406 Smith St Collingwood, VIC 3066
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9417 1454|
It's refreshing to be well and truly done with the cliche of the humourless, virtuous vegan, slinking into a wholefoods store to stuff his calico tote with bulk-buy lentils. Similarly, the idea of a vegan restaurant as being a pin-drop quiet temple of dream catchers and herbal tea.
Just because you're vegan doesn't mean you don't love fries, beer and pizza. Melbourne's vegan dining scene is an exuberant, rock 'n' roll affair, full of invention and spark.
Case in point – the newly minted Red Sparrow vegan pizzeria in Collingwood, which is the work of owner-chef Michael Craig of Trippy Taco fame.
Wedged down the outlet end of Smith Street, this slender, bare-bricked room with its red neon logo has a rollicking cantina vibe, with a steady stream of tattooed locals picking up their takeaway orders or saddling up at a seat by the open window.
Behind the wooden counter, shiny black tiles contrast the magnificent, Italian, matte-white wood-fired oven that Michael quietly feeds with Neapolitan-style pizzas, letting them puff up into billowing rings of goodness.
Pizzas here aren't pallid imitations of standard choices – what would be the point? – although you can get classics like a margherita made with vegan fior di latte, or a good old pepperoni with a spiced mock meat made from gluten and organic tofu and a very convincing vegan mozzarella made with tapioca and coconut oil.
Instead, the script gets rewritten with pizzas like the Hummus – hummus base, olives, artichoke, spinach, mint and dukkah – or the Supergreen, which starts with a spinach and kale pesto base which is scattered with zucchini slices, broccolini and pepitas. Despite the broccolini being a little woody (the more slender parts of the stem might have been less intrusive), it looks and tastes like spring in a pie.
The Eggplant features smoked eggplant, rocket, pear, pecans and balsamic – a bright and brunchy combo. Crusts have a gorgeous dusting of cornmeal and just the right level of chewiness against the thin base. (There are gluten-free bases available too.)
There are hearty salads on the menu, including a cutely retro tofu salad with cherry tomatoes, carrot, pickles and lettuce, doused in ranch, while snackier offerings include dips, olives and fries generously spiced with a salty, smoky, secret mix.
Desserts on rotation include a Notella pizza with housemade chocolate-hazelnut spread and Mark's Wizard Pie – a rich wedge of firm chocolate ganache on an Oreo base, drizzled with a sea salt-scattered caramel sauce and served with almond mocha ice-cream. The drinks list is a neat suite of vegan craft beers, spirits and wines.
Service is bright and friendly, the waitress addressing people as "lovely" and nothing is a problem – you want extra toppings? Sure! Dip for your pizza crusts? Try the ranch (made with housemade vegan mayo). The warmth is backed by efficiency, as plates hit the table with a smile and without a hitch. Swoop on in.
Pro Tip: Make a booking as it's only a 32-seater.
Go-to Dish: Hummus pizza, $17.