Café Soya describe themselves as a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant. They are non-vegetarian but offer a huge selection of vegetarian dishes, most of which include mock meats made out of soya. The restaurant has a separate menu for vegetarians, which is as big as any standard restaurant menu and this more than justified us checking them out.
We arrived at Café Soya early afternoon on a Saturday in November. It was very busy, but we didn’t have to wait long to be seated. We were slightly over-whelmed by the wide selection of dishes, so spent a few minutes looking over the options. Within the first 10 minutes of us being sat down, we were asked about 4 times (by two different waitresses) whether or not we were ready to order – even though we were obviously still reading the menu! I didn’t like feeling pressured to decide quickly.
Since we were unfamiliar with most of the mock-meats on offer, we felt we should take the opportunity to try some of them, rather than opting for more traditional items such as spring rolls. So we ordered the crispy vegetarian duck and pancakes as a starter and decided to share. At £7.50 this was the most expensive starter on the vegetarian menu, but it turned out to be a big portion and was plenty for two people. When it was brought over, my first concern was that it looked meaty, so Ben had to keep reassuring me that it definitely wasn’t the real thing! Like standard crispy duck and pancakes, it came with shredded cucumber, spring onions and hoisin sauce. I enjoyed rolling my pancakes and it tasted pretty good. Ben really enjoyed it and said that the mock-duck tasted pretty realistic when eaten inside the rolled pancakes.
For our main courses, we ordered ‘Special Mix Veggie Mock Crispy Noodles’ and ‘Veggie Pipa Tofu’. When I ordered the latter dish, I was asked which rice I wanted to go with it. I was given the choice of either boiled or fried rice, and I chose fried. Both our meals were huge, and I knew as soon as I saw mine that I was going to struggle! My main was comprised of white tofu mince with herbs and diced vegetables in fried balls, in a bowl of sauce with vegetables including mushrooms and pak choi. The balls were described as crispy on the menu, but because of the sauce they were quite soggy. It all tasted okay, but I don’t think it’s something I would order again. Ben’s meal contained an interesting selection of mock meats, including soya prawns, chicken, duck, and something that looked and tasted like beef. He found the crispy noodles hard to eat with chopsticks, but thought they tasted very nice. He thought the mock meats all tasted good, but wasn’t sure what sure what some of them were meant to be, apart from the prawns – which looked quite realistic!
After our plates were taken away, we were swiftly served the bill, without even being asked if we wanted to order desserts. The bill was higher than we were expecting, since we were charged extra for the rice, which I had assumed was part of the main course. I hadn’t specifically asked for rice – the waitress had just asked me which rice I wanted when I placed the order. I notified the person who gave us the bill, but she showed no interest and just said it was a separate order and walked off. The bill was itemised, but the dish names were written in Chinese so we could only read the prices! I thought that one of the prices was wrong, but there was no menu nearby to check, so we just paid it anyway. I was going to take the itemised bill away with me, but the waitress swiftly took it back from me saying she had to keep it. All I was given was a page with the final price given on it. On the way out, I checked the prices, and found that we were overcharged for something, but it was only by about £1 so we just ignored this and left. I left feeling a bit disappointed by the service, and the extra charges.
Overall, we thought the selection of dishes at Café Soya was excellent and quite unique, and this is something that may tempt us into returning on a future visit to Birmingham. Ben really enjoyed all of his food, especially the vegetarian duck. However, I didn’t enjoy my main all that much, and the issues surrounding the bill left me feeling somewhat cheated when I left.
If anyone else has been to Café Soya we’d love to know your views!