FORGET tasteless tofu, uninspired pasta and questionable meat substitutes. Modern “vegetarian” is exciting. It’s thick-cut cauliflower steaks doused in brown butter and tahini. It’s broth so rich in umami you’d swear it’d been simmered with bones but instead has the Japanese seasoning, miso, to thank. It’s exotic mushroom dumplings, glorious grain salads and spice-spiked stews.
It’s not food that’s made for vegetarians, but food that happens to be vegetarian. And meat eaters are loving it.
Oliver Edwards, chef at Summertown Aristologist, says more chefs are turning to vegetables because they offer a challenge. Around two thirds of the weekly-changing menu at the restaurant remains veg-focused.
“Chefs are having more fun now playing with veg that haven’t been trendy, and taking humble ingredients and showing they can be trendy as well,” says Oliver.
“We have a potato dish at the moment, and the idea behind it is to show the potato as a vegetable itself.
“It’s often roasted in oil or duck fat so they become delicious crispy golden starches, but it doesn’t show what they are as a vegetable.
“I’m shredding the potato into a fine julienne then blanching it really briefly, about two minutes in salted water, and it’s served with fennel, confit fennel, soft egg yolk and crispy shallots.”
The shift also partly responds to consumer demand, says Oliver. Between 2012-2016, four million more Australians opted to ditch meat, some of those also excluding eggs and dairy to follow a vegan diet.
Chef Justin Miles at fine dining restaurant Windy Point is among those offering a veg-only degustation menu alternative. “We prefer this to be referred to as a vegetable degustation rather than vegetarian,” he says. “For us vegetarian denotes a lifestyle whereby this menu is about embracing super seasonal and local vegetables.”
Regardless of whether chefs are responding to, or driving the trend, eating vegetarian has never been easier or more delicious. Here’s some of our favourite to get our two-and-five – and then some.
PARWANA AFGHAN KITCHEN
The eggplant at Parwana is synonymous with the restaurant itself. Called banjaan borani, it’s a share-style dish of hot, silken wedges of eggplant that have been simmered in a herby tomato sauce, topped with cool garlic yoghurt, dried mint and paprika.
“Not many people have eggplant that way so it’s a good surprise,” explains Durkhanai Ayubi of the family-run restaurant. But that’s not the only vego-friendly dish on offer. The rice, or “palaw”, is also excellent, tossed with the likes of caramelised carrots, sultanas and nuts, and the popular mantu steamed dumplings, filled with carrot and sauteed onion, can be ordered with a split pea sauce instead of lamb mince.
“A lot of our food is easily adaptable to be vegetarian,” Durkhani says. “We also do a spinach dish two nights a week, and some people come in just for that.” You’ll also find dhal on the menu at Parwana’s city offshoot diner, Kutchi Deli, in Ebenezer Place.
124b, Henley Beach Rd, Torrensville 8443 9001, parwana.com.au
Duncan Welgemoed reckons that a third of his customers now are eating meat-free — not bad for a restaurant that launched with a menu including a whole cow’s head. The inspiration has shifted since then from the south of Africa to the north, where the Maghreb culture of the desert lands is packed with veg, pulses and grains, fragrant with earthy spice blends. Look out for salt-baked carrots with marjoram and seaweed, roasted cabbage coated in salted plum, cauli steaks with tahini and spiced pepitas, and smoked tomato, buffalo milk cheese and paprika oil. Crispy eggplant is the bestseller while the dhal, made with a mix of Kangaroo Island lentils, chickpeas and native millet, will change your perception of this staple, Duncan says. Throw in a rollicking dining room managed by some of Adelaide’s best staff, and what’s not to love?
4 East Tce, city, 8223 3885, africola.com.au
PICKLE IN THE MIDDLE
The breezy, light-filled cafe does plant-based food so well, you don’t think twice about it. There’s a focus on brunch, with dishes like “mushrooms and grits” and a heavenly beetroot-cured salmon. Lunchier items change seasonally, but we love the satay bowl, with soy-marinated tofu, grilled pineapple, fresh cucumber, toasted coconut, rice and a spicy satay sauce. Salads, such as the current roasted and pickled fennel and zucchini, are hearty and tick the boxes in terms of texture and tang. You can add a poached egg, or enjoy it vegan. In fact, many of the items here are vegan or can be made vegan. Meat eaters fear not – optional additions include free-range chicken, kangaroo mettwurst and bacon.
