First published on 31 Mar 2011. Updated on 3 Dec 2012.
Vegetarian? Want to throttle the next person who tries to fob you off with a mushroom risotto or a pumpkin foccacia? In the past, vegetarian restaurants have been synonymous with student hangouts – often doling up a cheap buffet of lentils and curries, while the bigger players – likely the places you would want to go to celebrate, have traditionally made minimal concessions for those who don’t like food with faces. But times they are a-changing, and smart chefs are coming to the table with entire fine-dining veg-degs, making dining out as a vegetarian a handicap no more.
Yes, there is still a queue, but dip into Hana Assafiri’s spiced, buttery chickpea casserole while sipping on your fresh mint tea and you’ll know why. This little haunt on St Georges Road has been churning out an endless parade of vegetables and legumes, worked into an unlikely number of textures and flavours for years, and shows no sign of stopping. A banquet of the kitchen’s ever-changing dishes costs $20-$25 a head – hopefully you’ll get the rough cauliflower-cumin dip with crisp lavosh, and maybe the pumpkin curry, slick with coconut milk. It’s a dry house, so hit up Monkey Bar next door for a biodynamic wine while you impatiently wait for your table.
If you’ve been vegetarian for longer than it’s been trendy, you’ll know that the Shak’ crew have had your back for years. It’s a more expensive option, but their kitchen crew does more than put a bit of cumin in some lentils and call it a day. Black quinoa gnocci rumbled in a chilli oil with wilted greens; handmade mushroom dumplings chilling in a organic miso broth; it’s interesting gear that comes with the option of vegan wine and an upscale setting that preferences bentwood chairs over milk crates and Formica tables. Keep an eye out for their new outlet, opening a few doors down from St Ali in South Melbourne any week now.
Chances are, you have friends who aren’t opposed to gnawing on a carcass. And likely, you and said friends have occasional occasions that you want to celebrate – properly. With cocktails, countless bottles of wine, waiters who wordlessly replace your linen napkin and cutlery as you accidentally sweep them to the floor. We therefore think it’s very smart of Cutler, and very good news for you that they do a sodding good vegetarian, even vegan eight-course degustation. They prefer some notice, and they'll a need a 24-hours heads up for vegans, but smoked pickled and cured vegetables, goat cheese cigars, and multi-textured interpretations of non-meat matter rival anything in the regular deg. Party down!
This Middle Eastern restaurant in Windsor isn’t strictly veg, but their menu sways at least half in favour of meat free items: warm fava bean salad with lemon and cumin; rolls of silverbeet (like spinach, with an earthier accent) stuffed with fragrant rice and chickpeas. And, every Tuesday through Thursday they do vegetarian banquets of their most popular gear like the eggplant moussaka and felafel balls with whipped tahini for a sod-all $25. Sweet as a nut.
It’s the wild flowers. It’s the soy. It’s the vibe(s). MBD has a tonne of them and they’re all good. Even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the green bean army, this Balaclava back-alley lurker (in an antique strewn rustic building that was once a bakery) does some of the best coffee on the south side. The coffee roast changes almost daily, and they know how to silk your milk – be it from a cow, or soy bean. Meat fiend or not, tell us you don’t want to eat a mushroom medley of king, shitake and swiss browns roasted and mounted on a slab of pumpkin polenta bread with goat cheese. And thyme. And chilli oil just for good measure. On Friday nights, they hold vegan and raw dinners in two sittings. The menu changes weekly, so it may be soups and enchiladas, or perhaps you’ll start with a raw wrap of corn and tomato, pesto spiked mayonnaise and a jumble of vegetables in a dehydrated corn tortilla, followed by raw Pad Thai and white chocolate cheesecake? Either way, it’s immensely more healing than smashing a pint and a pie at the pub.
Good vibes in taco form have been rolling out the door at Trippy since it was a questionable looking hole in the wall on Smith Street. It’s still casual, but the move to bigger digs on Gertrude Street mean that your two-hands-required spicy tofu asada burrito (a torpedo of marinated tofu, black beans, salad, avocado and optional cheese) now comes with slick décor and the occasional live music gig on the side. There’s street seating too, so you can kick it kerbside with margaritas at night, and salute the sun while hitting huevos rancheros (tortillas with eggs or tofu, beans, salsa, avocado and cheese) in the AM.
