Blink and you'll miss The Vegetarian Kitchen-- a house-turned-restaurant located on Mother Ignacia St., right across St. Mary's Academy, Quezon City.
But blink, you must not; else you'd be missing the block's newest foodie destination: a cozy place where you can have meatless meatloaf, rib-less spareribs, and tongue-less Lengua Estofado-- all of which are at par (if not better) with their meaty counterparts.
First established in the early 90's, The Vegetarian Kitchen is Tita Soliongco's effort to re-introduce the vegetarian diet to the Filipinos. During that time, the vegetarian segment of the market was still very small and meat-less menus can only be perused at Indian restaurants. Tita transformed recipes of popular Filipino dishes, made their vegetarian counterparts, and served them at her driveway-cum-resto. The venture was successful albeit short-lived as Tita changed priorities. It was only a decade later, after the urging of family and friends, when Tita saw it fit to re-open The Vegetarian Kitchen.
Today, the small and cozy restaurant is run by Tita's children. Her daughter Camille Soliongco-Acosta, whom she started training at the tender age of seven, inherited her apron and is now at the helm of the kitchen. Meanwhile, Camille's older brother Kiko Soliongco takes care of the operations. The siblings, who are also both vegetarians, intend to carry on what their mom started; that is to re-change the perception that vegetarian food is bland. “When people hear vegetarian, they always say, Ay! Salad lang yan, di yan nakakabusog. We want to show them that no, vegetarian food can be filling and quite tasty,” Kiko shares. “We serve family-style dishes here-- all of which are good for sharing,” Camille added.
What to get at The Vegetarian Kitchen? Kiko was quick to recommend the Vege Tocino with Fried Vegetable Couscous and Egg-less Tomato Salad (P210)-- a meatless take on the Pinoy's favorite cured meat.
Vege Tocino with Fried Vegetable Couscous and Egg-less Tomato Salad
The veggie tocino made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) has all the qualities of a real tocino: bright red color, burnt caramelized edges, sweet-salty flavor, and a stringy and quite springy texture. Serve this in a blind food tasting session and even the most discerning foodie will be fooled by this mock meat. The tocino screams flavor on its own and would have worked perfectly even with plain rice.
Another popular item in the menu is their very ironic Meatless Meatloaf (P210) with Tomato Cinnamon Ketchup.
Just like the tocino, the meatloaf shows no clue of its being derived from gluten. Look at its cross section and you'd swear that it has hotdog chunks in it! The chunky fare is complemented really well by the homemade tomato-cinnamon ketchup that accompanies it. Some diners swear that their gluten meatloaf is even better that its carnivorous' version.
Korean Spareribs (P190), another of Kiko's favorite, also fares well in the best-seller list.
The shredded, extra soft, and again sweet-salty “meat” is more convincing as Tapa than spareribs, if not for the diced bell peppers and sesame seeds that top it. If they can only serve this with vinegar and egg (which they can't, obviously), then this can be a contender among the best tapas in the metro.
For meal enders, one should not pass up the chance to have The Vegetarian Kitchen's Camote Custard Egg-less Cheesecake (P140) and Nutella Peanut Butter Muffin (P25)-- both of which are excellent versions of their respective kinds.
Camote Custard Egg-less Cheesecake
Albeit egg-less, the Camote cheesecake is as compact as a cheesecake can get. It earns additional points for being just properly sweet. The Nutella muffin on the other hand is as moist as a fudge, it was like eating a giant Reese's cup.
Nutella Peanut Butter Muffin
Cleanse Your Palate With Guava Lemon Tea (P60)
If the restaurant's goal is to prove that vegetarian food is not bland, then I congratulate them for a job well-done. If their goal is to educate vegetarian and non-vegatarian alike about the dishes you can do sans real meat, then I'm quite sure that they're going to be successful.
Whether or not you're a vegetarian, better pay attention while cruising along Mother Ignacia; else, you'd miss a potential favorite in the area.