Not so very long ago, ordering vegetarian at restaurants meant being faced with a predictable plateful of spinach and ricotta cannelloni, a stodgy mushroom risotto or an overbaked roast veggie stack. My oh my, how things have changed.
Now some of Melbourne’s best restaurants are vegetarian, and serving up a genre-busting range of dishes that give their meat-focused competitors a run for their money. From brunch to lunch to dinner, here are some of the best spots in town for a vegetarian meal that really packs a flavor punch. So here we go, these are the best vegetarian restaurants in Melbourne.
The good Admiral doesn’t care for meat, but he does care for good food. Conceived by Marwin Shaw, the owner of Balaclava’s Monk Bodhi Dharma, Admiral Cheng-Ho is a cosy little daytime haunt serving up single-estate coffee and fair-trade teas alongside impressive breakfast dishes. We like the umami-ful combination of slow-roasted king oyster, shitake, oyster and swiss brown mushrooms on housemade polenta bread with almond feta cheese, or the vegan French toast with raw vanilla cashew cream, fresh fruit and raw chocolate sauce. Hungry for lunch? There’s a new menu chalked up onto the blackboard every day at 10.30am. Keep an eye out for the gluten-free banoffee pie for a sweet treat - yum.
Yong Green Food
Yong’s is such a Fitzroy institution that it’s hard to remember what was there before it. It’s got a crazy-inventive selection of raw, vegan, organic, gluten-free and biodynamic dishes, as well as an extensive drinks menu that boasts soju-based cocktails. The Dragon Bowls are a crowd-pleaser – monstrous in size and bursting with good-for-you ingredients like tempeh, seaweed and tahini, they’re great bang for your buck. As for the Korean BBQ and teriyaki dishes, well, they’re just are a fantastic way to experiment with mock meat. For dessert, there’s vegan tiramisu or a chia pudding made with cashew milk.
Combi started off as a coffee van at music festivals, then set up its first bricks-and-mortar café in Elwood in 2008. The unwaveringly healthy menu focuses on organic vegetarian and vegan food with breakfast dishes structured around ‘super bowls’ – parfaits of chia seeds layered with zesty Incan berries, activated chocolate buckinis and coconut cashew yoghurt, or antioxidant-loaded acai blended with bananas, blueberries and housemade nut milk. There are also superfood smoothies and cold-pressed juices as well as honeyed granola and thick-cut toast with condiments including apricot cardamom and strawberry aniseed jam. Lunch veers into spiralised zucchini spaghetti territory, and if you need a caffeine hit to make sense of all the wholesomeness they serve double espressos in fresh coconuts, and have kombucha available on tap.
Smith & Daughters
Yep, you knew it would be on this list, and you weren’t mistaken. Smith & Daughters is a Latin-inspired vegan bar and eatery in a big-windowed, bluestone building on Brunswick Street. The brunch, lunch and dinner menus are Spanish-American inspired and feature plenty of mock meat for your very own Fabio-style ‘I can’t believe it’s not…’ moment. Standouts include the booze-infused Spanish French toast, the more-ish Mexican hash and the traditional hominy soup. Since opening in 2014, Smith & Daughters has proved so insanely popular that last June it launched Smith & Deli around the corner. Laid out like a New York-style deli, it’s got the same all-vegan ethos as well as king-sized ‘pastrami’ sandwiches, challah sticky buns, fresh buffalo ‘mozzarella’ and confusingly butterless croissants.
Naked In The Sky
One of Melbourne’s best bars with a view, Naked in the Sky's sharing menu includes several delicious salads, vegetarian croquettes and an exquisite pumpkin ravioli that comes topped with honey and watercress. The kitchen is also open until late, making it a great late-night dinner and drinks venue, vego or not.
Responsible for introducing the masses to kombucha tea cocktails, Vegelicious can also take credit for making baked field mushrooms sexy again. The menu reads like a vegetarian hitlist of classic dishes, including spanakopita, eggplant parmigiana, coconut laksa, mushroom linguine and cauliflower fritters. The difference here is that they’re done super well, and complemented by a tidy selection of craft beers, biodynamic wines and organic ciders as well as the aforementioned creative cocktails. We like the ‘Backyard Bang’ – a summery concoction of lemongrass, herb and chili-infused vodka that’s muddled with fresh passionfruit and pineapple.
One of our favourite CBD Italian restaurants in Melbourne, Vapiano's menu caters well to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners. The nutmeg-infused Crema Di Funghi (a mushroom, cream and white wine-based dish) is delicious when paired with their gnocchi, and the vegetarian pizza options will have you feeling as if you’re dining in Naples.
