It doesn't matter if you’re a full-time herbivore or just dabbling in some cruelty-free alternatives, these are the best vegan restaurants around Sydney, from a cheese-free slice at Gigi's Pizzeria to a plant-based burger from Soul Burger. Or maybe it's yum cha that's calling your name. It's all here and totally meat and dairy-free.
RECOMMENDED: Check out the best vegetarian restaurants in Sydney
The best vegan restaurants in Sydney
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.
If you really crave something creamy they have dairy-free cheese on some of the menu items, but consider giving the ripieno zucca e spinaci a whirl – it uses a pumpkin cream base and then piles Swiss brown mushrooms, spinach, onion, cherry tomatoes and more pumpkin on top with rosemary and thyme for a woody, herbal ballast.
You know a place has its meat-free options sorted when you find you almost prefer the vegan version of your favourite Thai dish. The massaman curry here is a ripper. We don’t know how but they’ve managed to get those deep savoury notes into the creamy sauce and then padded it out with potato, tofu, mushrooms, snow peas, broccoli and peanuts. It also comes with a side of nutty quinoa and brown rice so that you’re filled to the corners for just shy of $14.
Satay skewers of tofu and button mushrooms are an excellent substitute for the meaty versions of this South East Asian street snack, and do not leave without a little parcel of sticky rice wrapped around a sweet taro filling with a slick of coconut cream over the top. These guys get a gold star for their inclusive attitude. Yes, they serve meat, but they have a vegan version of almost everything on the menu, which makes group dining blissfully easy
It’s a brave new world in 2016. A few years ago if we’d have told you that the first floor vegan restaurant in an old pub was packed, while downstairs at the bar you could count the punters on one hand, you wouldn’t have believed us. But people are enthusiastically embracing a plant-based diet nowadays and the Green Lion pub kitchen (upstairs from the Red Lion Hotel) is surfing the wave of their fervour.
The green mack burger is a house take on a Big Mac. It’s a double-decker, double (non) meat patty with lots of shredded lettuce and special sauce. The only thing that would have improved it would have been more pickles. The fishless fillets in the tacos are a good, neutral base for the flavours in the zingy salsa and red cabbage slaw, but if you’re not convinced by faux-meat products you should order the samosas and pakoras. They make them in house and it’s an excellent group snack – a basket piled high with little two-bite pastry triangles and fragrant crunchy onion fritters with a fresh and zippy salad on one side. Whatever you order, make your food and drinks out onto the balcony to watch the sun set over Callan Park.
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. Order the coconut and edamame moneybags: $14.50 for three golf-ball sized crunchy parcels densely packed with shredded coconut and mashed soy beans means they’re not the cheapest snack in town, but they are so damn delicious we do it every time. Follow it up with a clutch of flash-fried asparagus with a black sesame dressing, fresh tomato slices, pine nuts and tempura saltbush; or a big horseshoe of roasted pumpkin with cashew cream, charred cauliflower florets, crisp, fried capers and a mild, funky cabbage kimchi.
The great thing about gelato is that if you prefer fruit flavours to creamy ones you’re already choosing the vegan option – your lemon, passion fruit, mango and strawberry-raspberry options at this Newtown gelateria taste just like they would at any other ice cream shop.
It’s in the chocolate/caramel/vanilla family of flavours that Gelato Blue are doing things differently. They are a fully plant-based gelateria so instead of cream they use coconut milk to achieve a pretty similar result. Happily the very subtle coconut flavour you get in the ice creams here complements, rather than clashes with, the sweet caramel flavours in the dulce de leche gelato, which is a little more icy than a dairy edition but just as refreshing on a sweltering day.
Even the most ethical eater craves junk food from time to time, but rather than pushing it until you cave, waking to an empty KFC bucket and waves of regret, indulge your fast food cravings at Soul Burger, the all-vegan burger bar taking Sydney by storm. The flagship venue is in Randwick, but now they’ve expanded their operation to Glebe, only a few doors down from the Cruelty Free Shop. It looks just like any other burger bar, with a simple timber and monochrome fit out, some classic hits on the stereo and a milkshake machine behind the counter, but they’re using coconut milk, not dairy.
You can see right into the kitchen because their plant-based patties have nothing to hide. A cheeseburger features a refreshingly unsweetened bun with an impressively beef-like patty, a slice of vegan cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, relish and an egg-free mustard aioli. It’s filling and virtuous and comes pretty close to the original – only the juicy savouriness is missing but maybe some more salt would fix it. The mushroom burger is at the total other end of the spectrum – it might be too juicy – so load up on napkins before you tuck in. You'll also find Soul Burger in Randwick.
