In Asian, Dining on
October 4, 2010

Zen Oasis, Berrima

This has got to be one of the most unusual buffet restaurants I’ve been to.

For one thing, it’s situated one and a half hours away from Sydney, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Literally. All you can see around here is lots of plain, empty land. The endless flat ground, with dry yellow grass (because we’re in Australia, of course), a couple of lonely, skinny trees here and there and an occasional cow or two- just like the type you see for hours on a long drive along a highway. And to make it a little bit stranger, all the diners here don’t actually come from this area- they all come from suburban Sydney. And then there’s the name of this restaurant, Zen Oasis, which (to me) sounds nothing like a restaurant name really- perhaps a resort of some sort, but not a restaurant.

We arrive by car, slowly along the windy gravel road until we reach the end, to find plenty of other cars already parked there. Never mind that our GPS seems a little lost, with our car sitting in a middle of a big green patch on the screen, with no roads to be seen- at least we’re in the right place! The sight of the large pond draws our attention- perhaps this is the reason for the ‘oasis’ part of the name? Sitting next to the pond is what appears to be a small wooden cottage- it doesn’t take long to figure that the cottage is the restaurant.


We’re here from the recommendation given by family friends. Apparently, this place has been open for a while and is quite well known within the Cantonese-Chinese community (the same bunch you’ll see flocking Eastwood every weekend for their grocery shopping). It’s very popular too- the restaurant opens at 11:30 and we’ve only arrived a couple of minutes later but have already found the restaurant mostly full, with customers already comfortably seated and digging into their food. We are shown to our table, in a small dark corner by a waiter who notifies us of their food wastage policy before we are let loose to grab some of the food we’ve been eagerly awaiting to try.

So- what’s so great about the food that makes people travel so far just to eat it??


To me, it’s not just that the food tastes good; it’s the fact that the food is ingenious. Zen Oasis is a vegetarian restaurant, but instead of serving up plates of veggies and tofu, it serves up seemingly ordinary dishes with vegetarian foods disguised as meat. And you don’t really notice it! The meats are not only replicated in appearance and taste, they are also replicated in texture- even with fake fat within the ‘meat’!

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Fried Banana, (and I don’t know what the rest are meant to be…..)

Of course, we start with the unhealthy fried foods, which have their own table, separate from the mains. Unlike your typical RSL buffets, there were no fried chips or potato wedges to be found, but instead a more unusual selection of delicious crunchy foods.

I don’t usually like fried banana, but I make the exception to try it this time, because the black sesame seeds make it look different and yummier. And it is! It doesn’t taste quite as banana-y as most fried bananas I’ve had (which is a good thing) and the batter is deliciously crispy and crunchy. Made with a similar batter, the round fried ball thing reminds me of fish balls, with its nori wrapping making it extremely tasty.

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Spring Roll and ‘wu cee’

And of course, the beloved spring roll, which is filled with a slightly sweet veggie filling and is delicious with its crispy exterior

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Fried ‘Salmon’

Wrapped in a layer of nori, giving it a slight fishy taste, and then fried in a crispy batter, this fried salmon is one of my favourite fried foods. Biting into the crispy batter reveals the tender pink interior which tastes amazingly like salmon- and it even tears off in the exact same way cooked salmon does!

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Fried (yellow) ‘eel’

Again, nori is used to give this a little fishy flavour. The thin strips of ‘eel’ are fried until very crisp and crunchy and then covered in a slight sweet sauce. And if you’ve never had deep fried eel before, just take a look at these pictures to see the resemblance!

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Selection of fried foods

With so many crispy and crunchy foods on offer, I could happily stuff myself with just the fried foods =)

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Rice Dumplings (Zhongzi)

These cute little dumplings are so small, I could eat them in one mouthful! They must have taken forever to wrap….

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The rice dumplings are made of glutinous rice and instead of the meat filling, mushrooms and beans along with other ingredients which I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to replicate. But they’re incredibly flavoursome and are so good, we each eat a couple of these. Luckily they have heaps of these, kept warm in layers of bamboo steamers- they really must have taken forever to wrap!

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Fried rice

Surprisingly, our favourite of all is the simplest one- fried rice. Unlike your usual chinese style fried rice with colourful veggies and egg, this fried rice is fried with shredded pieces of nori and other veggies. It tastes suprisingly tasty despite its simplicity compared to other dishes, but is so good that we keep going back for more!

