Published in the Inner West Independent and City News.
Alex Harmon used to think vegetarians were missing out when it came to food (apart from being served first on an airline). Turns out the lacklustre restaurants with paper tablecloths and meatless mezze plates she had in mind were just a myth...
Nourishing Quarter is a new addition to the vegetarian scene but in a fortunate position next to the super-popular Norfolk on Cleveland Street. They have a unique approach in that they fuse the healing properties of Latin American ingredients with exotic Asian and Mediterranean soul foods. The result? A flavoursome and exciting menu that satisfies and astounds even the strictest of carnivores.
I recommend the Pretty Dumplings ($12.50/4); as their name suggests they're delicate Asian dumplings with Royal Quinoa grains, diced tofu and vegetables, wrapped in wheat dumpling dough. So silky you'll want to get into bed with them. Their Sacred Khot ($12.50/5) are savoury Vietnamese tarts served on Vietnamese mint leaves, almost like pancakes but sturdier, holding mung bean mix, spring onions and carrots. This dainty food suits the china-shop decor of the restaurant. Passage to India ($16.50) is an expedition in a bowl, the warm Indian flavours with tofu and grainy Latin textures will satisfy a nomad's hunger. Owner Nam admits it's poor people's ingredients in the kitchen, but what's on the plate is certainly not poor in flavour.
Govinda's is a quiet-achieving institution in Sydney, which is surprising given it's nestled in between two the city's busiest districts, Kings Cross and Darlinghurst. When I think of buffets I think of sweatpants and RSL clubs, but Govinda's have enlightened me. They take the excessive out of all-you-can-eat and serve wholesome, vegetarian food that doesn't make you burst at the seams.
Then they allow you to waltz upstairs and let your food settle as you watch a film on one of their lay-down couches. It blissfully takes the cliche out of the dinner/movie date. The menu changes every night but has its staples, like an Indian dahl soup, vegetable curry, baked penne pasta, lentil pie, cauliflower pakoras, poppadums and fresh bread. I was there for an amazing sun-dried tomato and chick pea cous-cous, a tom yum soup and a spicy tomato pasta bake too. I also indulged in a Chocolate Mousse ($8.50) which came out looking like a sundae with cream and ice-cream and a creamy Chai ($3.80) OK, maybe I was bursting at the seams, but the spiritual enlightenment I was feeling counteracted any feelings of guilt. The buffet and film package will set you back a bargain $29.80.
My journey went from merely skipping meat to hardcore Buddhist vegan when I dined at Bodhi. During the day they serve vegan yum cha which, in the heavenly surrounds of Hyde Park and St. Mary's Cathedral, made for a unique experience. Sheltered by Moreton Bay fig trees with the tranquil sounds of church bells on the hour, I felt a calmness that the hustle and bustle of yum cha has never brought before.
Fresh Rice Noodle Folds with Vegetarian Prawns ($8.50) are look very prawn-like but taste of tofu. Steamed English Spinach Gow Dumplings ($6.50/3) are fresh, tasty and leafy. Keep in mind that Buddhist vegans cannot eat onion, chives and garlic, ingredients found in most yum cha restaurants, so it's a stripped back experience, which does call for some condiments. However the Steamed Carrot Ginger Gow Dumplings ($6.50/3) impressed me thoroughly, as did the Spinach Spring Rolls ($7.50/4) served with a light orange and lemon sauce. The Steamed BBQ Chicken Bread Buns ($6.50/3) were a flavoursome faux-meat treat. With a bottle of organic Bodhi Semillon Sauvignon ($29) their house drop from the Hunter Valley, you'll be zenned out in no time. Thankfully the church bells are there to help keep track of time.
There you have my organic cream of the vegetarian crop. While uncovering this story I also discovered many other vegetarian restaurants dotted about Sydney. This included an old favourite, Badde Manors, with it's art-deco feel and huge menu of vegetarian delights drawn from a mish-mash of cuisines. The relaxed atmosphere and late hours (midnight during the week, 1am on weekends) makes it a student haunt; or the spot where an ex-student like me hopes for a bit of nostalgia. It prompted me to wonder whether perhaps I might have had a soft spot for vegetarian dining all along?
315 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Ph: (02) 8399 0888
112 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9380 5155
Lower Mezzanine Level, Cook and Philip Park, 2-4 College Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9360 2523
37 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
Ph: (02) 9660 3797