Moroccan Soup Bar
So now that the cat’s out of the bag – well, the Moroccan Soup Bar Cookbook is on bookstore shelves – we can all recreate that legendary chickpea bake at home. But why would you? Half of the joy of eating it comes from the local, laidback vibe at this beloved Fitzroy institution. The ‘spoken menu’ means you will get served whatever the kitchen has prepared that day, but rest assured that it will always include a large plate of dips and curried vegetables accompanied by a big stack of pita bread (as well as the aforementioned chickpea bake). Like Smith & Daughters, Moroccan Soup Bar recently opened a daytime deli in Brunswick East so that die-hard fans can pick up supplies of dips, preserves, tabouleh, za’atar, pickles, nuts and cheeses as well as take-home meals.
Hands down the most loved vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne, if you can find a table in here, you’re in for a treat! Perpetually buzzing, Vegie Bar offers raw, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free meals that focus on fresh, nutritious recipes. The blended juices are always a hit, and we never leave without nabbing a couple of the raw dessert balls to go. Vegelicious!
Carlton & South Melbourne
Shakahari has been around for 43 years – and we’re willing to wager that it's older than most people reading this article. So it’s fair to say that the kitchen know a thing or two about how to do interesting vegetarian food. The menu focuses on pan-Asian flavours with an Indian influence. Think Malaysian curry with an entourage of split pea dahl, or avocado wedges fried in tempura and accompanied by coriander puree. In late 2012, Shakahari opened a second restaurant called Shakahari Too on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. If the pun’s not enough to pique your interest, we promise the new-breed veg food and award-winning wine list will be.
Téta Mona's Lebanese soul food is flavoursome, filling and always served with genuine enthusiasm in its cosy Brunswick East premises. It’s also BYO, making it one of our top budget vegetarian restaurants in Melbourne.
Easily a shoo-in for best vegan degustation in town, Shu is the perfect place to dine if you have a friend who lives and breathes for a dose of the meat sweats. The menu is diplomatically slanted to have the best of meaty and meat-free worlds, and about one-third of it is vegan. The Sichuan-inspired vegetarian dishes include silken tofu swimming in chilli broth, tofu pockets stuffed with preserved greens and salty-sweet beetroot spring rolls. There’s an All-You-Can-Eat-Dumplings night every Thursday for $25 per person which includes veg and non-veg options as well as a vegan degustation every Wednesday for $45 per person. Plus, Shu has a cute and quirky fit-out with sculptures made from coat hangers, and a life-changing avocado cheesecake that will make you think twice about how you ingest your greens.
Yes, we’re sorry, it’s another restaurant in Fitzroy. We can’t help it if it’s the most vegetarian and vegan-focused suburb in town... Transformer is the brainchild of the people behind Vegie Bar and Rice Queen, and has a slightly more sophisticated menu. Small plates include king oyster mushrooms pimped with confit garlic and pine nut puree, and a punchy dish of roast cauliflower served with saffron yoghurt. There’s also a good range of sake, spirits, juices and cocktails as well as decadent bowls of Mork hot chocolate and creamy matcha lattes. On Fridays, you can order the set lunch of a main plate and side with a glass of wine or juice for only $25.
Proof that you don't need meat to be happy, Richmond's Serotonin Eatery is all about the healthy, plant-based alternatives. Start with the Nutrition Bomb (a rainbow bowl with a poached egg, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, kale, house-made hummus, roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, nuts, seeds and pickled sauerkraut) or indulge your sweet tooth with their epic Positive Pancakes (Banana pancakes made with dehydrated organic ground banana flour, served with house-made banana 'nice-cream', berries, coconut yoghurt, topped with organic agave and strawberries). Delicious.
Sister Of Soul
Rawsagne, veggie tacos, Thai classics, that glorious tempeh Soul Burger… Sister of Soul specialises in amazingly flavoursome vegetarian food that is light, delicious and wholesome. Situated on Acland Street, it also serves aperitifs, making it our top pick for a veg-out on a sunny St Kilda day.
A Fan's Notes
A true suburban gem, this place is dishing up some of the best vegan and vegetarian roast nights we've ever seen. But the nice thing about Fan's Notes is the variety. They've got an extensive vegan and veggo menu, but they also do a mean parma, and the beef roasts on Thursdays are a thing of beauty. One of those rare venues that caters for the whole group: meat and plant-eaters alike.
We recently tracked down Melbourne's best secret vegan menu option, find out all about it.
Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White | A Fan's Notes