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Steamed Wonton

A smooth, silky wonton wrapper envelops delicious fake prawn failling- even from the outside, you can see the pinkish interior which looks decievingly like a prawn filling!

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Vegetarian Char Siew (chinese barbecued pork)

I love how realistic the char siew looks- the shape is exactly like the real one! But even more incredible is that it tastes amazingly real, perhaps with a lesser pork taste than the usual but still has a incredibly meat-like texture. It’s slightly soft, like the real good quality char siew that you may occasionally get- the type with just the right amount of fat. Of course, there’s no real pork or pork fat in this, so we can happily wolf down a lot of these without the guilt =) Covered with a delicious char siew sauce, this is definitely one of the best char siew I’ve ever had, real or fake!

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Steamed Chinese Dumpling

I’m not quite sure which dumpling this is exactly trying to replicate (maybe it’s not really trying to replicate anything at all?) because the filling is difficult to recognise but the delicious, soft transparent dumpling wrapper tastes just like yum cha dumplings. Personally I think the skin was not as soft as I’d like it, but it was delicious all the same =)

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Sushi

The sushi is really pretty- it’s not only colourful but is made into many wonderful shapes and patterns. The sushi is made fresh, behind the table of food so that we are able to witness it being made whilst we get our food. And despite being vegetarian and full of veggies, it tastes every bit as good as it looks!

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Fruit Jelly and Mochi (glutinous rice balls)

Vegetarian desserts are not the most difficult things to make (who puts meat in desserts??)so the restaurant goes little further here, to make most of the desserts vegan.

The cute little jelly is looks simple but is surprisingly delicious and addictive with pieces of fruit studded throughout the smooth, sweet, tropical jelly.

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The mochi is another addictive dessert- a soft, chewy glutinous rice ball, covered in specks of coconut witha delicious mung bean (I think) filling. Seriously addictive =)

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Blueberry Cheesecake, Sponge Cake and something (haha…I forgot what it was =S)

The blueberry cheesecake is a little firmer than what I normally like, but tastes delicious. The spongecake is also a little dry, but with its delicious custard filling and light coconut topping, tastes so light and yummy that we don’t really mind.

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Red Bean Dessert

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Chocolate Mud Cake

The rich and dense chocolate cake is tastes heavenly, especially with its rich ganache icing. Perhaps not so popular with the adults who complain it’s too rich and sweet but the slice is small anyway!

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Mini Coconut Tarts and mini lemon meringue pie

The mini coconut tarts are really cute and taste delicious, although I prefer coconut tarts served warm rather than cold. But other than that they are an addictive treat- not too oily or sweet! I was surprised when my parents also decided to eat the lemon meringue pie because they don’t usually like meringue. But it’s so cute, it’s hard to resist!

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Looking back, I probably should have taken more photos because there was a lot more food I didn’t take photos of- but there’s always next time! Outside, there’s a small path surrounding the pond- it’s short and only takes one minute or so to complete the whole circle but does give a good opportunity for photo taking, and, more importantly, for a little exercise to help digest the food. Before the long 1.5 hour drive home. =)

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Zen Oasis Vegetarian Restaurant
Lot 2 Medway Road Berrima NSW 2577
(Berrima & Moss Vale Exit of Hume Highway)
Tel: 0404 099 285 OR 02 4877 1285

Open 11:30-1:40 Sat and Sun
$31 for adults and $16 for children

Zen Oasis on Urbanspoon

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18 Comments

  • Fat Belly Club

    This place sounds great – no idea something like this would be hiding in Berrima. Did you have a look around Berrima while you were there? It's such a cute little town.

    October 4, 2010 at 4:01 AM Reply
  • Poggy

    Ohh the thing next to the spring roll is that vegetable noodle thing you have in hot pot/steamboat called "wu-cee" in canto! I think its tastes funny =/.

    Everytime I have vegetarian meat it tastes like tofu so now I really want to try this to taste meat that is not meaat =D.

    October 4, 2010 at 9:57 AM Reply
  • Yvonne

    Hi Fat Belly Club! Yup! We go off in all different directions everytime to see what's around. But I think we went to Berrima the first time- it's a pretty small town! I remember there was a lolly shop and a cake decorating store! =)

    Hi Poggy! I knew there was something I had to find out!! I forgot the name of it which is why I left it out but thanks for telling me =) I have it everytime I have the steamboat thing at home too! I like it though! I've only had vegetarian meat a few times but they've always tasted weird- not even like tofu! haha…

    October 4, 2010 at 11:02 AM Reply
  • MaryMoh

    Lovely vegetarian food here. I went to a vegetarian restaurant once when I was back home but I think the food tasted weird. I think some of the vegetarian food here can be easily made at home. Hope I can find a good one to try again.

