I’ve been wanting to try out Xenia for months, ever since I went looking for a place for a work function in East Brunswick that could 1) seat 50+ people 2) several of whom were vegan and 3) several more of whom were gluten-free. This seemed to fit the bill, but was just a bit above the budget required, and while the staff at Xenia were very willing to be flexible, I didn’t quite dare inflict a set menu on my group of individualistic scientists, so I reluctantly chose a different venue.
Still, I was intrigued by their vegan banquet, which looked, frankly, tastier than their meaty one, and was priced at a mere $30 per head, and so I decided to celebrate my last evening before going back to work by taking my husband out to dinner there.
I told him that we didn’t *have* to have the vegan banquet option, but Andrew has been hearing me wax lyrical over said banquet for some months now, and he’s a very nice sort of Andrew, so he said he was happy to give it a whirl. Since Andrew is the world’s fussiest eater, this was not an offer to turn down, so that’s what we went with.
The Vegan entree platter consists of chargrilled bread, two dips, falafel, koupes, olives, vegan feta and either dolmades or stuffed zucchini flowers. I adore zucchini flowers, so that’s what we chose.
We started with the bread and dips. The bread had clearly been grilled over an open flame, as it was quite smoky in flavour, which was nice, though it took me a bit to get used to it. The eggplant dip was also very smoky – a bit too smoky for me, in fact, though Andrew didn’t mind it. I was surprisingly taken with the fava bean dip, which was quite plain in flavour, but lovely and smooth and moreish. It tasted like the sort of thing you could put on toast for breakfast and feel really good about – wholesome, and filling and not too fussy for the early hours of the morning.
The koupes were a sort of deep-fried bulgur-wheat crust around a mushroom filling. I am not the world’s greatest mushroom fan, and Andrew actively dislikes them, but we both really liked these. They were basically crunchy, deep-fried happiness, with the mushrooms providing a lovely, moist, savoury filling. They were a little oily, but since nothing else on the plate was, they worked just fine. I ate mine with the vegan feta, which was interesting and not entirely to my taste. They don’t make their vegan feta in house, but the waitress kindly brought me the jar to look at, so that I could see that it was a tofu base, with coconut oil, and a lot of garlic, lemon and herbs. I found the coconut a bit too much to the fore, but the texture was lovely and soft and cheesy – somewhere between feta and ricotta, I think.
Next, we tried the felafel, which were quite good and very flavoursome, but a bit dry for my taste. The trouble here is that I have had some extraordinarily good felafel in my time, so you have to work hard to live up to it. I think they really wanted a good tzatziki dip, which was not going to happen at a vegan feast!
Last of all were the zucchini flowers, which to me were my favourite dish of the day. They were stuffed with rice, which can be very boring, but in this case the rice was creamy and savoury and tomatoey and really great. (As for the olives – they were very pretty, but neither of us really likes olives, so we merely admired them from afar.)
In all honesty, we could probably have stopped there and skipped straight to dessert. It wasn’t that we were full, precisely, but that was already a pretty good amount of food – certainly enough for a light meal.
The main course was billed as yemistes (vegetables stuffed with rice), crunchy fat potatoes, and cauliflower salad. And what they served us was very tasty, but definitely not what was described on the menu. The yemistes were as advertised, and were the best of these that I’ve had – they had used tomatoes and beautiful, small, sweet capsicums, which had been perfectly roasted, and were filled with more of that lovely, savoury, risotto-ish rice. I could have eaten these all day. The potatoes were also delicious, but not at all crunchy or fat – they seemed to have been cooked in the same pan as the yemistes, which gave them a lovely flavour, but they were quite soft, with only a hint of a crust. This was a little disappointing, because I was pretty excited about crunchy potatoes, but they were very good in their own right.
The cauliflower salad was notable for not, in fact, having any cauliflower in it that I could detect! What it was was a salad of barley (or perhaps freekeh?), green lentils, almonds, currants, pomegranate seeds, and herbs, with a pretty aggressive pomegranate molasses dressing. It was absolutely delicious, however, and also massive – I wound up taking half of it home in a box for my lunch for Monday.
Dessert was billed as loukomades – little doughnuts with walnut and cinnamon syrup. We were pretty much stuffed to the gills at this point, and expected that they would bring us out bowls with one or two little loukomades each – three at most. Which we thought we could just about manage.
We underestimated their generosity.
We couldn’t do it. 13 loukomades between two people is heading into complete meal territory, if you like your complete meal to consist mostly of sugar and carbs. We didn’t have a chance, and managed six between us, and that was probably pushing it. Sadly, the loukomades were probably the least appealing thing we ate – they were a little bit more doughy than they should have been – but the syrup was lovely and well-spiked with cinnamon.
Overall, that was a very good meal, and really exceptional value for money at $30 per person. The meaty banquet is $45 per head, which would also be quite good value, as it is very full of seafood. There was plenty more on the menu for vegetarians and vegans, too, and clearly, with all the vegan stuffed vegetables, the gluten-and-dairy-free contingent would be comfortably taken care of.
Other nice things – it was quite quiet (which I hope isn’t a bad sign for their longevity), and the service was very prompt – we arrived at about ten to seven, and were out the door, having been fed a three course meal, at about 8:15
We will definitely be going back – I want to try the vegan moussaka, and, honestly, I also want to try some of their meat dishes. It would be a good place to take overseas friends, too – it’s so quintessentially Brunswick: classic Cypriot food, made vegan…
Xenia Foodstore is located at 202 Lygon Street, East Brunswick. You can book a table or view their menu on their website at http://www.xeniafoodstore.com.au . I didn’t check wheelchair accessibility, but it seemed pretty flat – I don’t think there was a step to get in, and there was a reasonable amount of space between tables.