The best vegetarian restaurants Sydney has to offer
When Yellow ditched meat from its dinner menus last February, the staff noticed a surprising change in its diners. Sure, there were more vegetarian and vegan guests – that was a no-brainer. What they didn’t forecast was the mood-lifting cheer that followed the switch: customers didn’t just bring their appetite, they stepped up the niceness and gratitude, buoyed by the arrival of a vegetarian restaurant with fine-dining cred.
You might assume the long-running vegan menu at Otto was inspired by some righteous celebrity. After all, this glitzy Woolloomooloo institution is known for being a wharfside runway for stars, and there are many A-listers who are pin-ups for the plant-based diet. Turns out a regular – a vegan diner who has been visiting fortnightly for a decade – was the one who sparked executive chef Richard Ptacnik’s experiments with animal-free dining. And so the question becomes: how does a menu without egg, meat and cheese rate in a restaurant known for stylish updates on Italian food? Well, it turns out you can drop the pork ragù and squid ink and still eat incredibly well at Otto.
For vegetarians, scanning an Italian menu can feel like a game of chance. Spot the right words (stracciatella! brown butter!) and you’re in for a good time, see a bland risotto and the night could be ruined. But at Kindred, Matt Pollock’s homey 40 seater in Darlington, plant-based options dominate the menu, so the odds are ever in your favour. In the 18 months since the neighbourhood Italian opened, the former A Tavola chef has shifted towards a bigger line-up of vego dishes that aren’t just cheaper, but more popular. It’s easy to see why regulars are embracing the switch.
Ownership over falafel is a battle zone: Israel, Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon all want to claim credit. But here’s an open-and-shut case that everyone can agree on: coating cauliflower in falafel mix and deep-frying it is an excellent thing to do. Especially when it’s served with a creamy pool of harissa-tahini-yoghurt sauce, thinly sliced black grapes and a dusting of dried molokhia, known as Egyptian spinach. That’s the kind of modern spin they’re on classic Middle Eastern dishes at Nour, and for a vegetarian diner, the options are bountiful.
In a city where you can get pizza by the metre and deep-dish versions impersonating a Mary’s burger, is it still possible to stand out with slices of pie? Yes and Madre in Marrickville is doing just that. This tiny corner pizzeria is the latest venue for Piero Pignatti Morano and Kim Douglas, the A-team behind the ever-popular Two Chaps café, located only blocks away. And they’ve tuned out all the gospel about what makes a classic Italian pizza to create something thoroughly local and unlike anything else around, namely, a dedicated vegetarian pizza restaurant.
Pendle Hill, a small suburb in the western suburbs, lives large as a busy hub for the Sri Lankan community. The neatly packed Sri Lankan and South Indian restaurants and grocery stores along Pendle Way are busy with shoppers and diners stocking up on dried goods, curry spices and something readymade to take home for dinner. The most popular choice is a curry plate, and the place to get it is Abie’s Vegetarian Takeaway. Here, you’ll find all the colours of the edible rainbow in the 20 different all-veg curries on offer.
Turns out pizza without cheese is still bloody excellent. Sure, there were a lot of naysayers on the internet when Gigi on South King Street changed to a plant-based menu, but they were wrong, because a chewy, wood-fired pizza base covered in a layer of sweet golden tomato puree and tender ribbons of capsicum gets all the umami depth it needs from a liberal dose of olive tapenade, capers, chilli, oregano and olive oil. The salty, savoury and spice trifecta hits all the right flavour zones on your tongue – we swear you won’t even miss the mozzarella. Don’t believe us? Just try getting a table – it’s a packed house every night.
You might not expect a seriously schmick wine bar and restaurant housed in the original Fairfax building in the heart of the CBD to be all about inclusivity, but the Bentley Restaurant and Bar by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and chef Brent Savage wants everyone to have a good time. If you’re not here for the full sit-down dining experience that’s A-OK. Don’t really dig on eating things with faces? Vegans and vegetarians get their very own tasting menus here – eight courses of the fanciest veg within the city limits.
Billy Kwong is still buzzing and packed, but these days you can book. The other good news is that they cater to vegetarians with aplomb, serving up steamed hokkien noodles in a mindlessly delicious tangle of hot, refreshing and fragrant herbs (coriander, holy basil, mint), dill, thinly sliced cucumber, bean shoots and a julienne of carrots that’ll make even the most hard-bitten carnivore reconsider a herbivorous lifestyle.
There seems to be two approaches in Sydney’s vegan dining scene. The first tries to replace and replicate the meat, dairy and egg with faithful recreations. The other school of thought seems to go along the lines of ‘vegetables are fucking awesome’ and lets plants take all the lead roles in the dish. Yulli’s approach is the latter. This long-standing vegetarian eatery on Crown Street also has a dedicated, and expansive, vegan menu, including vegan wines. And don't forget to order the coconut and edamame moneybags: they're a showstopper.
Eating in Sydney right now is as much about the good times as it is about what’s on the plate and in the glass and Chippendale wonder Ester is doing something completely their own. The menu goes hard on wood-fired smoke and funk, and it does amazing things to your veg. Roasted Dutch carrots sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and swiped through a whipped parmesan cream are like an autumnal still life and we’re fairly confident that if Ester ever took the whole roasted head of cauliflower with mint and toasted almonds off the menu, the vegetarians of Sydney would riot.
Clearly the roast pork is a drawcard at Maurice Terzini’s Bondi restaurant, but a lot of room is taken up by a huge roaring pizza oven, and not giving the pizza menu some dedicated study time is guaranteed to cause some FOMO later down the track. The pizze are really excellent. The bases are that magic mix of soft yet charred and blackened, beautifully seasoned and smoky, and the fresh, light and simple reginella is Orazio’s ode to the Margherita: tomato, fior di latte and basil leaves.
The burgers in this Randwick restaurant are vegan, and they taste so meaty it’s actually a bit scary. The Sumo burger is a beast: the patty is paired with soft, buttery, chargrilled field mushrooms, a pepper-spiked (plant-based) sausage and silky swathe of roast red capsicum, lettuce, tomato and a fresh tasting tomato relish. It's so tall that it’s almost impossible to eat as a burger. Instead we Jenga that shit right up and nibble on bits and bobs as we go. And it’s excellent: smoky, textural, and full of contrasting – complementing – flavours.
If you’re going to open a coffee place, right up the block from a taxi depot and a primary school is a perfect location. But this warehouse dining room also opens at night with an all-vegetarian, menu of cheese, dips, and antipasti, creative house-made pasta and salads. They release the new menu each week on a Tuesday, and they'll whip up a vegan version for most things so your dairy-free pals can also join the party.
What about your vegan friends?
People repping a vegan diet don't have prentend they enjoy pumpkin salad anymore. Sydney is now home to plant-based burger shops; classic Italian pizzerias that opt for cheese and meat alternatives; gelato shops that favour coconut bases; and a growing contingent of fine diners offering fancy degustations for vegans.
How about a spot of the outdoors?
Natural beauty is one of Sydney's best assets, so it makes sense you'd want to experience a night or two in the city's great outdoors. Fortunately, camping around Sydney is not only possible, it's often very affordable. Check out our edit of the city's best camping sites for the chance to wake up next to the Harbour, adjacent to crashing waves, or deep in a national park.