234 Toorak Rd
South Yarra, VIC 3141
When Smith and Daughters first opened, my mind was blown – vegan food that wasn’t just a sad substitution for the real thing, but delicious in its own right?? And now, Shannon Martinez has brought her vegan magic to Lona Misa – a basically-vegan-but-occasionally-vegetarian bistro that pays homage to the chef’s Latin roots. Once again, she nails the brief and then some, with menu heavy on complex ferments, and a whole lotta open flame cooking. The dining room itself is also full of personality, the pop-art bastardisation of neo-classic paintings mirroring the sense of joyful irreverence in the kitchen. Put simply, this place is a grand old time for people of any dietary persuasion (yes, coeliacs too).
Rating: 15/20 – food without faces.
Best dish: pastor mushrooms.
Castanas de Agua ($24) is an unerring simulacrum of scallop, but instead of velvety shellfish, this is actually crunchy slices of water chestnut, served ceviche-style in a thick, citrusy sauce touched with hint of fermented chilli. It takes advantage of the distinct texture of the under-used vegetable to make a super bold and refreshing starter.
Queso Con Chorizo ($22) may not quite have the stretchy luxuriousness of melted cheese down pat, but it is a deliciously smooth and creamy dip. Plus, the spicy chorizo on top is a dead ringer, both in texture and flavour.
The Peri Peri Pollo ($34) is one of those dishes that have a very good chance of freaking vegans out. Although made innocently out of wheat-based seitan, the texture is so like a juicy chicken thigh it’s uncanny. The illusion is completed by the layer of ‘skin’ on top, which not only has the mouthfeel of the real thing, but even comes with the charred, fatty edges from the heat of the Josper. Basically, this tastes like a delicious bit of charcoal chicken, basted in funky fermented peri peri sauce.
The Pastor Mushrooms ($34) however, are a naturally-vegan delight. The meaty mushrooms cooked over charcoals boast a rich, robust smokiness I’ve never before had in a plant-based dish. It’s tossed through with the most decadent peanut-based sauce, its savoury spiciness mellowed out by sweet corn puree on the side. It is peak deliciousness.
Rounding things out is the Dark Chocolate Mousse ($20), and I can’t believe it’s not butter dairy! Rich, dark and smooth, this rivals and betters plenty of desserts based on cow-juice. The hidden addition of poached winter fruits, and bits of chocolate brownie, is a bonus treat.
The only bit of mediocrity for the night is the Bandwagon Southside ($14), a non-alcoholic take on the mojito that really just tastes like a citrusy drink with a hint of mint. Pleasant, but ordinary.