The silver lining to the deluge of food safety scandals in China is the current mushrooming of healthy and vegetarian-friendly restaurants springing up in Shanghai. Green Vege Cafe is the latest breath of green air. Opened by warm and gracious Chinese couple Yoli Du and Will Meng, the sun-filled, high-ceilinged dining room in the new Touch Mall is filled with jazz music and imported vintage knick-knacks collected during the couple’s travels abroad. Du says they love the American 1950s era, so their collection of old posters, plates, an antique radio and a giant American flag make up the playful decor, while the walls are yellow and teal, the hues of a classic American diner.
After Meng left his family business, the couple and their toddler daughter took time off and travelled around the world. When they returned to Shanghai, they found a dearth of healthy and safe restaurants so they decided to open their own vegetarian, environmentally-friendly place.
Du is in charge of the kitchen, while Meng does front of house. Du’s menu has a global spread from veggie lasagne to Southeast Asian dishes, with many vegan choices, all clearly marked. Vegetables come from BioFarm and mushrooms and white asparagus from fine food purveyor QQMushroom. They don’t serve any fried foods; even their sweet potato fries are baked.
Their vegetarian burgers are signatures, including a juicy Portobello and pineapple combo and a delectable soy burger made with a surprisingly moist soy patty topped with lion’s mane mushrooms, nori, perfectly ripe avocado and wasabi spread, plus alfalfa sprouts they grow themselves. Risotto is made with brown rice, maitake mushrooms and white asparagus. Fans of popular street food fish curry balls will be amazed by the vegan ones here (Hong Kong style curry balls) which are almost indistinguishable from real fish balls; they’ve got the exact same aroma and bouncy texture and are served in a wonderfully fragrant curry broth.
Du says the cafe is their main focus in life now and they are dedicated to taking personal care of it for the next five years, with no plans to expand. They have ideas to hold healthy cooking workshops and children’s activities in the future. Already the cafe is remarkably child-friendly. They’ve made a little play-dough sculpture ‘menu’ so kids can visually choose what they want to eat and, with their five-year-old daughter in mind, they’ve built a kids’ corner with books, plastic furniture and a fun play kitchen.
Meng, a successful businessman in the past, is now a modest and gentle guide to his little café. He attends to every table, kneeling down and answering questions, apologizing if anything is not perfect. Green Vege’s relaxed, bohemian feel, healthy food and warm welcome to children make this new place already feel like old family.