carrot and mint mixed with thin sheets of fried soy meat. It doesn't taste much like squid, but the soy meat has a satisfying jerky-like chewiness.

Large Au Lac sweet and sour soup $14
Canh Chua Bap Chuoi

Canh chua is a sweet and sour soup usually served with fatty chunks of silver perch. Ours is a feast of tomatoes, pineapple, enoki mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, and it arrives in a huge glass bowl that could double as a bath.

Au Lac broken rice $13

Com dac biet, or special rice, is a mainstay of Vietnamese restaurants that is often ordered by men looking for a supreme protein hit. It's an all-in-one meal of grilled pork chop, shredded pork, baked egg, fried egg, tomato and cucumber served with broken rice. The Au Lac version replaces the pork chop with marinated and grilled soy meat. Shredded tofu looks eerily similar to pork meat too.

The faux pork chop does feel a little springy but aside from the missing pork chop bone, I reckon you could easily fool a few carnivores with this dish.

Roast soy duck $14
Vit Quay

The roast soy duck is by far the most impressive dish. Mr Manchego doesn't believe it's vegetarian, and is convinced they've let a meat dish out of the kitchen.

I pick up a piece and admire its construction. On top is a shell of glazed crispy skin but I'm taken aback by the construction beneath, starting with a creamy layer that looks like duck fat, and then continuing with distinct and separate layers that mimic the contours of a genuine duck breast.

The first mouthful is incredible, the mind fooled by the sight and texture of the "meat". By the fourth piece you can tell it's not really duck, but I still want more, no doubt buoyed by an addiction to the sweet and crunchy skin.

By the end of the dinner we feel satiated and buzzing with protein, as though we've eaten a dinner that did include meat. The only butchering we did that night was a heavy session of karaoke across the road.

View Larger Map

Au Lac Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant
4/35-39 Woolley Street, Dickson, Canberra
Tel: +61 (02) 6262 8922

Opening hours:
Lunch Tuesday to Sunday 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Sunday 5.30pm-10.30pm

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Canberra - Mecca Bah (Moroccan)
Canberra - My's Vietnamese Restaurant (Vietnamese)
Canberra - Pancake Parlour (breakfast)
Canberra - Senso Restaurant (truffle lunch)
Canberra - Silo Bakery (bakery)
22 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/25/2011 01:25:00 am


  • At 3/25/2011 1:31 am, Anonymous eatmarvin said…

    Hi Helen! If given the choice I'd probably go for Mock Meat rather than steamed vegies. They look so real. I did not know about Au Lac 'til now. I might pay them a visit.

  • At 3/25/2011 2:38 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    I'm always impressed at how the look and feel of real meat can be replicated using mock meat. I was definitely fooled by that photo of the roast duck!

  • At 3/25/2011 7:36 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    For some reason I did look at the first pic and think it looked like mock duck before reading the line. LOL

    I love the faux meat dishes too, so creative here.

  • At 3/25/2011 8:02 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    I love banh cuon one of my favourites and mock meat restaurants.

    Had I not tried mock meat myself I would of found it hard to believe it wasn't actually meat, so I know how Mr Manchego feels :)

  • At 3/25/2011 8:57 am, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    I've tried a vegetarian cha xiu bao from Cabramatta before and could have bet everything that it was meat. In fact, I still secretly suspect that it is! If really vegetarian, then mock meat has really come a long way!

  • At 3/25/2011 11:06 am, Anonymous KFC So Good said…

    Banh Cuon looked so good and it is my fav viet dish vegetarian or not. with or without soya meat, this is a good dish for me :)

    the mushroom floss looks amazing and deliciously yummy, crunchy.

    Some reservation in making things looks too much like the non-vegetarian version.... but are they the forefathers of all MG? texture & ingredient surprise!!

    ummm. I digress.

  • At 3/25/2011 12:17 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I remember a piece of dialogue in one of the "Ghost in the Shell" series that explained that making vegetarian dishes look like meat was originally done in Taiwan. The character in the TV series explained that monks there had not been vegetarians before they became monks and so they in some sense still craved meat. Its an interesting theory anyway. Nice review.

  • At 3/25/2011 1:13 pm, Anonymous Minh said…

    Mock duck! That looks brilliant! Did it actually taste anything like Duck, or was it the texture that had you going for a while?

  • At 3/25/2011 2:33 pm, Anonymous Vivian - vxdollface said…

    I can't believe it's not meat! :O
    What a deceiving substitute haha. I love pork floss, does the mushroom floss taste similar? I've never seen it sold in Asian groceries store, would love to try it!

  • At 3/25/2011 6:03 pm, Blogger Maria said…

    Looks fantastic! I'll keep this place in mind next time we're driving past ;-)

  • At 3/25/2011 7:06 pm, Blogger kathleen said…


    Good Day, Thank you for the great quality of your blog, each time i come here, i’m amazed.


  • At 3/25/2011 9:16 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Helen! I cannot thank you enough :) I've been wanting to try Au Lac for such a long time, but have been wary as I'm scared of dragging someone along who isn't interested in mock meat and then have them be hoity-toity at me if it isn't good. You've convinced me that it'll be a tasty night regardless! I have GOT to try the pawpaw fake squid salad. Oh, if only I could've been here with you!!

  • At 3/25/2011 10:20 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    The pretend crispy skin duck dish is amazing. To look at it you would not know, wow!

  • At 3/26/2011 2:41 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Loving the roast soy duck - amazing stuff. Throw away that disregard for mock meat I say!

  • At 3/27/2011 10:42 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, f*ck! I wish I read this post before, I'm leaving Canberra this afternoon :(

  • At 3/27/2011 10:14 pm, Anonymous Julie said…

    Thanks for posting! I really like to look out to vegetarian restaurants as one of my close friend is one. Look forward to visiting!

  • At 3/28/2011 11:42 pm, Anonymous Jenny @ Musings and Morsels said…

    The only reservation I have, other than the irony you raised, is that mock meat is often made with copious amounts of preservatives/additives, etc. Eating vegies is far healthier. On the topic of flavour itself, though, I have no problem with it and even enjoy eating it from time to time (I'm no vegetarian, by the way).

  • At 3/31/2011 2:38 pm, Anonymous Jeff said…

    the roast duck looks yummy!

  • At 4/01/2011 12:41 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    Wow that duck looks amazing! If only the restaurant was in Sydney, I would love to try it.

  • At 1/05/2012 7:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The com tam dac biet/broken rice is pretty nice! I recommend it! :)

  • At 1/29/2012 2:09 pm, Blogger veganavenger said…

    Go the Laksa, it's excellent.

  • At 2/07/2013 8:33 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We had that roasted soy duck here at Au Lac Wollongong. The layers of crispy skin and meat, taste and texture really fooled our senses.


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