I was lucky enough to get invited to a special pay-what-you-feel degustation dinner at Shu back at the start of August. Shu’s chef, also handily named Shu, apparently throws a Christmas in July-themed dinner every year for his friends, and this year decided to make it entirely vegan and invite some vegan-friendly food writers and bloggers too. WHAT A TREAT, especially as since my first visit I had very much been hanging out for the chance to visit Shu again, because there really is nothing else like it in town.
After starting off with a palate waker-upper in the form of a zesty cocktail involving vodka, lychee syrup, lime, Vietnamese mint, and cheeky whack of chilli, we got stuck into the menu which had been split into four sections.
For the chilled and raw portion, we had Shu’s signature dish of a daikon roll filled with enoki mushrooms, Asian herbs and lettuce with a Sichuan spicy soy sauce. These remain beautiful to look at, unwieldy to eat, but crunchy and flavour-packed and dang you can see why this stays on the menu. The silken tofu with beans and sprouts with pickled chilli relish was a gelatinous square of white topped with really just straight-up minced chilli, which made for a fiery mouthful. I particularly liked the cucumber and seaweed with soybean skin, spicy tahini and roasted pumpkin seeds which was this saucy, crunchy mouthful with a lot of complimentary flavours flying around.
On to the hot dian xin section: I was raving over the crispy beetroot and wood ear roll with green chilli dip, which was really a well-fancy spring roll, all violently magenta inside and crunchy and earthy and OH MY. The pan fried shiitake and cabbage wonton with pickled chilli jam and Chinese vinegar was a perfectly cromulent dumpling, with a nice amount of pan-fried charredness. I was also very much into the steamed tofu pocket stuffed with preserved mustard greens and peanuts, which was basically like a triangle of sandwich with the tofu acting as bread, and I do like some well-judged bitter greens.
Onto a selection of bigger shared plates! If you remember my first review of Shu, you would not be at all surprised that I was all over the home town noodles. These are still an absolute menu star and if you have the chance to have them I FIERCELY insist upon it. The pan roasted eggplant rolls, pickled vegetables and roasted cashews were good, although I didn’t find them as rave-worthy as a lot of other dishes, although they’re worth trying if you love your eggplant. The crunchy coleslaw tossed with seeds, nuts, and Sichuan pepper infused soy sauce was more my level, lots of greens and textural components to keep things exciting. I was also a fan of the assorted Asian mushroom ginger and fennel stir fry in sweet soy sauce because stir fry! Mushrooms! Ginger! All good rich stuff combined well together. The wok fried seasonal vegetables with dried chilli and Sichuan pepper required me to eat around the whole dried chillis, but was otherwise very pleasant, although by this point I was getting full! I had enough room to have a few tastes of the crispy tofu and grilled beanshoots in preserved Pixian bean paste, which had some interesting flavours but didn’t really connect lastingly with me. Fair given all the food I’d already absorbed!
I can go fifty-fifty on raw desserts, so I had a little trepidation about the raw avocado cheese cake with blackberry syrup and toasted coconut chips that finished the menu. But really, I should have have had a lot more confidence in proceedings by this point, because it was a DAMN FINE dessert, raw or not. The filling had that wonderful avocado creaminess while not having the taste dominating (avocado in desserts is another thing that often doesn’t work for me, but this hit just the right notes), with the bulk of the flavour being carried by the berry-packed blackberry syrup and surprisingly – and I say surprisingly because this is ordinarily my least favourite part of any cheesecake – the base, which was filled with so many flavours that I struggled to identify them all. Luckily Catherine is a desserts whisperer and identified them all by taste alone before we confirmed with Shu.
Shu remains unique, experimental and a proper experience. Vegan degustations happen every Wednesday night, with all-you-can-eat dumplings on Thursdays. WELL. What are you waiting for?
147 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9090 7878