The myth that you'll be penalised for being a vegetarian is thoroughly busted by the many excellent meat-free dining options across Sydney. Here's a preview of the top 10 best vego-friendly restaurants from the upcoming edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2017.
The Bridge Room
At 2016's Restaurant of the Year, chef Ross Lusted uses the charcoal-burn of his robata grill to magnify the flavour of vegies – to knockout impact. Cos lettuce that's seductively branded with heavy singe-marks gets extra firepower from smoked enoki mushrooms, and is rounded out with parsley root cream, fennel oil and basil. Slow-roasted beetroot with radicchio butter and sheep's milk curd is outstanding, too.
Ground Level, 44 Bridge Street, Sydney, 02 9247 7000, thebridgeroom.com.au
If you're willing to roll with Chat Kazz's semi-eccentric approach, it can be a lot of fun. The all-vegetarian Indian menu is super-charged with a fast-food feel and yep, you can order Tandoori paneer pizza, if that's your thing. Stockpile a basket of savoury Uttapam pancakes, hoard those batter-crisp towers of vegie-stacked jini dosa and (if you're feeling truly adventurous), try a cumin soda.
Shop 4, 14-20 Station Street East, Harris Park, 02 8677 0033, chatkazz.com.au
When this popular pizzeria announced its shift to a vegan menu, people treated it like a legit doomsday scenario. Gigi's sceptic-converting menu is full of standouts, though (like cauliflower and artichoke calzone or the surprisingly brilliant Swiss brown mushrooms with radicchio and blue 'cheese'). The pizzeria still boasts Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana endorsement and long queues. The toughest trick here is exercising portion control.
379 King Street, Newtown, 02 9557 2224, gigipizzeria.com.au
Mock-meat haters might want to step outside, but it's kinda tough to be offended by this cheap-and-fun vegan chain. Even Buddhist monks dig the place (apt, seeing as meat alternatives boast centuries of religious cred). There are plenty of plastic-sleeved pages to browse through, but Viet-style chicken salad, the banh cuon rice noodles, vegan-friendly pho and sweet and sour 'fish' are worth considering.
Shop 6, 18-20 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown, 02 9709 4396; also locations in Cabramatta and Canley Heights, lovinghut.com/au.
You won't see it advertised on its site, but Moon Park's vegetarian menu deserves blazing spotlights and attention - it's one of Sydney's best. A dish plainly described as "corn, tofu, pickled onion and eggplant" has so much dimension, colour, crackle and flavour that it deserves a better PR agent. This Korean one-hatter also applies equal flair to zucchini bulgogi, potato and shiitake pancakes and more. Book in a visit before it (sadly) closes in September.
34B Redfern Street, Redfern, 02 9690 0111, moon-park.com.au
The Plant Gallery
There's no museum wing full of well-framed carrots, but The Plant Gallery's outlook is definitely unconventional. Its opening menu included raw vegan Peruvian dishes such as smoky gazpacho shots, Caesar salad with eggplant bacon and coconut crisps; zucchini spaghetti swirled through with a Romesco-like sauce and an Inca berry cheesecake with orange nut crumble. Order strategically - some dishes have stunt-double similarities.
95 Bondi Road, Bondi, 02 8971 3674, theplantgallery.com.au
Think vegan food is all saintly greens and weak weapons against hunger? Try this burger joint. You can stuff yourself on its thick-cut herbed fries, coconut ice-cream shakes and impressively convincing plant-based choices (like its battered 'fish' burger with tartar sauce or the classic cheeseburger); you can end up so satisfyingly comatose that a forklift operator will need to move you from the venue.
49 Perouse Road, Randwick, 02 9398 7496, soulburger.com.au
Here's the venue's double act: the daytime menu has café hits (blueberry sourdough crumpets, killer hash browns, excellent baguettes) while the dinner includes Italian winners such as mushroom garlic casarecce with smoked mozzarella. The food is so good you'll need a support group to process the grief that you're physically incapable of eating everything. A sister venue, El Chapel, is located nearby in Enmore.
122 Chapel Street, Marrickville, 02 9572 8858, twochaps.com.au
You're not stuck with avocado sushi or miso soup (again) at this Japanese restaurant. Its inspired takes on vego-friendly options include Tomato x Tomato x Tomato (with tomato 'clouds', goat's curd and basil sorbet), while mushroom tempura is teamed with stuffed zucchini flower and a left-field drop of romesco sauce. The caramel-poached apples with candied nuts, baked white chocolate and praline powder is fantastic.
308 Pacific Highway, Crows Nest, 02 9906 7736, waqu.com.au. (Note: Waqu has just closed its Crows Nest location and will be moving to Barangaroo in October.)
When this acclaimed restaurant achieved lift-off with its all-vegetarian dinners this year, it did so without a mushroom risotto or cliched meat-free dish. Don't bypass brilliant snacks (such as smoked macadamias or baby corn with almond crunch) or the vegan menu, with its fantastic whipped coconut and carrot sorbet or koji-rich snake bean and black rice. Sister restaurant Bentley serves one of the city's best vego degustations, too.
57 Macleay Street, Potts Point, 02 9332 2344, yellowsydney.com.au
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide award night, presented by Citi and Vittoria, is on September 5. The Guide will be on sale in newsagents and bookstores from September 6, with all book purchases receiving free access to the new Good Food app.