134 Unley Rd, Unley 8172 1083, pickleinthemiddle.com.au
SUKHUMVIT SOI 38
The firecracker flavours of Thai street food do wonderful things in the vego dishes of Soi 38. Smoky grilled tofu is stir-fried with zucchini, shiitake and baby corn or used in a spicy noodle dish with green peppercorns. Mushroom stems, peanuts and sweet radish are encased in a sago dumpling that is dunked in coconut relish. The favourite red and green curries both come in vego versions, made without fish sauce of course.
In total there are more than 15 meat-free options on the Soi 38 menu – and with no dairy and hardly any egg used, most will suit vegans as well. It’s a true reflection, says owner/chef Terry Intarkhamhaeng, of Thai cuisine, particularly during a special vegetarian festival which this year will fall in October. “During the festival a yellow vegetarian flag will pop up everywhere around the country,” he says.
54 Pulteney St, city, 8223 5472, soi38.com.au
SARAH’S SISTER’S SUSTAINABLE CAFÉ
In 1978, long before meat-free, sustainable and local became buzzwords, Stuart Gifford and Marion Prosser opened their first vegetarian eatery, Sarah’s Café in the city. Since then, through a series of different names and locations, they have continued the good fight, culminating in this little venture, cosied up next to a garden centre in Semaphore main strip. The zero-waste philosophy means each day’s menu is different, depending on what produce is at hand, but favourites include pastry parcels filled with mushroom and broccoli, a lasagne of the day and Vietnamese “pho” with a veg-based broth. Wine and beer are locally made and reasonably priced.
117 Semaphore Rd, Semaphore, 8449 5817, vegetarianecocafe.com.au
If there’s one word to describe the food at Pollen 185, it’s genuine. Jyoti Wilkes, who runs the cafe with her husband, Jack, is as big a part of the cafe as the food itself, putting her heart into every seasonal dish she creates. In a nutshell, Jyoti cooks what she likes to eat, and that includes incredibly tasty baked mushrooms in neapolitan sauce with a housemade vegan bechamel, hearty warm kale and tahini salad with all sorts of satisfyingly crunchy nuts and seeds, and soups that have locals flocking. “It’s just really good food that doesn’t have meat,” Jyoti says. While eggs and some cheeses are on the menu, she also makes cashew cheese, while non-dairy milks include her own blend of almond, brazil and cashew (ABC).
183-185 King William Rd, Unley 8271 0528, pollen185.com.au
THE LOST DELI
We have good word from a meat-eater here at The SourceSA that The Lost Deli’s tofu scramble is even better than eggs. Yes, all the food in this tiny cafe is vegan, but you don’t need to be an omnivore to enjoy creative plant-based adaptations. Burgers are topped with housemade sauces and creamy coleslaw made with vegan mayonnaise. Nut-based cheeses are also made on site, which they use liberally in the likes of lasagne and spinach and “almond ricotta” filo pastries. It’s cheap, too. A pastry with a side salad will set you back $10. “It’s all seasonal and mostly organic,” says Marco Santos, who runs the cafe with his family. “We activate all of our rice and all the nuts are activated.”
38 Charles St, Norwood 8123 4687, facebook.com/thelostdeli
South Indian cuisine is known for its vegetarian curries
and special mention must go to restaurant Cinnamon Club (Norwood, Henley Beach),
while celebrity chef Simon Bryant speaks highly of the dosa at Beyond India (North Adelaide, Modbury).
For something a little different, try Nepalese, which typically takes a lighter approach. There’s a range of vego curry-style stews here but it’s the accompaniments that impress us most, such as eggplant cooked with potato, capsicum, fennel and mustard seeds that goes well with a sweet yoghurt “dahi”.
Other winners include garlic and chilli-spiked pumpkin
and the garlic naan.
9 Nile St, Glenelg 8294 8224, kathmandupalace.com.au
THE MIDDLE STORE
Nobody likes a dry falafel. So when it’s the only vego option on a menu, you know you’re in for a risk. Not at Middle Store. Rose Adam (ex-MasterChef) and her siblings run this daytime cafe but it’s their mum, Samira, who’s to thank for the fluffiest falafel in town. Her secret, she says, is rehydrating the broad beans and chickpeas from scratch (no cans), and deep frying the balls to crisp perfection – delicious with the housemade hommous. Other options include the middle-eastern flatbread called manouche, which is filled with either two cheeses or roast veg, while their smashed peas on sourdough with zucchini ribbons, feta and sumac is spring on a plate. A vego burger is also on its way come January. If you’re after similarly casual middle eastern at dinner, try Sumac (Goodwood Rd, Colonel Light Gardens) or Ballaboosta (Halifax St, Adelaide).
1118 Winston Ave, Melrose Park 8276 6000, facebook.com/MiddleStore
– with Simon Wilkinson