2/4 College St
Sydney, NSW 2000
Now that I have finally finished medical school, I have a glorious two-month window before I start my internship where I’m expected to do nothing except what I want. And even if most of this year hadn’t been spent in lockdown, hitting up restaurants that I normally don’t have time to visit would still be top of my list. And very high up on that list is Bodhi Restaurant. Because even though it’s open lunch through dinner, it’s the yum cha menu that I’m really interested in, and spending half a day on something like that just wasn’t the kind of time I had… until now.
Bodhi is tucked away in a lush corner of Cook and Phillip Park, almost right under the eaves of the imposing St Mary’s Cathedral. Its such a clever little hiding spot that I’ve never noticed it until now, despite how popular it seems to be. It’s an oasis of Zen in the middle of the CBD, and perfectly in-character for this vegan restaurant. Yes, you read rightly – vegan yum cha is what’s on the menu today, and I’m extra curious to see how it shapes up, especially given that Bodhi also follows the Buddhist principle of not using onion or garlic in any of their food. Funnily enough however, they do have quite an extensive cocktail menu, despite alcohol consumption generally being frowned upon in Buddhism.
There’s a yum cha menu available on Bodhi’s website, so I thought this would be an a la carte affair. But no! Once we were led to our seats – a beautiful little nook beneath the shade of a tree – a traditional yum cha order sheet was placed on our table, and trays of various steamed, fried, and baked goodies came parading by soon after. The only thing missing is the surly trolley ladies, but the friendly and helpful servers were definitely an upgrade!
I’m not usually one for BBQ Pork Buns ($10.5, 3pcs) when it comes to yum cha, preferring to save my stomach room for something more interesting. However this time, I was keen to see what a vegan rendition was like. Unfortunately the filling bore no similarity to its meaty counterpart, but I was remarkably impressed with the bun itself, which was sweet, cotton-candy-fluffy, and if we’re all being honest, half the joy of eating a BBQ bun in the first place.
I love Combination Footballs ($11.5, 3pcs), aka ham sui gok, yet I never end up ordering them as often as I would like. Now unlike the BBQ pork buns, these are as good as any meat-containing version I’ve had. Not only did the deep-fried glutinous rice casing have that addictive contrast between crisp and chewy, the filling was also delectably umami, its saltiness contrasting with the delicate sweetness of the shell.
Now Sweet and Sour Beancurd ($13.5, 3pcs) is something I’ve never seen before, but I was glad to have ordered it. The thin sheets of beancurd were wrapped around a filling of veggies spring roll-style, then fried until crisp, before being doused in a slick of sweet and sour sauce that is everyone’s guilty pleasure. It’s a simple concept that riffs off several Australian-Chinese dishes, yet it’s surprising how well it works.
Without the use of meat or meat-by products, the dumplings at Bodhi get pretty creative. The Shiitake Mushroom, Asparagus, Truffle Oil Dumplings ($13.5, 3pcs) were definitely one of the bolder options, but the risk paid off. The classic meaty-umami flavour of the mushroom gets a luxe upgrade with the addition of earthy truffle oil, and the diced asparagus adds an unexpected pop of freshness to each bite. The wrappers were a bit on the gluey side, but did manage to hold together well.
Of course, I couldn’t resist also grabbing a serve of their Prawn Dumplings ($11.5, 3pcs), aka my go-to dish at yum cha (I’m also partial to chicken feet, but no chance of those here). This was a case of almost, but not quite. Visually, these looked spot-on with their pretty orange and white dappling through the translucent skin. I was however less sold by the filling. Although it had the bouncy texture of fresh prawns, and even a little bit of the brininess, it just wasn’t quite convincing. With that said though, trying to come up with a vegan version of a prawn sounds like a tall order, especially when there are no sauces or marinades to hide behind.
The Vegetarian Sausage Rolls ($10.5, 3pcs) were amazing, but not because they were any different from your usual sausage bun. In fact, what was most remarkable about them was the fact that they tasted exactly like the ones you get from Breadtop, buttery bread and all, despite being entirely vegan. Or maybe it was the Breadtop ones that were vegan all along…
After the success of the BBQ Pork Buns, it wasn’t surprising that the Pan Fried Chicken Buns ($10,5, 3pcs) were a hit. The same fluffy bun was pan fried until golden, and then filled with a gingery mix of Chinese cabbage, mushroom, and tofu. It may not have been a big chunk of meat, but the seasonings went a long way to convincing me that it was indeed chicken that I was eating.
And to finish off, Mango Pancakes ($13.5, 2pcs), which is arguably the best yum cha dessert of all time. These were excellent; the pancakes were tender with just the slightest bit of chew, and stuffed with rich coconut cream and a huge chunk of fresh mango. As sacrilegious as this sounds, I think I may even prefer these over the traditional version – I absolutely love the contrast between the sweet tropical fruit and the slight saltiness of the coconut cream.
Bodhi thoroughly impressed me. This was the first time I’d ever had vegan yum cha (where else do you even get it??), and this just went above and beyond my expectations. The food wasn’t just a pale imitation of traditional yum cha; every dish was carefully thought out and crafted to be a worthy alternative to its meat-based counterpart, and doesn’t leave you feeling greasy and weighed-down to boot. The only downside is the price, but with such creative, clever food in such a charming environment, I’m more than happy to pay the premium.
Rating: 14.5/20 – vegan chicken feet please!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.