Is it un-Australian to not eat meat? Whilst the Aussie BBQ strikes fear into many a vegetarian relegated to a life of sad stares, mesculin and a bread roll; our fine dining restaurants are finally catching up to the fact that many of us want to be inspired beyond an arabiatta pasta or a mushroom risotto. Here are our picks for the best vegetarian and vegan spots where your meat-loving mate will be happy, but perhaps a bit jealous?
It’s at the far end of Woolloomoo-beautiful-loo wharf. Famed for its contemporary spin on Italian, their all-new vegan menu delivers surprise after surprise. What’s more, if you like the produce you can also purchase on the spot and take it home with you such as a Cuor d’livo Olive Oil and Balsamic vinegar or pasta.
Kick off with a stunner of beetroot ravioli (fine pickled slices of beetroot replace pasta) inside is a creamy cashew nut cheese. A tumble of richly roasted cauliflower will make any meat-eating partner jealous as will the hearty pumpkin soup livened up with cavolo nero. Smoked eggplant and mushroom risotto follow but the highlight is an extravagant Pavlova – a masterpiece created from aquafaba (who knew you could whip chick pea water and bake it into a meringue!) oozing with coconut custard slices of pineapple and passion fruit sorbet. Head Chef Richard Ptacnik we salute you!
You might need your night goggles for this one, but Mr Neil Perry certainly knows how to let the evening’s culinary revelations unfold in his beautiful basement restaurant disguised with an ever-changing LED doorway from street level. Nothing is at it seems including the menu, which at first glance may not be the obvious choice for vegans or vegetarians. Unlike many places, dishes are happily adapted swapping out chicken for vegetable stock, no eggs, or replacing meat and altered for any manner of food intolerances. Service is silkier than tofu and the knowledge of the waiters on every element of the dish is unsurpassed.
We defy any meat lover to not devour fragrant eggplant; soft umami pieces encased in a crispy spicy batter with ginger. Pickles of cabbage and radish or cucumber with smashed garlic are noteworthy and much needed after salt n pepper tofu with a tongue tingling coriander salad. A Yunnan hot pot (literally!) of wild Chinese, shiitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms followed with stir fried snake beans are so good that you might have to pass on dessert.
Nestled inside the renovated Pier One Hotel that dates back to 1912, The Gantry will make you rethink any rule you may have previously held about avoiding hotel restaurants. With glamorous Harbour Bridge and water views, not only is its positioning unique but the interior design of dark woods, illuminated aerial sculptures and sexy ‘sit up and drink’ bar makes this one destination worth checking out. Choose to dine outside under the heaters or have a ringside seat to the open kitchen inside.
If the menu screams fresh produce, it’s no wonder given that Joel Bickford (ex Biota Dining) is navigating a course to seven produce driven star studded dishes. An artful plate of cucumber tubes filled with buttermilk, curls of cucumber, green tomato and leafy tarragon kick off the night. A fluffy doona of Comte cheese shavings and edible flowers cover the bed of succulent cauliflower and potatoes (more exciting than a menu description of “potato–cauliflower–comte”). Slow cooked egg with almond busting with tiniest, sweetest peas which pop with flavour are followed with hearty king mushrooms and damson.
Meaning Tarragon in Italian, the Cleveland street entrance is barely noticeable. Yet, don’t be fooled by the subtle signage, what’s about to come out of the kitchen from chef Roy McVeigh’s first solo venture (ex Berowra Waters Inn, Bather’s Pavilion and Bennelong) is innovative, foraged and sometimes even flavour foreign food. Sustainability, the science of taste and a creative eye for pushing the boundaries of Australian cuisine means you can eat with a clear social conscience.
Opting for the half degustation menu we add a few dishes which includes a thick slice of unctuous sweet potato dotted with puffed raisins on a blanket of croissant cream along with a mini log of caramalised leek showered with gruyere snow with a black tea and lemon balm. Creamy parsnip soup is given acidity and with a scattering of walnut tabouli and vadouvan oil. It’s challenging to say if the hero of the night was the gloriously crispy pumpkin pot stickers dotted with edible flowers or roasted cauliflower with smoked red within and a chocolate buerre noisette.