Recently I had a meal at Transformer with my parents. It has taken a long time to finally go to this casual vegetarian fine dining restaurant that is the elegant sibling of the neighbouring Vegie Bar in Fitzroy. I took the above photo in 2017 but from a quick web search it seems it has been open since about 2015. Where does the time go! My parents and I had the Feed Me set menu ($55) which was all that is available at present. Before lockdown it seems there was an a la carte menu as well but we live in different times now.
I loved my meal. So much delicious and interesting food, accompanied by interesting non-alcoholic drinks. By the end of the evening I was so full that the dessert (an extra $10) was an effort. My parents are ominivores but were very impressed with the offerings Let me take you through what we had.
Firstly I was happy to see a mocktails section on the menu as well as a few options with a non-alcoholic Seedlip gin. I had the FOMO made with Seedlip 'garden 108', mint, cucumber, lemon and kaffir syrup. I love having non-alcoholic drinks that are not overly sweet but this was not the sort of drink I am used to. It was sour and a little salty but after that I wass happy to go for something slightly sweeter. My dad had already had a Fresh mocktail with Viet mint, kaffir lime syrup, berries, soda. So I decided to have one too. My mum had a Seedlip and tonic and was very happy with it. And my parents also followed their drinks with wine.
We started our food with some small dishes. Firstly lemongrass compressed watermelon, toasted rice, Aleppo pepper and candied yuzu. This was an amazing mix of sweet, savoury and spicy. It was a nice contrast to the vegan orange cream cheese dip, 'everything bagel' topping, chives and smoked soy, served with tostadas, cucumber and radishes.
One of my favourite dishes was the crispy chickpea panisse, truffle salt, nutritional yeast and macadamia. A quick Google search told me that panisse is chickpea fritters. Like polenta chips these were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were served warm with slightly crispy toppings that were a delicious savoury salty flavour that I still remember fondly. They were even better than chips!
The other favourite dish of mine was the warm fried oat cheese with figs and greens. It was not on the menu but we were offered it and were up to try it. I am vegetarian not vegan but I am very fond of a good vegan cheese. And this one was excellent. It was crisp on the outside, and smooth and creamy inside. I loved the wonderful flavour that was umami and noochy flavour yet mild and smooth. The fresh figs were delightful and the dressed greens were delicious.
The sides came out before the central dish of the main course. A slight misstep in serving but more about that when the cauliflower arrives! Firstly there was roasted beetroots, caper salsa, lemon thyme, vegan feta and hazelnut. Really nice. I wanted to know what the feta was made of because they got it right (having tasted some less than impressive vegan feta). The beetroots were soft and yellow. Actually my dad thought they were potatoes! The other side dish was saffron basmati rice and red lentil pilaf with golden raisins and fried onions was really lovely and mild.
I mentioned that the pilaf was mild because I found the showstopper dish so intense. We had passed over the cumin glazed eggplant with chermoula and smoked vegan yoghurt and chosen the miso glazed roasted cauliflower, spring onions, enoki and shitake with dashi. When you get a set menu, being asked to choose a main dish is hard. I would have loved to try the eggplant but who would not want to be served a whole glazed cauliflower with a crown of mushrooms and edible flowers. It looked fantastic but was a bit harder to cut up and the miso is such a strong flavour. It really had to be eaten with the beetroot dish and pilaf to be avoid being overwhelming. The three dishes were a wonderful combination.
We chose to have the dessert - aged balsamic strawberries, gingernut crumb, coconut yoghurt sorbet and meringue, which was an extra $10. I was really full by now but it sounded interesting. I had a discussion with my parents about if the meringue was vegan or not. When we asked a waiter we were told yess and I can't remember if they confirmed it was aqua faba or if that was just in my head. Honestly, I was not that into the meringue, but it not really my sort of thing. The ice cream was nice and I found the gingernut crumb a bit crunchy but I really loved the aged balsamic strawberries. I could have eaten a huge bowl of them.
While I love a hippy dippy vegetarian cafe, I was impressed that this sophisticated restaurant is more mainstream in appeal. We had a great night. The staff were very attentive and pleasant. When we arrived at 6pm it was pretty quiet but filled up quickly. I loved how the old warehouse is divided into smaller areas so it still felt quite intimate. I just hope it does not take years until I get there again but at the rate I am going out for meals at the moment, it just might be!
99 Rose Street, Fitzroy, 3065
Phone: 03 9419 2022