    October 4, 2010 at 11:07 AM Reply
  • Ladybird

    Mr Ladybird and I wanted to go here last weekend but we didn't make it. Food looks good, but $31 per person seems quite expensive (esp considering it's a bit far out for most Sydneysiders…)

    October 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM Reply
  • Yvonne

    Hi MaryMoh! I'm not familiar with vegetarian food so I'd have no idea how to recreate anything….haha =) This is the first fully vegetarian restaurant I've been to but most of the vegetarian foods I've had before weren't that great either….

    Hi Ladybird! Yeah, $31 is really expensive- especially since we usually spend under $10 pp for lunch. That's the reason why we only go here once or twice a year =(

    October 4, 2010 at 11:36 AM Reply
  • Steph

    That's place sounds very interesting 🙂 I must pester my parents to go someday LOL.. but it will be heaps expensive to go cause I have 6 people in the family.. four of which classify as adults I think haha.

    Hope your holidays have been good 🙂

    October 4, 2010 at 12:40 PM Reply
  • sensiblecooking

    Defiantly a hidden oasis. Looking at those food I am so jealous of you. We don't have any nice eatery like that here.

    October 4, 2010 at 3:49 PM Reply
  • Shirley @ Kokken69

    Interesting… I don't know how common is this kind of vegetarian food in australia… But it is very common for us. In fact the trend now is for the vegetarian community to move to find vegetable and soy dishes that are cooked well. We are moving away From all the 'mock dishes'.(mock fish, mock curry chicken, mock char sew etc are very common) because these mock dishes usually are gluten based, deep fried, with additives etc… But they are fascinating, aren't they? It always tickle people when we tell them we are serving them vegetarian curry mutton!

    October 4, 2010 at 11:57 PM Reply
  • Gummi Baby

    I love the look of this place, the food looks wonderful (judging by your ratio of savoury to sweet food photos, I'm guessing you have a sweet tooth?!) but I would need to know that all the mock meat dishes weren't made entirely from soy or gluten based ingredients. That would kind of upset my stomach. Wonderful for vegans though! Great find!

    October 5, 2010 at 9:27 AM Reply
  • Yvonne

    Hi Steph! Hope your holidays have been good too! And hope you've got more studying done than me 😛 haha……which wouldn't be a hard thing =) Yeah….6 people would be quite expensive!!

    Hi Sensiblecooking! haha….I always feel like that when I read food blogs from overseas too!

    Hi Shirley! It's not common in Australia- which is why I'm so fascinated with it! haha….
    gosh- I suck at keeping in trend =P

    Hi Gummi Bear! haha….yep! I definitely have a sweet tooth! It must be hard for you when you eat out!! =O

    October 5, 2010 at 11:39 AM Reply
  • sweetlife

    great place, I would love to try the fried bananas…

    sweetlife

    October 5, 2010 at 2:35 PM Reply
  • Faith

    This looks like such a great place! I love how everything is vegetarian…looks like they did an amazing job of replicating meat dishes. The Vegetarian Char Siew looks incredibly authentic!

    October 5, 2010 at 7:15 PM Reply
  • OohLookBel

    You said it: what an unusual restaurant, in Berrima of all places. I ate once at the White Horse in there (meat pie and peach cobbler). The food you had looks really good, especially the pseudo char siu!

    October 6, 2010 at 3:55 AM Reply
  • Mochachocolata Rita

    i am a huge meat lover…but this vegetarian spread looks quite tempting…especially the fried food part 😉

    October 6, 2010 at 5:26 AM Reply
  • Joudie's Mood Food

    Everythign looks so good here. You can literally find everything in this place. How delicoius! Yumm!

    October 6, 2010 at 8:50 AM Reply
  • panda

    agree! a very interesting mix of foods but so very different to what you find at most buffets so I guess gives it a point of difference. and lol, forgetting to take photos of food when you are at a buffet is common practice – i do that all the time 🙂

    October 6, 2010 at 11:51 AM Reply
  • Faith

    Intersting place. Would love to visit one day! Everything looked so good.

    Faith

    October 10, 2010 at 4:01 PM Reply
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