Monday, 7 April 2014

Cafe Soya, Birmingham


Cafe Soya at The Arcadian Centre, 70 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4TD
Last Sunday I had a brilliant Mothers' Day treat from my daughter Radha- she took me to dinner and then to see a movie! We chose to eat at Cafe Soya, a place I'd been meaning to visit for years and never quite got round to. Cafe Soya is a Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant and karaoke bar in two locations in Birmingham's Chinese Quarter. (The menu is the same on both branches.) It's easy to find, right opposite the famous Rag Market in the city centre, and is open until 10pm every day. What makes Cafe Soya a little different though, is that although it's not exclusively vegetarian, the vegetarian menu (the vast majority of which is vegan) is extensive to say the least, and I have it on good authority (else I wouldn't have risked eating there) that the veggie stuff is all cooked well away from the meat in its own separate area. The family who own the business are, in their own words, "Passionate about soya", making their own soya products like soya milk and tofu fresh every day.

The larger Cafe Soya with karaoke and function rooms at Unit 2, Upper Dean Street Birmingham B5 4SG Tel: 0121 6223888 http://www.cafesoya.co.uk/

The vegetarian menu is huge, comprising noodle, soup and rice dishes (and fries!), and helpfully colour-coded in green. There are some good, nutritious oriental vegetables on offer, such as kai len and pak choy. As well as the usual soft drinks and alcohol. There is a range of more unusual soya shakes and bubble teas. The protein is provided by tofu, soya "fake meat" and seitan in the "mock" dishes. When we arrived at the larger branch there was plenty of room in the large, open dining area but there were also a couple of functions on in the rooms at the back, which kept the kitchen very busy and the service consequently friendly but slow. Cafe Soya attracts an eclectic bunch from all over town, including students, families and random shoppers looking for refreshment. The prices are very reasonable indeed (see picture below) and we ate well  for under £20, not including drinks.


It was really hard to choose from the enormous range of dishes, but eventually we went for steam buns, sweet and sour veg with mock duck and a "Big Bowl" Vietnamese-style noodle soup. The steam buns were well made, with an almost marshmallowy texture and sweet taste that contrasted well with all our savoury stuff, but I must admit I was a little disappointed to find no garnish or filling. Radha's sweet and sour dish, which I tasted, was served in a somewhat unattractive sizzle bowl, but it did stay nice and warm throughout the meal. There were lots of al dente peppers and carrots, a classic sauce I could not fault, and the seitan pieces were beautifully succulent and just the right size for picking up with chopsticks. My noodle soup was nothing short of awesome! Not only was it huge, delicious and steamingly satisfying, but it came in a really pretty bowl with matching ceramic spoon. The broth was filled with a very generous quantity of rice noodles and contained fresh basil, beansprouts, shredded cabbage and soya "chicken" pieces, all with an attractive green garnish. It took us ages to finish! I must admit I'm not used to the monosodium glutamate flavour (maybe next time I'd ask for it to be left out) but that apart, it really was a lovely dish which I'd have again.

Sweet and sour mock duck with vegetables

Big bowl noodle soup with soya "chicken"

Steam buns
Our verdict: yes, we'd certainly eat there again. The food, when it arrives, is well cooked and the range of dishes makes it tempting to go back again and again just to try something new. If you're looking for a place in Birmingham city centre where you can eat vegan at sensible prices, this could well be your best option.

What do you think about fake meat? Is it a nice change, too much like the real thing, or a staple for you?








3 comments:

  1. I do eat Quorn, at first it was too much like meat but now I think I have got used to it... and sometimes it is easier.

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    1. I never tried Quorn because of the egg, but it looks very convincing! I agree, fake meats are often a great convenience food; saved me many a time! The vegan Society awarded Linda Mac sausages best vegan product last year- we get them for the kids a lot as they make a great sandwich to take to college with salad and ketchup , and they're cheap.:)

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