PSA: As this was written way back in 2012, be mindful that some of the food venues mentioned may have since transformed or closed down entirely. The intervening years have also seen a tremendous influx in new vegan food outlets throughout Sydney.
In short, treat this as memoir more than as a travel guide!
Melbourne is a great place to live vegan. Of all the concerns to befall a vegan, the one we need to think about the most – three times a day, to be precise – is what to eat. When you’re going out, that translates to ‘What to Eat’. Luckily, a wide variety of delicious food options exists in Melbourne: ranging from swanky dining to burger joints, from the exclusively vegan to the surprisingly vegan-friendly.
So if things are this good in Melbourne, a quietly confident vegan has got to assume Sydney, de facto capital of Australia, has got to be laying on its vegan friendliness with a shovel.
Well, that’s what I and my partner put to the test on a recent four-day stay. We didn’t seek to push the envelope, particularly. The moderately well equipped kitchenette in our hotel room put paid to that notion. But it was important that we could find viable eating options for most lunches – and, on our more lazily spent evenings – deliverable or close-at-hand dinners.
Day #1: Saturday. Breakfast at ‘home’. A fry-up, consisting of Sanitarium vegetarian sausages, mushrooms, tomato, baked beans, fried bread… All the things to set the cholesterol racing! Sanitarium, while not exclusively vegan, are a handy standby, as their entire sausage range is okay, and there was a conveniently placed Woolworths a couple of blocks from our hotel. Coco Pops somehow factored into our breakfast as well; a nostalgic indulgence for the sake of being on holiday.
We met family at Bodhi Restaurant | Bar, a hidden gem of a vegan Yum Cha tucked down a flight of stairs off College St, just to the side of St Mary’s Cathedral. This wasn’t our first visit and it’s unlikely it will be our last. The Yum Cha experience is authentic, random Asian delicacies being strolled out on a semi-regular basis for diners’ selection. A lunch menu is available for advance perusal on their web site, but the dining experience is made all the more rewarding for just keeping one’s eyes and ears open, and making impromptu selections. The only real danger is not knowing when to stop!
For dinner, my partner and I had already decided on a quiet dinner at home for that first night – though what it would be, we were unsure. Our preference was for Basil Pizza: not a dish but a restaurant operating out of Newtown. Ostensibly an independent pizzeria of the sort familiar in many cities, Basil take things one step further by offering a fairly extensive range of vegetarian & vegan pizzas, plus an exclusively vegan gourmet pizza range.
Why we thought they might be problematic is the distance. While they’re in Newtown, we were staying in the CBD, which we suspected was outside their delivery radius.
A quiet negotiation later and they were amenable, especially once the delivery driver knew what sort of parking conditions to expect on arrival. Our order consisted of a large Animal Lovers – various mock meats, smoked tofu, BBQ sauce – and, once their garlic bread proved elusive, a large Garlic Pizza with faux cheese. I hummed and harred about the cheese at first, preferring something more closely resembling garlic bread, but I’m glad I opted to include it as it kept the pie moist and flavourful. Both pizzas were so good they were demolished that night. Because Basil’s large size isn’t enormous and equally since the pies weren’t overflowing with toppings, this was far from a chore.
Day #2: Sunday. Breakfast as per Saturday, with minor variations.
Lunch was a tough one. We’d been spending the day wandering around Sydney with a local friend, and when our hunger suddenly dawned on us we realised satiety was not going to come of a quick jaunt to the nearest Lord of the Fries. The night before we’d investigated Mad Mex (cue polite laugh), a national Mexican eat-in/takeaway chain that had us keen after we observed its superficial similarities to a magnificent Melburnian Mex joint, Trippy Taco (cue even politer laugh). Describing themselves as ‘Fresh Mexican Grill’, they weren’t doing a fabulous job at their Harbourside restaurant of proving their case on two of those three fronts. By default, none of the vegan options particularly tested their ‘Grill’ capabilities, but neither was their food especially ‘Fresh’. I’m renowned for talking the legs off donkeys when in the company of our local friend, but the effects of that lunch – botched in the first place by a member of staff unfamiliar with the actual menu – had me in near silence.
Consequently, dinner for me was instant noodles with Massel chicken-flavoured stock powder.
Day #3: Monday. Breakfast is getting repetitive by now so I’ll stop mentioning it.
Fair weather took us to Bondi Beach, where several lunch options presented themselves. Following a small amount of deliberation and some online research over a lemonade, a decision was made. Funky Pies, on Glenayr Ave, is a few streets away from the beach but worth hunting down. The pies, available in Melbourne via such outlets as the Radical Grocery Store, are of the gourmet variety and exquisite. They’re even better served hot and fresh on the premises of their manufacture. I ordered an apparently off-menu pie whose name escapes me but which was Tandoori-influenced and delicious. Accompanied by mashed potato, mushy peas and a first rate gravy, it made for a very satisfying meal. My partner’s selection was the curiously named Eezy Chick ‘n’ Cheezy, a mock-chicken/mock-cheese/broccoli combo I’ve tried previously and recommend, and she had it served with fresh garden and potato salads. (The garlic dressing on the latter is very nice without being overpowering.)
My appetite restored this day, I felt free to indulge in a more substantial dinner, but it was a home-made effort as we had quite a few fresh ingredients to finish up.
Day #4: Tuesday. A quick walk through Sydney Tower on Monday familiarised us with the building’s Level 5 food court. Here, my partner ordered the vegetarian spud at Spuds & Crepes, with some substitutions. The process was fuss-free and the serve a healthy size. Meanwhile, I ordered two items from the all-vegan Iku Whole Food – though, like Bodhi, the word ‘vegan’ is nowhere to be seen on premises. The Pocket is an oversized Inari roll, open at one end, stuffed with brown rice, green soy beans and a few spices. With it I enjoyed their Millet Ball, containing sweet potato and a few other goodies alongside the titular millet.
To go with these delightful health stuffs I bought a salad from a neighbouring outlet. The name was beyond my ability to pronounce – as well as that of the woman serving me, given her quizzical look – but the ingredients were unmistakably tasty. Roast pumpkin, rocket, sultanas, red cabbage and giant cous cous. The only drawback were the slight amounts of salad onion that managed to sneak their way in. Cheeky.
Each morning to accompany our breakfast we visited Liquidz Cafe + Small Bar. Friendly service accompanied our slightly tricky coffee orders (one decaf, both soy, one large, and in Keep Cups), along with very reasonable city prices and tasty coffee. On the fourth day we drank in, and later than usual. While the service remained top notch, prices and quality were less good than usual. Nevertheless, we do recommend the place.
No doubt we’ve barely scratched the surface of what Sydney – even the CBD alone – has to offer vegan diners. One thing that is certain is that our initial hunch was right: eating vegan in Sydney is pretty easy.