As a foodie, one of the joys of perusing a menu in a restaurant is deciding what to order…that is unless of course, if you are a vegetarian. The decision will be made for you in the form of a daily salad special that is neither special nor does it resemble anything that was made on the day.
It’s true, while most chefs would tell you that it is foolish to ignore the vegetarians when it comes to creating a menu; there are some who has the ‘screw the vegetarian’ attitude simply because in their busiest hour and in a tiny kitchen, they cannot accommodate more than a risotto or a salad. That said, more chefs are now embracing the chance to use exciting ingredients and flex their creative muscle. In fact, with rise of super grains like quinoa, freekeh and faro, gone are the days where a vegetarian meal is a mere falafel or a lentil burger.
In Australia, restaurants are creating tasty, mouth-watering dishes like pumpkin tofu with zucchini flower, quinoa, capers and pomegranate (Bathers’ Pavilion, Sydney); chickpea crumbed eggplant, labne, shanklish, almonds and fennel (Cutler and Co, Melbourne); organic potato gnocchi, baby autumn vegetables, chickpeas, vegetable puree and sage butter (Restaurant Two, Brisbane); Jerusalem artichokes, brassicas, egg yolk, fried egg mousse and wild mushrooms (Garagistes, Hobart).
For the hardcore vegos, degustation options are now available: Sage restaurant in Canberra calls it their autumn herbivore tasting menu boasting dishes like beetroot variations with eucalyptus smoked goats curd, freeze dried mandarin and coriander; and glove and Jerusalem artichokes with hazelnut, kale and sherry; Bentley’s Restaurant and Bar offers a vegetarian tasting menu of delightfully sensory bites like: kohlrabi, quinoa, broccolini and garlic; and cauliflower with black artichokes and smoked yoghurt. Restaurant Amusé in Perth takes their Vegetarian tasting notes to another level by offering zucchini flower stuffed with zucchini fondue on Persian feta with coffee and cocoa crumbs; and coddled Kalbarri free range egg, organic Dutch Cream potatoes, hay custard, sweet corn pudding and sweet corn cous cous.
Historically, if you mention the word vegetarian you can’t help but conjure up images of hippy dippy, ‘magic happens’, tie-dyed-T-shirt-wearing mung beans. The judgement is far worse if you are a man, because after all, real men don’t eat broccoli, right? Well to dispel that erroneous archetype, I gladly share my latest research finding: PETA’s 2012’s sexiest vegetarian contest. Forget tie-dye t-shirts…in fact, forget t-shirts altogether. The winner of the male sexiest vegetarian award went to 28-year-old Zachary Koval who turned vegan after working in a vegan restaurant in New York. I am doubtful that his shot will turn anyone off sausages but nevertheless, it certainly proves that not all vegetarians are wimpy. The sexiest female vegetarian award went to Tiana Rae Tan whose shot looks like she is a huge fan of her own décolletage. Tiana says that, “she loves the energy boost and clear conscience that her vegetarian diet has given her”.
As a meat lover, I do love the occasional peek over the vegetarian fence. With the increasing concerns over the environment and healthy living, we are already seeing evidence of vegetarianism permeating and taking root in our society - think vegetarian food trucks and National Vegetarian week. It won’t be long until we find ourselves perusing a menu in a restaurant and dithering between the leek consommé and the miso and potato gratin.
So do you think Australian restaurants are fluent in vegetarian catering? And where do you go for your vegetarian fix?
Alvin Quah is a former contestant and blogger at the MasterChef Food Hub and cinnamonpig.com.au