When it comes to vegetarian dining, Melbourne is home to some long-serving heroes – meat-free institutions like Shakahari and Moroccan Soup Bar have been winning hearts for decades. But vego restaurants aside, eating well at some of the bigger players hasn't always been easy. Thankfully, the last few years have seen a resurgence of the humble veg, as chefs step up to work their magic on food without faces. If you know where to go, you should have no problem dining just as well as your carnivore counterparts.
Top of the tree
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. Shewry tackles Attica’s all-veg, eight-course degustation ($220) with relish (pun intended), with his trademark dish of potato, baked in its own earth, putting in repeat appearances. Ripponlea.
2015 was the year that the three Bertoncello brothers – the eldest of which is 27 – burst into Beaconsfield with a degustation-only fine dining restaurant and a commitment to champion locally sourced vegetables. They'll happily adapt your meal to be meat-free, so file this in the special occasion folder, vegetarians. Beaconsfield.
Dip into Hana Assafiri’s spiced, buttery chickpea casserole while sipping on your fresh mint tea and you’ll quickly find yourself in vego heaven. This little haunt on St Georges Road has been churning out life-giving North African cuisine here for over a decade, which is why we awarded Assafiri our Legend Award at 2015's Time Out Food Awards. Fitzroy North.
Owners Mo Wyse and chef Shannon Martinez are pushing Spanish/Latin American vegan eats and horchata highballs at this punk of a Fitzroy diner – which makes Smith & Daughters one hot meatless tamale. The ever-changing menu is made for sharing, so you'll want to bring your crew. Fitzroy.
Shortly after opening Smith & Daughters, Martinez and Wyse came up with a different, but no less inspired, concept; an all-vegan take on the Jewish deli. Here, you can stock up on 'ham', 'salami', antipasto goods and sticky, sweet buns, or grab a sandwich (filled with delicious imposter smallgoods, of course) to go.
It’s been 27 years since Vegie Bar first wowed Brunswick Street. Now Laki Papadopoulos and Mark Price have upped the ante with Transformer, a grown-up vego restaurant tucked in the smartest warehouse transformation you ever did see. The focus is on haute meat-free cuisine without the capital V, with no well-worn vegetarian menu staples in sight. Fitzroy.
If you're a regular at this Fitzroy stalwart, then you know how to wait. And you know it's worth it. Decades on, Vegie Bar is a well-oiled machine, pumping out everything from well-priced, generous salads to a bean burrito with the works, with organic wines and superfood smoothies to wash it down. Fitzroy.
It may be a more expensive option, but the kitchen crew at this Carlton institution does much more than put a bit of cumin in some lentils and call it a day. Here you get individually pinched dumplings filled with sweetcorn, chia seeds, water chestnuts and almond meal that are then poached in a mild coconut lemongrass and lesser galangal (krachai) broth with a few drops of a mild chilli oil. Carlton.
Simple, honest Lebanese fare is the mainstay of this East Brunswick restaurant, which means that vegos naturally get a solid look-in. Green beans are liberally sluiced in a jammy reduction of olive oil, chilli and garlic and falafel are soft, fragrant pucks made with a green and yellow split pea base for a sweeter spin on the chickpea classic. Brunswick East.
Built in 1854, the Cornish Arms has been a mainstay of Brunswick social life for over a century. It also boasts what is probably the most comprehensive vegan pub menu in Melbourne. If you can figure out how the chefs magic up a vegan fisherman's basket – complete with bean curd fish, vegan prawns and calimari – then you're a genius. Brunswick.
Cheap vego eats
Come for the spicy tofu asada burrito (a torpedo of marinated tofu, black beans, salad, avocado and optional cheese) and stay for the chilli powder fries, fierce Margarita and selection of hot sauces. A Fitzroy institution and a haven for vegos and gluten-shunners alike. Fitzroy.
Sure, they do organic vegetarian and vegan food, but it's the superfood smoothies that draw crowds to this Elwood health café. The chocolatey Velvet Cacao number contains raw cacao, cacao nibs, berries, coconut flesh, cinnamon, banana, raw chocolate fermented protein powder and housemade nut milk. Elwood.
Formerly La Bussola, this East Brunswick pizzeria has maintained its neighbourhood restaurant feel (think shiny brown floor tiles and exposed brick walls), but has also added some contemporary touches, like the option of vegan cheese. There are plenty of vego options; the potato number with caramelised onions and leeks is a standout.
If you’re simply fighting the good fight for your furry friends on principle, a little manipulated bean curd can keep you on the righteous path. White Lotus specialise in the ancient art – practiced for centuries by vegetarian Buddhists – of recreating meat (pork, calamari, prawns, fish and beef) out of seitan, taro and tofu. Melbourne.