At these outstanding places in particular, omnivores might completely forget that they’ve ordered a meat-free meal.
While Onda isn’t specifically vegetarian, almost half of its menu is. Located along the bustling Bridge Road, this brightly coloured South American restaurant is one of the city’s more recent arrivals, and each evening you’ll find hordes of people parked along the wave-shaped sofa in the centre of the room. Co-owner and head chef Stephen Hogan has previously worked in well-known Melbourne kitchens such as Chin Chin and Bistro Guillaume. Here, he happily combines traditions of Brazil and Belize with the flavours of Peru and Guatemala – breaking rules all around. Whet your appetite with the mozzarella chipa puffs (a kind of Argentinian cheese bread) accompanied by dark mole, before moving on to the spiced pea and potato empanadas. Or get the tacos with maple-glazed eggplant and a piquant pimento puree and finish off with sweet potato pie accompanied by red currant sorbet, candied kumara crisps, pineapple gel and lemon crumble.
This little bistro is a master of understatement – in terms of both its food and its interior design. With a bar hewn from whorled Australian marble and tables in blush-coloured timber, this is perhaps the slickest venue on Brunswick’s loveable Lygon Street. Overseen by ex-Ramblr chef Charley Snadden-Wilson and Hannah Green, formerly of Attica, it’s the kind of place that knows to let the food do all the talking. Offerings here include the classic French dish of Pommes Anna (thinly sliced potatoes dressed in funky black garlic and parmesan), freshly made stracciatella with chilli and charred leeks, as well as barbecued cabbage with deeply savoury seaweed butter and kombu. There’s also an impressive wine list that leans heavily on progressive Australian and European vignerons making orange wines, fragrant and fizzy naturals and super-juicy reds.
Anyone who’s been to Melbourne has likely Googled the name of this popular establishment – situated in a little blue-stone building on Brunswick Street – even if all they hold is a vague interest in vegan cuisine. Making up its universal appeal is the laid-back waitstaff, good beer and casual vibe, but what really keeps people coming back is the innovation of co-founder and executive chef Shannon Martinez, who’s figured out how to plate-up plant-based ingredients in ways previously unimaginable. While it started out with a Mexican tapas menu, Smith and Daughters’ kitchen has now expanded to include Italian fare, with classic dishes such as hearty pasta in a dark-red “beef” ragu, conjured from fresh mushrooms. And the “chicken” piccata with lemon and caper sauce is completely indistinguishable from the real thing. One of the best dishes is the impeccable “beef” carpaccio, served with figs and “fried parmesan”. They won’t divulge the recipe, so if you want it, you’ll have to travel for it.
This vegetarian spot is perhaps the most time-honoured institution of its kind in Melbourne and has been serving the meat-free population of Victoria since 1988. Its founders are Laki and Marian Papadopoulos, who remain at the helm after over three decades and are still ahead of the curve. The all-vegetable menu is thoroughly globalist, drawing influences from Turkey, India, Morocco, Malaysia and everywhere in between. While classics such as the mee goreng (fried Hokkien noodles with peanut sauce) remain available, the food here is always moving with the times. In recent years, The Vegie Bar has improved on that internationally ubiquitous burger with its own Better Than a Big Mac (with two no-beef patties, vegan cheese and three-tier brioche bun) and has introduced delicious jackfruit tacos with black bean and wasabi aioli. It’s no wonder this place is always packed to the gills.
Transformer was born in 2015 when the team behind The Vegie Bar decided it was high-time to put a fine-dining spin on their menu. Located in a former warehouse space behind the original venue, this dining concept is part post-industrial – with exposed brick walls and black steel partitions – and part greenhouse, with a living garden climbing between the tables. Like the décor, the dishes here combine the soft and earthy with technical finesse. You’ll find farm-fresh produce that’s been compressed, fermented, sous-vided, scorched and infused, as well as straight-up vegetables deconstructed at a molecular level to create novel flavours, textures and visual compositions. Such forays include seemingly counterintuitive combinations such as heart of palm, celery remoulade and Yukon gold crisps, or roast cauliflower with caramelised yoghurt. There are also plenty of classic taste sensations such as cloud-like gnocchi with pine mushrooms, roast chestnut and sage butter.
6. Trippy Taco
Melbourne is renowned for its forward-thinking food and high-class dining. But it is hearty fare like the comfortable, casual and scrumptious burritos at Trippy Taco that have captured people’s hearts. Sat next to one of Melbourne’s premiere soul record shops, Northside Records, this 45-seater Mexican cantina does the best burrito in town – all without the use of pork, chicken, fish or beef. Owner Simon Fisher learned his tortilla-making craft while living in Mexico, then got his start making burritos at music festivals for hungry punters before opening a permanent shop. Aside from burritos, the menu also has nachos, tacos, tamales and quesadillas. Fillings are soulful and straightforward and include the likes of black beans, chargrilled tofu, melted cheese and salsa, plus the option to add scrambled eggs. There are dairy-free alternatives for toppings, and the library of hot sauces – ranging from slightly tingly to earth-scorching – is prodigious. The only issue you’ll have with Trippy Taco is finding a seat at lunch. Bide your time by observing the eclectic mix of people who frequent the area.
According to the judges of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Attica is Australia’s top eatery. The Ripponlea fine-diner has been on the list for the last five years, peaking at number 20 in 2018 (though slipping to a still-noteworthy 84 in 2019). The mind behind the magic is Ben Shewry, who was born and raised in the New Zealand countryside and delivers a menu that is both an investigation and celebration of Australian cuisine. Spanning a luxurious dozen or more courses, the degustation uses the very best ingredients from independent farmers and foragers, relying heavily on those that are native to Australia. While Attica doesn’t serve exclusively plant-based cuisine, vegetarians (and vegans) get their own set menus that have included dishes such as aged Santa Claus melon with dehydrated Davidson plum, fried baby onions with a filling of homemade coconut yoghurt and an utterly outrageous – and delicious – Vegemite and cheese scroll.
Singapore Airlines flies to Melbourne four to five times daily. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com