Melbourne’s central business district has the hustle and bustle of any major city, but you’ll soon realize Melbourne’s energy is rather unique. I was most intrigued by the numerous alleys that were once used strictly for trash pick-up but are now vibrant pedestrian walkways overflowing with restaurants, cafés, shops and street art. Melbourne’s vibrancy extends to its food culture, giving the city a reputation for having one of the most inventive food scenes in Australia. We had the opportunity to explore Melbourne’s plant-based food scene over the course of about ten days. Having checked out a wide range of vegan restaurants during this time, the restaurants below represent the best of the best.
Yong Green Food is located in Fitzroy on the hip, bustling Brunswick Street. Hop on the 112 tram in the CBD and you’ll be there in less than 20 minutes. The restaurant is a popular destination, but the kitchen and serving staff have no problem handling the crowds. Service is top-notch and the kitchen churns out the food in a speedy fashion. The prices are a bit higher than those at comparable vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but Yong Green prides itself on using the freshest organic ingredients whenever possible. The menu offers a range of imaginative Asian-inspired dishes and all menu items are clearly identified as being raw, organic, vegan and gluten-free.
If you’re looking for a lighter dish on a hot summer day, go for the Macro Dragon Bowl. Just under the greens and organic tempeh, you’ll find biodynamic brown rice, seasonal veggies, and seaweed. The salad is served with lemon tahini cream and miso soup.
If you’re more in the mood for a hearty stew, the Japanese curry is rich in flavor without being too heavy or salty.
The organic tempeh burger is nicely balanced with the crunch of the coleslaw, sweetness of the chutney and nuttiness of the satay sauce, but the burger-bun ratio was a little off (though the excess fresh organic focaccia was nonetheless delicious even on its own).
The organic tofu-katsu is well-seasoned and resembles traditional Japanese tonkatsu with a slight stretch of the imagination. The dish is comprised of a lightly fried tofu patty make with shitake, arame and veggies and battered with organic quinoa. The patty is served with biodynamic brown rice, coleslaw, house-made katsu sauce and pickles.
Here are the details for Yong Green Food:
Address: 421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday for lunch and dinner
Phone: +61 3 9417 3338
Shanghai Street Dumpling is by no means a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but this Melbourne dumpling institution has excellent vegetarian dumplings (steamed or pan-fried), steamed vegetarian Xiao long bao and vegetarian bun. The prices are very reasonable ($8.50 AUD for 15 dumplings) and the dumplings are well-stuffed with fresh chopped greens. The vinegar, soy and chili dipping sauce complement the dumplings perfectly. Plan on getting there early or else you’ll end up waiting in line outside. Don’t let the line deter you; the restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine.
I am not ashamed to admit that we were here three times in ten days. If I lived in Melbourne, I would probably go to Shanghai Street Dumpling at least once a week. Simply put, make it a priority to go to Shanghai Street Dumpling early on in your time in Melbourne because you will likely want to go back for a second or maybe a third visit.
The pan-fried dumplings are overflowing with fresh leafy greens
Here are the details for Shanghai Street Dumpling:
Address: 342 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 11:30am – 8pm
Phone: +61 3 9600 2250
Just a few doors north of Yong Green, you’ll find the Bear Café. With a nondescript storefront, look for the hanging sign that reads, “The Best Coffee in the Universe.” It’s an entirely vegan café that serves an all-day breakfast and also sells a limited selection of fresh produce. While a bit frenetic on the weekends due to the limited seating and small open-air kitchen, the Bear Café offers a straightforward menu for all those breakfast lovers out there.
I opted for the “make your own” open-faced sandwich. I went with the pumpkin sourdough bread topped with roasted pumpkin, avocado and caramelized onion. Sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt, this open-face sandwich was simple, yet so flavorful and fresh. This is one sandwich combination I will be sure to add to my go-to sandwich repertoire.
My husband had the pumpkin, spinach, caramelized onion and “cheese” sandwich on gluten-free toast hit the spot. He smeared on some of my extra avocado, adding a creamy richness to the already delicious sandwich. The Bear Café uses Vegusto, a plant-based cheese made by a Swiss company that has been making 100% plant-based cheeses and other vegan products since the late 90s.
We went back to the Bear Café just to try the vegan French toast topped with fresh fruit and CoYo coconut yogurt. We were first introduced to CoYo while on a vegan food tour in Auckland, New Zealand. How one achieves moist, eggy-tasting French toast without eggs or egg replacer will remain a mystery to me, but this particular dish is bound to impress!
Here are the details for The Bear Café:
Address: 439 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Hours: Monday – Friday: 9am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday: 10am – 5pm
Phone: +61 4 1450 7635
Melbourne has numerous vegan and vegetarian restaurants to keep your taste buds happy and your body healthy. Here are a few others that are worth checking out:
- The Organic Food and Wine Deli is a 100% plant-based casual lunch café with covered outdoor seating in the Degraves lane way.
- Invita Living Food is adjacent to the Food Hall at the Victoria Market and offers numerous plant-based prepared items, stews, soups, fresh juices and desserts.
- Vegie Bar, located on Brunswick Street right near The Bear Café and Yong Green Food, has been around for over 20 years. Here you’ll find food from around the world prepared with a bit of a contemporary flair. The desserts are as delicious as they are ascetically pleasing.
- Mr. Natural Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza is also on Brunswick Street and offers a 100% vegetarian menu. Fortunately all pizzas can be made without cheese or with a vegan cheese.
- Friends of the Earth Food Co-op and Café has an extensive bulk food section as part of its organic grocery store. It also serves an entirely vegan lunch plate that varies daily depending on the kitchen’s whim.
- Om Vegetarian’s two locations in the CBD offer a $6.50 AUD all you can eat vegetarian or vegan Indian buffet that includes naan, dhal, a curry dish and rice.
- Fatto a Mano Organic Bakery is only open 3 days a week, but the small bakery has an extensive selection of gluten-free breads and desserts as well as freshly made vegan pizzas. Make sure to arrive early as they tend run out of their more popular items very quickly.
- Lord of the Fries is an Australian-born, 100% vegetarian fast food joint. If you’re looking for an alternative to your standard ground beef burger or precut frozen fries, make your way to one of LOTF’s many locations. Most menu items can be prepared vegan and/or gluten-free.