This was originally written as a post for Where They Eat, a Facebook page run by a group of food-obsessed ladies at work. The FB interface however, does not meet the official “Reg Standard for List Formatting”, so this list will live here, where it can hold hands and play with all its other properly formatted list friends.
This isn’t strictly limited to purely vegetarian restaurants; it includes places that cater to charcuterie-loving, offal-eating members of society. (They’re human beings too, you know!) Because I’m a shit photographer and am usually too busy stuffing my face to take photos, the images have been unabashedly pilfered from here, here, here, here, and here.
1. Monk Bodhi Dharma
202 Carlisle St, Balaclava
This place embodies everything I love about eating out in Melbourne. Is it a warehouse/shed conversion with industrial fittings? Check. Is it located in a backstreet or lane way and is recognisable only by teeny tiny signage? Check. Do they use organic, seasonal ingredients? Check. Do they have fancy names for staff, like Tea Sommelier? Check. Do they have a good selection of vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free dishes that I can’t be bothered making at home myself? Check. Does each element on the plate look like its been arranged by a food stylist? Check. Do the dishes taste fucking amazing? Check.
What more can I ask for, really?
2. Yong Green Food
421 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
And tied for second place:
2. The Tofu Shop International
78 Bridge Rd, Richmond
I seriously couldn’t decide which of these two were a better pick for position #2. On one hand, The Tofu Shop’s food is orgasmic — full of flavour and unexpectedly good combinations (fenugreek and broccoli balls? Sounds bizarre, but believe me, they were my favourite dish that day!). The menu changes everyday (every few hours actually) based on the type and amount of ingredients available and depending on what the chef feels like whipping up. The space is down to earth and is set-up with counter-seating and bar stools, which is great for eating alone or having a quick meal. I think this is where Yong tightly contests TTS for the #2 ranking: the food isn’t as creative, but you can sit down properly and enjoy your meal with friends. My digestive system and I are not fans of raw food, but the cooked food on offer at Yong are flavourful and healthy (things you don’t normally see in one sentence) — the buckwheat crepe with enoki mushrooms, the quinoa fritters with a spicy sweet sauce and the fresh quince and honey tea are dishes I’d eat over and over again. Actually, I should say, dishes that I’ve already eaten over and over again!
3. Demitri’s Feast
141 Swan St, Richmond
When I walked into this small, charming Greek(-Melbournised) cafe, superstar chef George Calombaris was seated in one corner chatting animatedly to Mr Demitri himself. As much as I wanted to eavesdrop on the entire conversation, all I could hear was George’s distinctively passionate voice saying “light, crisp, amazing”. I jumped to the conclusion that he was referring to the Wild Spanakopita with house-made filo pastry and foraged greens and herbs (highly unlikely that he was referring to that, but to my unscientific designer brain, there was enough evidence to support that conclusion). So I ordered it, among other things. And it was just that: light, crisp and amazing. With a philosophy that focuses strongly on sustainability, how could it not be? Sorry Georgie, The Press Club does vegetarian food well, but this, in my book is the best Greek restaurant in town!
116 Lygon St, Brunswick East
You had me at “cigar shaped pastry filled with haloumi, feta and kaseri”.
Then vegetarian banquet began. This Yotam Ottolenghi-lover could barely contain her excitement when five courses of middle-eastern deliciousness kept on coming — orange and fennel salad with curly haloumi, fried cauliflower with caramelised onions and pine nuts, lemon garlic potatoes with sumac. It went on and on until special man friend (now also known as “The Husband”) and I had to unceremoniously but discreetly unbutton our jeans. How could one not love a place where the word “fried” and an assortment of cheese are repeatedly announced by the server at every course?
1/11 Collins St, Melbourne
I know, I know, how very 2011, right? And it’s everyone’s favourite, right? But it’s everyone’s favourite for a reason. The food is fresh and inventive. The corn is spectacular. And the customer service is pretty damn amazing. When I contacted them about catering our tiny wedding, I got a lovely email back with apologies for not being able to cater for special events. The email went on with suggestions for other restaurants around the area and within the price range I was looking at. How often would you get restaurants recommending the competition? I was highly impressed.
Other places that were considered for this list but didn’t make it on account of either sub-quality produce, microwaved food, or just being way too loud:
201-203 Faraday St, Carlton (Although I have not been to Shakahari Too in South Melbourne, which has good reviews)
2) The Moroccan Soup Bar
183 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
3) Veggie Kitchen
159 St Georges Rd, Northcote
First Floor/252 Swanston St, Melbourne
5) Radio Mexico
11-13 Carlisle Street, St Kilda