Surely there can be few better ways to start a run of posts about cheap and cheerful eating and drinking than by writing up a place that doesn’t actually have any official prices at all. “But surely this cannot be!”, I hear you cry. “Restaurants have to have prices, that’s how the whole thing works. If restaurants don’t have prices then nothing makes any sense at all. Dogs will lie down with cats, up will be Saturday and leftover Chinese takeaway will start microwaving us for breakfast the next day!” Settle down guys, it’s ok. Rather than a breakdown of all logic and reason, Annalakshmi is a Hindu run not-for-profit restaurant right on the banks of the Swan River whose motto is “Eat as you like, pay as you feel”. Click here for a full explanation of their ethos and mission.
There are so many reasons why I love this place. First and foremost, the food is great. Served in a help yourself buffet arrangement, it’s a haven of enchanting Indian vegetarian delights like pilau rice, several different curries, soup, chapatis, vegetables and dahl. Tasty, hearty and filling without being too spicy (for those of you who are a bit afraid of excessive heat), you can sit down and enjoy your sub continental feast safe in the knowledge that no beast or fowl was harmed in the making of it. There’s also water and orange juice on tap, tea and coffee and even something sweet to finish things off with. Although it varies depending on when you visit, dessert was the unexpected highlight of my last visit to Annalakshmi. Looking like nothing more than a small bowl of milk with noodles, it turned out to be a creamy-yet-not-too-rich delight loaded with amazing spices and a sweet, sugary hit. I don’t know what the Hindi or Urdu word for a-freaken-mazing is, but if I did then I’d totally use it right about now.
Now while I don’t think that I could ever fully convert to vegetarianism, I do think that the world would be a much better place if everyone drastically cut down the amount of meat they consumed. I don’t want to appear to be getting up on a soap box here, but it does make a lot of sense if you look at it in a certain way. For starters, it’s much better for you health wise, not to mention being a whole lot cheaper. Also, if everyone ate less then we could afford to spend more on the meat we do consume, and this in turn means that it could be produced in a more ethical, free range type manner rather than the horrible factory system that we have at the moment geared towards churning out massive volumes for minimal cost. We’d win. The animals would win. I’m telling you, there’s no down side to this. Sure, you may have to go without the odd trip to KFC, but deep down in your heart you know that’s a good thing. Plus, with these guys making vegetarian (even vegan) dining so yummy, convenient and affordable, there’s no excuse to ditch the meat on even a semi-regular basis.
In addition to providing super tasty Indian food for whatever money you can spare, Annalakshmi also offers an exceedingly pleasant environment in which to consume it. Unlike several squalid Hare Krishna type places that I went to while backpacking around Europe, you’re not wedged in amongst loads of unwashed backpackers in a grimy urban setting. Nestled right on the banks of the Swan near the Barrack St jetty, the large dining room and balcony offer spectacular views over the river out to the Narrows Bridge. Gentle sitar music soothes you as you wind your way past the traditional Hindu decorations on your way up to the buffet. It’s just a really nice spot to be, a fact that I believe stems largely from the non-commercial nature of the place. There’s no urge to turn over tables, no intrusive wait staff trying to upsell you more drinks, none of the hustle and bustle of a normal commercial restaurant environment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of hustle and bustle when it’s appropriate, but every now and again it’s nice to take a break from the fast lane and do things a little differently. As they themselves put it, they offer “food for the soul by providing a good meal to those who walk in”, and you can definitely taste some love mixed in with the vegetables and spices.
Finally, we come to the issue of payment. You literally pay whatever you feel the meal was worth as you leave the restaurant. There’s no “suggested” donation, no one staring you down and laying a guilt trip on you if they think you’ve stiffed them. As is the nature of karmic philosophy, it’s all on you and you’ll have to deal with the consequences one way or another. As such, I’m not going to say how much I pay or what I think a fair donation is, but if you screw them over and get reincarnated as a cockroach that lives in Tony Abbot’s wheelie bin you can’t say you weren’t warned.