First published on 4 Mar 2010. Updated on 26 May 2011.
Universal is a restaurant where the food is so packed with flavour you can eat an entire vegetarian meal without noticing you haven't ordered any meat. Slices of crimson fig are arranged over a bed of spicy beetroot puree, purple shiso, tiny jewel-like orbs of pomegranate and a perfect quenelle of silky, soft goat's curd. Duck egg is covered in crunchy rice with a salad of finely sliced green onion, longan, chilli and deep fried shallot – it's salty and sweet and crunchy and squishy, fresh and tangy all at the same time. It's that balance of flavour and deft touch with texture that makes Christine Manfield's food so exciting. That, and the outrageously good desserts, such as the pineapple and mango sorbet covered in soft meringue the ends lightly singed. Make no mistake: Universal is expensive. But you get what you pay for with outstanding service, food and a room that manages to maintain a fairly breezy vibe despite being "double cloth". And if you like, you can rock up and order dessert, if you go later in the evening and sit at the bar.
What Peter Doyle can't do with a vegetable isn't worth knowing about.At Est., they have an entirely separate vego menu good enough to make you switch teams and forsake meat. Go à la carte (entrees $34, mains $44) or the whole hog with the $115 degustation featuring the likes of Italian buffalo mozzarella, figs, yellow peach, pomegranate, wild rocket and watercress to start, followed by green asparagus on chickpea puree, borlotti bean fennel and preserved lemon salsa. No pumpkin soup or sweet potato here; instead try crisp polenta, asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms, roasted garlic green beans and parsley.
Bentley Restaurant and Bar
Chef Brent Savage's wife is vegetarian so, as you might imagine, his menu places a very high emphasis on tasty vegetarian food. And there's no better time to visit the restaurant, either: the space has had a recent redux care of the Melbourne architect with the best name in the biz, Pascale Gomez-McNabb, while Savage has breathed new life into the menu. Order the tasting menu ($110 per person) featuring sweet corn polenta with pistachio and asparagus, and potato mousse with artichoke. Or, if you're sitting at the bar, order the Russian roulette peppers (AKA piementos de Padron - nine in ten are sweet, one is burning death). Accompanied with wines by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt, these are some of the finest vegetarian dishes in the land.
What makes Buon Ricordo so special? The service, for one thing, where everybody is taken care of, the women are kissed on both cheeks and the men are greeted with a firm handshake by the restaurant's head chef and figurehead, Armando Percuoco. It may also be the fettuccine al tartuovo - probably the richest, fanciest pasta dish in Sydney town. A truffled egg comes wobbling over on your fettucine and then, at the table, your waiter will grate parmesan over the top, tossing the egg through for you, for a dish that's cheesier than Robin Williams dipped in fondue.
"But it's just a café!" you say. True, but Café Sopra boasts some of the finest vegetarian food in the city, thanks to the attached fruit and veg importers, Fratelli Fresh. Head chef Andy Bunn utilises the excellent produce on offer in dishes such as deep-fried zucchini flowers dusted with parmesan and some of the lushest salads you'll ever set eyes and teeth on. A branch of this exceptional café has just opened in Walsh Bay, too, which means more vegetarian goodness for all and maybe even more Cate Blanchett sightings. Plus, they serve $12 cocktails.
While Sean Moran's food is seasonal and produce-specific, he puts a strong emphasis on vegetables and fruits. He also makes a mean pasta. The menu changes almost daily, and sometimes hourly, but you're likely to find dishes such as nettle pappardelle with globe artichoke and beetroot ravioli, killer salads such as goat's cheese and ox heart tomatoes, and amazing sides of roast vegetables.
Pizza: friend to the vegetarian everywhere. But it doesn't have to be a dry-oregano-and-too-much-tomato-sauce affair; it can be a pizza by handsome George Pompei - one of the best-looking pizza chefs in town. Go for a pizza bianchi such as sea salt, potato and rosemary, or a simple Margarita. Also try their pasta stuffed with beetroot with poppyseed sauce. Squizito.
Guillaume at Bennelong
The sails of the Opera House hide one of the city's best restaurants and some very refined French cuisine indeed. Chef Guillaume Brahimi excels not just at dishes such as foie gras sandwich in sweet gingerbread but also vegetarian dishes such as a salad of seasonal vegetables or tortellini stuffed with peas dressed with truffle butter.
Legendary chef Damien Pignolet's blue-chip Woollahra bistro may specialise in boutique steaks (they sell upwards of 600 a week) but their vegetarian offerings are nothing to sniff at, either. Try the signature twice-cooked French onion soufflé gratin for starters, the roast vegetable salad with fennel and pecorino, and gnocchi Parisienne with stuffed eggplants and harissa.
Care to up the stakes? Otto feature an entirely vegan menu, if cheese, eggs and leather shoes pose a problem for you. Their vegan tasting menu, down by the water of Wolloomoolloo wharf, features organic canaroli risotto with seasonal green vegeatbles, tomato consommé and a carpaccio of fresh figs finished with pine nuts and mint.