Enjoying delicious and nutritious vegetarian Chinese food is easier think you’d think, as Stacey Black finds out
Almost a year after opening, Bristol’s cosiest veggie Chinese restaurant is going strong. Built on the idea that Chinese home cooking should be about using innovative ingredients with no artificial colours or additives, Suyuan promises a dining experience that is nourishing for both body and mind. With a menu that chooses to forego the usual Chinese classics, I couldn’t resist.
Stepping into Suyuan was like stepping into a charming living room – the place is as relaxed as it is inviting. The gleaming tables sat on top of stylish wooden floors, and huge yellow lotus flower lanterns hovered above. The room was given a calming feel, as a water feature trickled away cheerfully by the door. Hanging plants added a little taste of the outdoors, and large paintings of lily ponds decorated the simple white walls. Groups of diners chatted away animatedly while they enjoyed their meals, as owner Xiumei met us at the door. She greeted us as warmly as if we were old friends, and seated us at a small table by the window.
Looking over the drinks menu, we found it difficult to choose between the large selection of delicious-sounding teas and fruit juices. She recommended the cucumber and mint tea, which arrived promptly in a large jug, with two sparkling crystal glasses for myself and my friend to share. Minus the honey for me, the delicately sweetened jasmine tea was dotted with fresh mint and slivers of cucumber; a refreshing start to what was sure to be a wholesome meal.
Since I was in a starchy mood, I chose the fried shredded sweet potato, with onion, coriander and home-made dressing, to start. The crispy shards of potato were piled high on a beautifully painted plate, jewelled with wafer-thin slices of red onion. Incredibly moreish, the sweetness of the potato was perfectly offset by the sharp and tangy fronds of fresh coriander. My friend ordered the spinach dumplings – usually served as a side dish – and a row of delicate, satisfyingly overstuffed parcels soon arrived. Beautifully-presented and jam-packed with choy sum, rice noodles and mushroom, these were bursting with flavour. A garlic fiend, my friend assured me that the accompanying soy and garlic dip was some of the most delicious she’d ever tasted. I hoped these big and bold flavours were a hint of dishes to come, and I wasn’t disappointed.
My main course of bean curd, enoki mushroom (my favourite!), Chinese cabbage, and special Suyuan sauce arrived as a huge steaming bowl of goodness, fogging up my glasses as I impatiently dove in. Enormous chunks of soft and chewy tofu swam amongst an almost-clear broth, and every now and then, a dried red chilli bobbed up to liven proceedings. After I had gobbled up the glass noodles that sat in a spiral at the centre of the bowl, I ditched the chopsticks and drained the soup. At once savoury, sweet and with a pleasing sourness, this was my favourite part of the meal. Amazingly, I still had a little room to sample the special rice we had ordered as a side. A colourful and appealing-looking dome of red rice landed at our table, and was peppered with broccoli, carrot, onion and sweetcorn, and was well-seasoned with soy. It was delicious, and I was sorry I couldn’t have eaten more. My dining partner opted for the sweet and sour vegetable balls as her main course, and a similarly colossal bowl appeared.
I had never seen vegetable-stuffed tofu balls before, and I was intrigued. Large slabs of fluffy bean curd were packed with mashed potato and carrot, and bobbed around in a sauce that, while slightly more sweet than sour, was incredibly mouth-watering. The addition of tender baby pak choi rounded off the dish nicely, and my friend also swapped to a spoon to slurp up every last drop.
Friendly and happy to chat about her methods of cooking, Xiumei arrived to clear away our practically-clean plates. After offering a special dessert, she swiftly brought out a small platter of banana fritters with vanilla bean ice cream to share. My friend and I couldn’t grab our spoons fast enough. Pieces of lava-hot, light and crispy battered banana smothered with rich ice cream is surely one of the most satisfying desserts. We practically inhaled it.
With such a breadth of options, this is the kind of place you could visit time and time again and never eat the same thing twice. Hardly noticeable is the fact that all dishes are veggie-friendly, and boasting a menu that is as exciting and unusual as this one, Suyuan offers delights that will appeal to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike; all will leave feeling nourished.
0117 329 8479