I’m always somewhat baffled by just how progressive Malaysia’s vegesphere is – progressive in the sense that they have chains of vegetarian restaurants, not just lonely individual outlets. Incredible. Last year I visited one such chain – Simple Life Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant in KL – and last week I visited another: Beyond Veggie in Johor Bahru. Even if you haven’t heard of Beyond Veggie, i’m quite sure that most residents of Singapore (or Malaysia) will have heard of Beyond Veggie’s parent company – Secret Recipe. Scary red branding, naff font, and average-looking food? That’s the one. Beyond Veggie is the vegetarian branch of the Secret Recipe tree, and provides an altogether more sophisticated dining experience. And i’m not just saying that because there’s no meat on the menu.
Although it was completely empty when we visited (CNY, duh), I was still mildly impressed by the decor, the service and the general boldness of the concept. It’s located in the basement of KSL City shopping mall – a short bus ride (S1, MYR 1.50) from JB Sentral. Whilst the basement itself stank of rancid assam laksa, Beyond Veggie provided a veritable oasis of earthy hues and neutral smells. Ahh, bliss.
First we ordered the Teriyaki Soba (MYR 15.90), which was soba noodles stir-fried in teriyaki sauce with button and shimeiji mushrooms, carrot and capsicum, beansprouts and some greens. Flanking the noodles was some sliced (Japanese, obviously) cucumber, achar pickles, emping (Indonesia-style) crackers, and some skewered gluten. A veritable feast, you could say.
The portion size was large, and that dish it sat in? It got style. It was served piping hot (which was a little strange), with strong smells of wokiness and teriyakiness. I guess it did everything right – delivered what it promised – but I couldn’t help but feel that everything was just a bit too greasy and nondescript in taste. A bit watery and superficial, perhaps? But still, lovely cucumber. I do like a nice wedge of cucumber.
Next we had the Veg Club Sandwich (MYR 14.90) – a strange name given that the conventional “club” is usually associated with bacon and some sort of poultry (chick or turk). And, of course, a bit of lettuce and a bathtub of mayo. This thing came with a slice of processed cheese up top, under which sat layer upon layer of tomato, lettuce and cucumber, all cemented together with great slops of the white stuff. Bookending this monster was some rather tasty olive focaccia, which provided some much needed salt to cut through all the dairy derivatives. It was very watery, incredibly messy, and yet also strangely tasty. I would order it again, but would prefer if they changed the name to something a bit more accurate. “Cheese and salad sandwich”, perhaps? It’s really not rocket science.
It came with the eponymous emping crackers (lotsof’em) and a side dish of cold potato mush that was a cross between potato salad and coleslaw. Again, weird, but actually rather moreish. This dish was full of pleasantish little surprises. And in these staid days of prandial predictability, you can’t ask for much more than that.