Friday night. The best night for going out. Everything is open, and everyone is in a good mood after a working week. Unfortunately I am running a bit late for the rendezvous at the Social Club due to a beer-based staff counselling session. Not that Strop minds, the delay gives her another half an hour of catching up with old friends and colleagues. The friends are old Quest hands Duncan and Rebecca (New Taste, Thai Pothong) and newcomers Keren and James (who are vegetarians luckily, and have also been to Vina before – so they can do the ordering).
After a quick catch-up beer, which I don’t really need due to the nature of the counselling session, we file out and squeeze past the crowd waiting outside Lentil as Anything and make our way to the not-so-busy Vina. The dining room at Vina maintains the tradition of cheap Asian restaurants having very bright lighting, colourful walls and questionable art. While the rest of us settle in and explore the menu, Strop dashes off up the hill to get some more wine. “Just in case.”
Vina turns out to be another of those vegetarian restaurants that fashions gluten into various forms of meat substitutes. At Vina they use the term mock for these meat analogues. So the menu features Mock Crispy Fish, Mock Ham, Mock Chicken and rather endearingly, Mock Gluten. They also offer Wantons. I’m really starting to like this place. Rebecca and Keren take over the ordering as no one else volunteers. The young waiter is very helpful, giving advice on the dishes and suitable quantities. He also brings wine glasses to the table, six of them, none match. Impressive.
Soon after Strop returns with wine, the food starts arriving. There are DIY rice paper rolls, spring rolls, which I really enjoyed not least because there was an alluring hint of Chiko Roll about the flavour, which took me straight back to summer holidays by the beach. The Mock Crispy Fish lived up to its name being both crispy and tasty. In fact it tasted suspiciously fishy. The highlight for me though was the fried rice. It wasn’t like any other fried rice I’ve had before. It had black bits (which turned out to be seaweed) and a hint of mint. Nothing mock about it at all, just very tasty.
Somewhere in amongst all the eating and commenting on the food, Rebecca let slip that she had a sports bet account and had a financial interest in the outcome of the Hawks v Cats match up. You’re kidding? I had images of Tony Soprano, talking on the phone about The Spread and Laying Off. No idea what that means. No, Rebecca has a hobby, she doesn’t do needlepoint, she bets on AFL matches.
For dessert I couldn’t go past the fried banana and pineapple. I have long been a fan of the banana fritter but I had never tried pineapple in this form. I chickened out on the offer of vegan ice-cream and opted for the cow-based analogue instead. Strop went for something different. She described it as a delicious coconut milk and rice slurry, a bit like congee. I had a taste – it was surprisingly nice.
Afterwards posing for the obligatory group photo outside Vina we were massively photo-bombed by a group of happy hooligans.