I have never been particularly gung-ho about vegan food. The exclusion of meat from a meal is one thing – the complete elimination of any and all food products derived from animals is another. I have, however, enjoyed vegan food in Montréal before. In particular, while sitting on the back patio of the old Mile End stalwart Aux Vivres, I was served one of the hands-down best brunches I’ve ever enjoyed. If brunch, a meal typically heavy in the animal by-product department can be palatably, even deliciously, served without meat, surely there’s nothing to fear – flavour-wise – from vegan joints come lunch-time. So it was without trepidation that I entered Bonny’s vegan and organic restaurant and sat down for lunch around 2 p.m. this past Monday.
The restaurant wasn’t very busy and, after having seated myself in one of the restaurant’s twenty or so seats, I was quickly handed a menu, and served a pitcher of lemon water. After a brief perusal of the menu I settled on the soup and sandwich combo, attractively priced at $10. My dhal soup arrived piping hot in a small teacup sprinkled with green onions and freshly cracked pepper. “Is it the lighting?” I thought, “or is this dhal brown?” Indeed the dhal was brown, but not for any sinister reason, as it turned out. Dhal, (denoting lentils generally [or any dish made with them] but, in this case, referring specifically to a style of soup) is usually flavoured with generous amounts of turmeric, which gives the dish its bright yellow colour and earthy aroma. Digging into the cup, I discovered I had been felicitously duped – the dhal was delicately seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder and cardamom instead. The result was a bit heavy on the cinnamon, but overall pretty exciting, for soup. The consistency was thinner than I am used to enjoying in a dhal soup, but I found it refreshing – especially with the distinctly Chinese addition of green onions – and enjoyed it almost as a tea rather than a soup.
The veggie-pâté sandwich was unfortunately not as exciting. Served on admirably fresh and delicious bread that smelled deeply of toasted wheat, the sandwich was spread with a too-thin layer of lentil and wheat-berry veggie-pâté, and topped with spinach greens, pickled red cabbage, fresh shredded carrots, and dijonnaise. The ingredients themselves were acceptably fresh and garden-variety – the pickled cabbage, obviously done in-house, was pleasant and crunchy, the veggie-pâté was soft and savoury, and it’s hard to complain about carrots and spinach at great length. My problem with the sandwich was that the fillings weren’t particularly filling. For a few extra bucks, I could get a twice as large sandwich at Aux Vivres, where the satiating nature of the food seems to be an integral part of their success.
Bonny’s has everything going for it: a good location in an up-and-coming restaurant district (Joe Beef anyone?), a unique concept ‘if your mom cooked vegan’ and a nice interior space. It has more than enough to set it apart from the pack (read: Aux Vivres). What it needs to do is start serving bigger portions, not necessarily better or different food, just more of it.