Italian-style ... The margherita pizza at Vacanza. Photo: Sasha Woolley
Trying to find a decent vegetarian dish in Sydney used to be about as challenging as trying to decipher the ingredients in a faux pork patty.
Stock standard, bland offerings included steamed veggies, a side salad or a lump of potato. Maybe if you lucked out you could nab a quiche. Often a restaurant's idea of vegetarian wasn't the same as the vegetarian's. Abundant use of fish or oyster sauce, chicken stock and even meaty gravy were not uncommon in so-called vegetarian dishes.
Those days are not entirely over, but things are looking up for vegetarian diners, with many more places serving up utterly succulent vegetarian fare.
Vietnamese cuisine ... The handmade 'pretty dumplings' from Nourishing Quarter in Redfern. Photo: Jennifer Soo
In fact, with all the delightful vegie delicacies on offer, the struggle lies only in choosing which ones make the cut for the shortlist. We have a bountiful supply of fresh produce, passionate chefs and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Sydney. Here are five of the best, from the budget to the downright decadent
Sydneysiders are spoiled for choice when it comes to fine dining and vegetarians are not neglected. In Est's grand, chandelier-clad space the vegetarian menu is ever-changing, but you can expect classic combinations such as crisp polenta with asparagus, wild mushrooms, young leeks and green peas or Italian buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, tarragon and sumac vinaigrette.
At the less formal, but no less sophisticated Bentley Bar, go on a sensory adventure with spiced heirloom carrots served with pistachio, yoghurt and black olive or cauliflower with jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and black bean.
Bentley Bar, 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 9332 2344, thebentley.com.au
est, Level 1, 252 George Street, Sydney, 9240 3000, merivale.com
We've moved on from the days where texturised protein and nutloaf were the stereotypical vegetarian dishes. The quirky (and BYO) Nourishing Quarter in Redfern is a prime example. Delicate and delicious, the handmade "Pretty Dumplings" are stuffed with Royal Quinoa grains, tofu and finely diced vegetables while sang choy bow-style iceberg lettuce cups, called 'Ancient Pearls Within Our Grasps', are jam-packed with juicy diced vegetables and tofu livened with chilli and soy. It's health food, but your taste buds won't know it..
Nourishing Quarter is not the only vegetarian restaurant stretching the stereotypes. The Mediterranean-style tasting plates and extensive boutique beer menu at Yulli's in Surry Hills mean it is always buzzing while the vegan lasagne, and superfood salads at Newtown's Sadhana Kitchen will have many rethinking raw foods and dairy-free.
Nourishing Quarter, 315 Cleveland Street, Redfern, 8399 0888
Yulli's, 417 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 9319 6609, yullis.com.au
Sadhana Kitchen, 76A Wilford Street, Newtown, 9516 1334, sadhanakitchen.com
Many Asian cuisines offer a plethora of choice for vegetarians. China Doll on Woolloomooloo wharf is a cherished choice. Start with the fat and juicy Chinese mushroom spring rolls with lettuce and garlic vinegar dip. Continue the food affair with the crispy fried tofu with five spice salt, ginger and soy along with the wok-fried Asian eggplant with Sichuan chilli bean paste. A glass or two of crisp pinot gris to match and you're sailing.
Cabramatta's Duy Linh gets a thumbs up in the recently published Good Food Under $30 guide, in particular for the sour soup with vermicelli, described as "a bounty of fruit, veg and herbs". As does Green Gourmet in St Leonards for its "addictively crispy not-chicken".
China Doll, 4/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo, 9380 6744, chinadoll.com.au
Duy Linh, Shop 10, 117 John Street, Cabramatta, 9727 9800
Green Gourmet, 538 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, 9439 6533, greengourmet.com.au (also in Newtown)
Feast on the share dishes at the buzzing trattoria of North Bondi Italian. Try the bowl of peas, zucchini, waxy potatoes with ricotta salata or the grilled bread with ricotta, lemon, chilli, salt flakes and mint. For a slice of pizza paradise, go to Vacanza in Waverley (also in Surry Hills), and grab a slightly scorched, chewy Margherita pizza topped with San Marzano tomatoes and melting, creamy buffalo mozzarella or a "Vacanza" with mozzarella, roasted mushrooms and truffle oil.
For something more upmarket, Otto in Woolloomooloo has a sumptuous selection of Italian favourites modified for the meatless among us. The ravioli of finely sliced pickled beetroot with goats curd, pistachio and horseradish is a standout. But other options, suitable for vegans, that won't disappoint include the saffron risotto with marinated grilled zucchini, radicchio, zucchini flowers and herbs or the beer-battered zucchini flowers with capsicum puree, olive tapenade, chargrilled eggplant and watercress. Delizioso.
Otto Ristorante, 8/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo, 9368 7488, ottoristorante.com.au
North Bondi Italian, 118-120 Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi, 9300 4400, eqpg.com.au/north-bondi-italian
Vacanza, 261 Bronte Road, Waverley, 9090 2089, vacanzapizzeria.com.au
Fratelli Fresh in Potts Point and the city is a favourite for clean, fresh flavours. The lush, plump tomatoes with torn basil and milky mozzarella hits the nail on the head, as does the smashed broadbean bruschetta with peas, mint and pecorino. Pure Wholefoods in Manly also gets it right with the breakfast ricotta corn cakes with avocado salsa, spinach and haloumi or the buckwheat pancakes with tamari mushrooms, avocado, herbs and tahini sauce. Kepos St Kitchen in Redfern is another top pick with their long list of mediterranean mezze. With options including cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers with a garlicky aioli and "Tel Aviv" falafel with green tahini washed down with a housemade lemonade, you start to realise that life as a vegetarian can be pretty sweet.
Fratelli Fresh, www.fratellifresh.com.au / 9368 6655 / 81 Macleay St, Potts Point
Pure Wholefoods, 5/10 Darley Road, Manly, 8966 9377, purewholefoods.com.au
Kepos Street Kitchen, 96 Kepos Street Redfern, 9319 3919, keposstreetkitchen.com.au
Where's your go-to spot for a great vegetarian feed?