The massive barn of a space, with a craft beer list, blasting soundtrack and a team of hot waiters (if fisherman's pants rally your libido), means you’re as likely to find bone-chewers on a token health-kick (and hipsters smashing wine and hitting on yogis) as you are find yourself sharing a table with a dedicated vegetarian. You’ll likely have to queue to score a table, but the holding pen out back takes the shape of a well-appointed (though cash-only) bar. Once lubricated, tackle the internationally ambiguous menu touting chilli-laden stir fries, pizze, burritos and mammoth salads of chickpeas, corn, cauliflower, green matter and samosas, all for less than a twenty. Namaste.
If you pitch in the don’t-like-the-taste camp, fake meat probably won’t rock your canoe. But if you’re simply fighting the good fight for your furry friends on principle, and craving a hit of beefcake, a little manipulated been curd can help keep you clean. Y’know, like methadone. White Lotus specialise in the ancient art – practiced for centuries by vegetarian Buddhists – of recreating meat (pork, calamari, prawns, fish and beef) out of grains, taro and seitan. Once swamped by a little black bean sauce and chilli, it’s bizarrely close to the real deal. If you can figure out how they manage to recreate the crisp skinned roast duck with its layer of fat, and pretty on-par tasting meat, you’re a genius.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a chef who digs their fruit and veg as much as Ben Shewry. Attica’s chef is a forager, an artist, and the owner of two deeply tainted green thumbs. He’s even taken a fork to a garden plot at nearby Ripponlea Estate in the past year – we assume so he can stop pilfering his produce from the verge. Shewry tackles Attica’s all-veg degustation ($175) with relish (pun intended), giving food-pacifists the likes of artichoke with spiced almonds, salt baked celeriac and organic egg yolk to get excited about along with his trademark dish of potato, baked in its own earth.
Raw food. Gwyneth Paltrow was all about it a few years ago, but don’t let that discourage you. Yong Green is a mostly vegan and vegetarian restaurant specialising in painstakingly recreating dishes like nachos and lasagne with raw, animal-free ingredients. Their ‘rawsagne’ is a rainbow bright stack, with cellophane thin slices of zucchini playing pasta, and mushrooms, tomato salsa and a smooth, nutty cashew sauce filling out the body. If that leaves you cold, you can still righteously order a (hot) teriyaki ‘chicken’ mock-meat steak with brown rice and vegetables, or hit them up for their vegan berry-cheesecake and some almond milk.
Lord of the Fries Knowing that sometimes vegetarians get drunk and want to pound grease too, LOTF does poutine (vegetarian gravy, chips and vego cheese), soy chicken nuggets, veggie burgers and dawgs. $
The Cornish Arms Vegan pub meals! Smash a pint and a vegan parma, or mock battered fish with chips. Half the menu from burritos to risotto can be prepared for vegans on request. Nice. $
Grumpy's Green Pizze, pasta, pierogi and burgers. Grumpy's is an all vegetarian restaurant/bar that hosts gigs and game nights, and offers a few token meat dishes for your annoying non-vego mates. $
The Tofu Shop This place gets hit harder than the Taco Truck at Meredith. They have a buffet of tofu dip, marinated vegetables, curries and the like which they'll stick on top of cous cous or brown rice in your small ($8), medium ($16), or large($24) bowl. $
Munsterhaus The same concept as the Tofu Shop in Richmond – pick your bowl size, and the servers will fill 'er up from the vego smorgasbord. A small is $9, medium $12.50 and large $16. They're big fans of food Tetris here, so you get plenty of pickle and bang for your buck. $
Om Vegetarian The cheapest vegetarian buffet in town at $6.50 for all you can lentil. $
Crossways The Hare Krishna hangout offers a full vegetarian meal deal for $5.50/$7.50 (depending on your concession status) every day at lunch. $
Soul Food Café These guys do all the café classics (spinach lasagne, salads, soups) minus meat, plus booze and live music. $
Lentil as Anything Pay as you feel for an all vegetarian buffet (at the Abbotsford Convent location) of curries, salads, vegetable bakes and cakes, or head to St Kilda where the menu is a la carte. $
Friends of the Earth A café/shop selling organic and biodynamic products, food and drink. BTW, this is also where you’ll find environmental rally posters, and fliers for spiritual speed dating events. $
Loving Hut A pan-Asian vegetarian-vegan joint doing raw cashew cheesecakes and impressive fake meat – if that’s your jam. $
Ceres Vegan breakfasts, vegetarian sausage rolls and a tonne of relishes made from the produce grown about 100 metres away in the environmental park. Ride your bike there for bonus points. $