Friday, 6 June 2008

Green Garden - vegetarian Chinese restaurant

I lived in Oxford for three years, and acquired a heavy dependence on The Pink Giraffe . This Chinese restaurant isn't even entirely vegetarian, but does an amazing vegetarian/vegan menu. It's so very vegan-friendly that they flag up the non-vegan items with a hash sign. I have to stop myself when I start to think about the mock duck pancakes with their crispy cucumber and tangy sauce. Oh dear, it's too late. When my mum came to visit me in Oxford, she would always treat me and a friend (and herself) to lunch here, and we both reminisce about the all-you-can-eat menu with a tear in our eye.

I never thought I was much of a fan of Chinese food until I discovered The Pink Giraffe. Back in Stoke, I could rarely get anything other than tired old sweet and sour vegetables, in a gloopy bright orange sauce. Thank God for big cities, eh?

On to my point. Paris has its own offering for vegetarian lovers of Chinese food: Green Garden. The place is entirely lacto-vegetarian. No meat, and no eggs.

This Chinese restaurant is in the 13th arrondissement (métro (line 7), bus (PC2), or tram (T3) Porte d'Ivry. Or métro Olympiades (line 14) at a push. This is Chinatown. On the next street along, you'll really see Chinatown proper - the wonderful Frères Tang hypermarket and many Chinese and other east Asian restaurants. Green Garden is on rue Nationale.

Before I visited the place, I'd read lots of online reviews - most of which tried to put me off. In particular, there were reports of rude serving staff. That's a problem I've never encountered here. The ambiance is rather staid, and the decor very minimalist, but I've eaten at Green Garden many times and enjoyed it. I do regret the fact that they don't serve any alcohol, though. It's as pure as the decor, and they proudly proclaim on the window that there are no genetically modified ingredients used in the cooking. Or is it no monosodium glutamate? Or both?

The menu is pretty long, and entirely vegetarian. I do have one concern: I've read online that milk goes into their fake meat products. This would explain why they're not marked as vegan on the menu. There are, however, several vegetable-based dishes that are definitely vegan. There's also a little note on the menu telling you that dishes can be veganised upon request. The waiter always happily nods and says 'oui' when you ask him to do so, but I'm sceptical. Given how rare milk is in Chinese cooking, and that there's nothing in these recipes that could possibly contain any dairy products - apart from the mock meat - I'm not sure how vegan they are. I solve this problem by sticking to the items that are marked as vegan on the menu.

The food itself is good if unusual. The first time I ate in a Chinese restaurant in France (back in 2004 in Evreux, Normandy), I had to content myself with plain stir-fried broccoli and plain boiled rice. The waitress had laughed out loud when I suggested the possibility of sweet and sour vegetables... So I'm not sure if the unfamiliar quality of the food at Green Garden is a French influence (as is the case with Indian restaurants in France), or if it's that this restaurant is authentically Chinese. There's certainly a lot of Asian customers on any given evening here. Asian customers and hippy customers, and not many other customers. Sadly, this restaurant is often quite empty.

Good food - although unfamiliar-, fun area to explore, cheap as chips, 100% vegetarian. No alcohol, might be tricky for vegans.