Seasonal feasting with family and friends can seem complicated to arrange when you have to accommodate a range of different dietary choices. Paperbark Restaurant can bust out an 8-course Degustation ($95/head) with Matching Wines ($65/head) that will please vegan and vegetarian eaters, with enough texture and flavour to make it interesting eating for meat-eating folk as well. Taking over the former digs of Allegra Dining, Paperbark is owned by Grace Watson and Joe Pagliaro, who own Verd, with head chef Taylor Cullen in the kitchen.
The pair also have a new vegan sandwich bar in Kent Street called Joe’s Sandwich Bar, that uses the same Iggy’s sourdough you’ll be eating here against grassy green Alto Olive Oil. It's presented with a 2018 Valentine Riesling ($15/glass) from the Yarra Valley that’s a bit more interesting than the usual lime and acid bath.
With the malevolent red sun still glaring in through the Phillip Street windows, Paperbark’s darkened dining room, hung with tinder-dry leaves, takes on a slightly ominous feel, in light of half the country being ablaze. We’re quickly distracted from the imminent threat of fire with something wet and green – wasabi spiked cucumber sorbet with oyster leaf coverlets.
Little summer soups, based on Spanish ajo blanco, team crushed almonds with frozen grapes and chilli sourdough croutons, topped off with dabs of infused olive oil.
The star of this rush of snacks are the eye-catching organic mushrooms, skewered onto twigs and charred over paperbark. They arrive at the table with a rich macadamia cream that’ll work if you’re the kind of person who prefers butter to oil with your Iggy’s bread, assuming you haven't already gobbled it.
Against the 2019 Hedonist Sangiovese Rose ($14/glass) from the McLaren Vale, we dive into bowls of buckwheat confit with leek, saltbush and lemon. Bright green peas that break the up the salty intensity of this savoury porridge that sits very nicely against the crisp salmon pink wine that wafts summer berries.
Lime green bullhorn peppers are blistered and dragged through punchy harissa with a crunchy, puffed rice topper – it’s simple but effective. Hidden under a round, pistachio tuile, charred squash doesn’t quite cut the mustard, even against olives and capers, though the dish is still a good example of how this kitchen builds flavour. We take it with a chilled 2018 Balmy Nights Syrah Pinot Meunier ($16/glass) a natural wine from the Hunter Valley, plucked from a short, eighteen bottle list notable because everything on it is vegan and free from nasties.
It’s better matched to our eggplant pumped up with nori and natto, a Japanese fermented soybean concoction normally eaten over rice, gentled by apple.
By the time we hit the spuds, I’m feeling quite satisfied, and I have to confess, I haven’t even thought to miss either meat or dairy.
Against icy glasses of vermouth, garnished with blood orange, we get a clever black sapote palate cleanser.
The chocolate pudding fruit is garnished with caramelised banana and coconut for a satisfying all-of-mouth smoky affair.
In the dessert proper, juicy, apple match sticks are teamed with celeriac and fennel ice cream. The combined effect somehow manages to create a dulce de leche edge without any dairy. While don't see myself converting any time soon, this meal has done more to sway me to the vegan diet than any vegan I’ve ever met.
8/18 Danks Street, Waterloo
Ph: (02) 9310 1356