10 Stanmore Road
Enmore, NSW 2042
I love vegan food – there, I said it. But I feel like this turnabout is less due to any personal development on my part, and more attributable to the fact that vegan food in Sydney is a little magical. Ramen, Pizza, Laksa – you name it, and they can do a vegan version that tastes miraculously similar to its animal-containing alternative, and probably taste better to boot. I will take a little credit however; it wasn’t so long ago that I was denouncing vegan food in favour of fried chicken.
One thing I have learnt about vegan cooking over my time in Sydney is that Thai food is fairly low-hanging fruit. Between the generous use of aromatics and hearty glugs of coconut milk, it’s not the absolute hardest thing in the world to make a good vegan curry. So what makes Little Turtle, one of many vegan Thai restaurants in the inner west, stand out?
As it turns out, quite a few things. Not only is the menu refreshingly modern, reading more like a South-East Asian tapas bar than your usually miscellaneous-proteins-with-miscellaneous-carbs takeaway joint, it is run by the indomitable Vinita Chumsri, an ambitious 20-something year old for whom the opening of Little Turtle represents the pinnacle of her recovering from an eating disorder. Of course, the millennial-friendly décor and lush courtyard out back doesn’t hurt either!
I had my eyes on the Thai Crepe Dumplings ($14.9, 6pcs) from the get-go, and they were indeed the light, delicate parcels of my dreams. The long, trailing sheets of rice noodle were sensuously silky, wrapped around an umami-laden filling of shiitake. And if you’re worried that the dumpling skins will get bland, fear not – the dish of black vinegar with chilli will fix you right up.
Although the Puff Sticks ($9.9, 4pcs) turned out to be nothing more than curry puffs made into a spring roll configuration, they were nevertheless tasty and fun. I was amazed at how light and buttery the pastry was, despite being vegan, and the centre of turmeric-scented potatoes was fluffy and satisfying, contrasting with the crunch of the shell.
In an attempt to try a few more of the flavours the menu has to offer, I decided on a basket of mixed Baos ($16.9, 3pcs). Steamed fresh to order, the buns were soft and fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness in the dough. Each bun was seasoned with caramelised soy sauce and an impressively creamy vegan mayo, but it’s the various fillings that are the most exciting bit. I’m a sucker for the firm slab of crispy fried tofu, drizzled with an addictive chilli sauce. The pulled pork mushrooms were good for something different, the fungi dehydrated to an almost jerky-like texture. The tempura cauliflower was the weakest of the lot, its flavour owing mostly to the mayo and soy, but depending on who you ask, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Coming off the seasonal specials was the Grilled Miso Sticky Rice & Roasted Garlic Mushroom ($14.9). This was just wonderful, the slab of savoury-sweet, slightly smoky rice delicious of its own accord, but when garnished with meaty mushrooms and a som tum– styled carrot salad, became a dish that wouldn’t be out of place on the tapas menu of a high-end modern Asian restaurant.
Unlike the rest of the menu, the desserts here mostly stick to the classics, such as the Bau Loy ($9.9) – a sweet dessert soup of colourful glutinous rice balls in rich coconut milk. It’s pretty heavy going, especially after the generous meal we’d just had, but it’s not all that hard to go back for just one more addictively chewy, sweet bite.
Even in a city rife with good vegan food, Little Turtle is impressive. Although the food is solidly rooted int traditional Thai cooking, the modern and inventive take they have on it here makes it stand out from the pack, convincing punters to make the long trek all the way to the end of the Enmore Road strip. The only negative thing I had to say is about the service; despite being very friendly, the staff were wildly unhelpful, refusing point-blank to make any food recommendations no matter how much we asked. It didn’t turn out to be a problem in the end as the food was all delicious, but it would’ve been nice to have a little more guidance through such a large and unique menu.
Rating: 14/20 – i can’t believe it’s not butter!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.