Saturday, 21 March 2009

Shu Yuan

Lunch today was at Shu Yuan, a small vegetarian café in the Bank Arcade in the city. The owner Ya-Ya, a Thai lady, took over this café maybe 6 months ago, and has continued the precedents set by the former owner, Edgar. Whilst the food today was fine, it could be so much better, and capitalize on the basics of what is already there – a steady trade, and a niche market as a good vegetarian restaurant in the heart of the city.

Having quite a few Thai friends, I know with surety that there is a huge divide between the beautiful Thai people and us Australians – language-wise, custom-wise, as well as taste-wise.

I’m definitely not being racist when I say the above. I’m stating fact. Hence it is difficult for a Thai person to second-guess what us ‘farangs’ (that’s Thai for ‘foreigners’, as we ARE farangs to them!) would respond to, especially with food that isn’t Thai or Asian.

So – if Shu Yuan were my café, there is a lot I’d do differently to Ya-Ya. She was interested in my thoughts on her food and her café today, but as it was lunch time, and the café was busy enough, I couldn’t go into too much detail other than agreeing that the food we had today was fine, which it was.

I’d look at a simple Thai version of a Bento box, all packaged up and ready to go for those lunch time city workers who are hell bent on buying lunch and eating as fast, and maybe as healthily, as they can. A Thai Carrot Salad, some noodles, a few Vietnamese rolls, maybe a dipping sauce, maybe a few house steamed dim sims. Easy to prep up and have ready to go at 11.45. Room temperature is fine for those as well, so you don’t need to have them in the bain for hours, stewing.

I disagree that vegetarians want to eat food that poses as meat but actually isn’t. I think they actually DON’T want food that reminds them of meat – hence being a vegetarian. I don’t think they want food that has been treated with the chemicals required for it to taste like chicken or meat. I think everyone would feel way better, healthier and cleansed after a quick lunch of stir-fry fresh veges with maybe oyster sauce or satay sauce in it.

I also think they need to have all food clearly labeled, so diners know exactly what they are eating. There are too many people today with various food intolerances, and who need to know exactly what went into the food they eat, so having unlabelled food on display, or serving staff who don’t speak English .very well, hence can’t explain what ingredients are in the food, is not good, and could so easily lead to the café being sued by a customer with a nut or msg allergy, or equivalent.

I observed Shu Yuan had a lot of people who walked in the door, looked at the food, then walked out again, without enquiring about it, or waiting to be served. Such a shame to loose all those potential customers.

I’d love to work in there for a week and have free reign there for that week. I think it’s a great little business, with lots of opportunity for doing way better.

Good luck Ya-Ya. I’ll be back

Posted on by Rita


Anonymous said...

I'm Going to hang it out and be prepared for a blog slagging off, so here goes:
In my experience as a Farang (Pommie bastard, whatever), Tasmanian people are conservative as. By that, with the exception of some, a vast majority are unadventurous and staid in their approach to things new.
Suspicious, of new experiences until the tide turns to popularity. It takes a big set of balls here to stand out because the majority only want what they know. I have seen customers walk out of new ventures, and head straight into the burger joint or the chippie, afraid to try something new.
Its why we have the food scene we do in some respects.
Good luck to Shu Yuan, I say publicity, publicity, popularity.


B said...

I'm a non-vegetarian and I eat there pretty regularly. The food is generally fantastic and fresh tasting, and service is lovely even despite occasional language difficulties. I've eaten in several times (when I've lucky enough to score a table!) and they seem to be pretty busy with lines sometimes reaching out the door.
My only complaint would be the cramped feeling inside the shop while waiting for your order, but it's a small space and I guess there can't be much done about this

Anonymous said...

I read your so called review on Shu Yuan Vegetarian Cafe, and as a food reviewer, you should report on that, you said not a thing on the food you said you liked. Why did you go off the rails onto other issues neither here nor there of the business being reviewed? It seemed like you was more infatuated commenting on the differences of Thai to Australian’s “huge divide”. There is no “huge divide” at all!! You had better watch that you do not get sued! I am sure lots of other people would completely back me in saying Thai food is one of the yummiest and healthy foods, that us Aussies greatly love. The more original Thai, the better, as why would you want to adapt it to main stream eating, we therefore then lose our variety of multicultural tastes. Now with commenting on how you could run the place better. I have been a customer there for the more (you inaccurately reported – maybe not 6 months) 1.5 years, the Café is located in a lovely quaint arcade, the shops are not huge there but I love that atmosphere and if to want to stretch out to the open spaces Wellington Walk’s tables are just at the end of the Arcade anyway, where there is ample seating. I would dearly love to own the place but I am not a chef alias a keen eater of her vegetarian food. The Vege Café is hugely popular, and so why would you want to change it on a “wholesale basis” anyway. We love it as is, and it has changing varieties on offer for us to keep coming back to.

Anonymous said...

Blogs really should be read after 9.49am of a Sunday morning hey...

Well Rita, unlike the previous reviewer - I actually read your review, and agree with the good points you made about not necessarily changing the essential makeup of the place but more 'tweaking' the delivery of their product.
Agree also with the veg-meat, I personally 'love' the look of the soya bacon in the supermarket - who could go past it???!!!

Anonymous said...

FYI Rita, They serve all their foods free from MSG and preservatives, and fresh vegetables.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita.. I too was a regular until taken over by the current owners. The previous owners have set up a very similar offer in Mathers Lane... this is now my preferred option when going for 'vegetarian that looks like meat'! Which by the way, I love!


Anonymous said...

Hi Rita... I agree some part but also disagree some part of your comments. I am a vegetarian for over 17 years. I am taiwanese. In my opinion, I think the most important thing is...u know what you eat and you know what you do...make sure you are a nice, kind, giving and high ethic person. I also heard about the previous owner open a similar food near by. For me i will not definately support them because I am not a person who has no ethics to do such a thing like that. Anyway, being a vegetarian always be a good people, share and give for other people.

JD said...

The Shu Yuan Cafe is an absolute gem for Hobart - vegetarians and non-vegetarias alike! The green "chicken" curry is to die for. A lot of people joining the growing trend towards vegetarianism for health, environmental or other reasons really appreciate these soy or glutten "meat" dishes - they are an easy way to get started on the vege path - a great way to introduce friends to the fresh tastes and benefits of a vegetarian diet. The cafe is cosy and the new seating arrangements add to the friendly uplifting atmosphere that Yaya, Jittah and her Thai friends generate. As for chemicals - no such thing! - the products are msg free, preservative free and free of artificial colours. Yaya continually innovates, updates and inspires with new menu items. I eat there for lunch regularly and love it! Saturday morning is peak hour but well worth it for the yumcha. The food is simply heavenly! JD

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with JD - the curry is sensational.
The lunchtime crowds attest to the popularity of Shu Yuan. It's a gem of a place and I continually recommend it to friends - both locals and visitors from interstate.
Bravo Ya-Ya and team!

M said...

I have been a regular of Shu Yaun cafe for over a year and enjoy eating both the pre-prepared and freshly cooked dishes. As far as I know there is no msg added. After speaking with Ya-Ya she has been able to increase the spice level of her pad thai to suit my tastes.
As a rule I don't go to an Asian restaurant to eat "farang" food. I could always stay at home and cook that myself. I say good luck to Ya-Ya and all her staff and I see you again soon.