South King Street is earning itself a reputation as Sydney vegan’s home turf, and one of its prized players is Golden Lotus, a Vietnamese eatery. This is the place to soothe your hangry with a massive laksa. The creamy soup has a thin, bright chilli heat to it, and in place of prawns or chicken there’s no less than four kinds of soy-based proteins: some twisty like a cheese straw, others fried crisp like a biscuit, and one lone cube of standard tofu. You’ve got thick, round white noodles and flat, tangly yellow ones – none of them containing egg at this all vegan joint. And just in case you missed the memo, the giant neon pink sign on the wall says “Veganism is Magic”. It’s certainly fun.
Young families squash in with lefty political types and no one here needs to ask if they can eat what’s on the menu – everything here is for you, including the mock-chicken with lemongrass. Sometimes the faux meat works, like in the crisp savoury “pork” satay skewers, but next time we’ll order the straight tofu mains – better the bean curd you know than the spongy “chicken” your brain can’t quite accept.
Maybe you thought you’d have to give up on the joys of small plates of dumplings delivered sporadically to your table on a Sunday morning if you went vegan? Well we’re here to tell you that Bodhi Tree in the city has your yum cha cravings covered. The only thing missing is the rumbling trolleys, but in exchange you get to eat your cruelty-free sui mai out under the shade of a giant fig tree in Cook and Phillip Park. Mother nature approves. All the classics are there, in some form or another.
Tender stems of Chinese broccoli are dressed in soy, but not oyster sauce; it’s faux-meat in those pan-fried Peking duck buns; and bean curd comes wrapped around minced mushrooms and peas instead of pork in the tofu puffs. Fresh rice paper rolls will spring clean your palate before you stuff crunchy little orange balls filled with diced pumpkin and tofu into your gob. Mango pudding and pancakes circulate on the trays, but instead of cream they use a vegan cream cheese. It’s still light and fluffy but not as silky as the OG version. Our favourite bit is that you can also get your booze on because no animals were harmed in the making of the house sem-sauv blanc. There are fruity, fresh cocktails with a slight Asian accent and a wine list that’s cheap and cheerful.
Newtown has racked up an impressive collection of vegan places of late, but there’s a whole lot of plant-based eating to be done in Bondi too. Back on Glenayr Ave there’s a pocket-sized establishment selling golden, flaky pies with not an iota of meat in them. The ‘g’day satay’ has many fans because we all know satay sauce goes with everything, including the sweet potato, pumpkin and potato in the filling, but the crowd favourite is the ‘funky chunky’.
It’s going for the traditional hallmarks of a classic meat pie, but instead of steak and mushroom, it’s just straight mushies in a salty, savoury gravy with a little mash in there to pad it out. If you’ve been missing your Four’n’Twentys a visit here will cure your cravings. Been pounding the pavement or out in the surf and need to refuel? Say yes to the mash, peas and gravy on the side – tastes like mum’s used to, but is 100 per cent cruelty free.
This vegan restaurant on Cleveland Street is a bit of a kook. The room has a vintage Royal Britannia theme that is very into the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. There’s a mannequin in a ‘50s dress, retro crockery cabinets, and an allsorts collection of wooden dining chairs in various states of wear and tear. Aside from a nostalgia for a “simpler time” we’re not too sure what this has to do with a plant-based diet, but whatever you think of the décor, they’ve got the right idea in the kitchen.
The pretty dumplings are a stand out – silky thin wrappers washed in a light soy sauce and filled with tofu, black mushrooms and carrot and scattered with dried chilli. The ancient pearls is the house take on sang choy bow. A rubble of eggplant, carrot, green beans and bean shoots is cupped in a perfectly shaped lettuce leaf, which makes for messy but tasty eating. Don’t be afraid to slap on the chilli sauce – it’s a mild version that’s more flavour than heat.
Sydney's best restaurants for vegetarians
Long gone are the days when mushroom risotto was the only option on Sydney menus for vegetarians. Okay, so a few places are still championing that veggo restaurant staple, but if you know where to go, you need never set eyes on it again. From crisp fried saltbush to chewy Korean dumplings and the mushroom burger of your dreams, here’s where to eat in Sydney for veggos – and, for that matter, everyone else too.
Ethical shopping in Sydney
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