CARRIE STEELE should know – she’s a frequent flyer who has tracked down the tastiest vegan eating places all over the planet.
When I reviewed Bodhi Restaurant in Sydney recently, I said that I was putting Bodhi right up there on my international list of ‘Best Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants’. Ever since I wrote that line, it’s been bouncing around in my head that I really should get around to making my list official by putting it down on virtual paper. So here we go!
As I said in the Bodhi review, it’s not a long list by any means, and in fact, when I started to compile it, I decided to be fairly brutal and keep the quality high – which made it a short list. In the absence of having photos of all the meals I’ve had at these places, you’re going to have to be satisfied with a few of my holiday snaps instead of the cities you’ll find these wonderful establishments in.
Though I didn’t intend on rating the list from brilliant down to simply excellent, there’s one restaurant that I think truly deserves to head up my list, and interestingly, it’s in Paris, a city that in my eyes brings together everything that’s elegant, beautiful and sophisticated – so long as you make an effort not to notice the many vagrants tucked up in sleeping bags on the sidewalks, with a mangy looking pet on guard duty. Established in Paris in 2009, Gentle Gourmet describes itself as “the founding house of vegan gastronomy”. You’ll find this treasure at 24 Boulevard de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. The premises are fairly unassuming from outside, but inside the décor is fresh and pretty, the staff friendly and welcoming, and the food is out of this world. It’s without doubt a step up from anything else I’ve eaten. Everything on the plate is feast for the eyes, and equally the tummy. This restaurant is in such demand that there are two sittings a night, and in fact, so keen were we not to miss out on the chance to try it, we booked from Auckland to make sure we could eat there on hubby’s birthday. Check out their website – there’s an English translation available and the food photos will have you salivating!
At 12 Park Ave, New York, Franchia Vegan Café is one of my firm favourites. The cuisine is described as, vegan Asian fusion, and the interior of this very stylish establishment is reminiscent of a teahouse. I love this place! If I had to find something to be picky about, it would be that I don’t understand the need some vegan restaurants have to make a dish sound like it’s not vegan, such as the Spicy Vegetarian ‘Duck’ Salad, or the Soy ‘Beef’ in Spicy Coconut Sauce. I always wonder if perhaps that’s to encourage groups that include non-vegans, though it still doesn’t sit well with me. Nonetheless, the menu here is extensive and there’s something to suit every palate. There’s also an imaginative cocktails and wine menu. In particular, the oriental wines are something special. I’ve tried the Lychee and also the Korean Black Raspberry and I’d highly recommend both. A warning though, they are so smooth and drinkable, you’ll find you’ve downed a couple of glasses in no time. If you ever dine here, please remember to look up and admire the ceiling, maybe between sips of wine: it’s gorgeous!
I’d wanted to visit Notting Hill ever since I first watched the movie with that now famous blue door that lead into William Thacker’s (AKA Hugh Grant’s) flat in Notting Hill. When I finally made it there, while I was just looking forward to strolling down Portobello Road, hubby was more interested in making sure we would find somewhere to have a nice lunch. Once again, his research paid off, and we found our way to Nama, at 110 Talbot Rd, Notting Hill, London, just off Portobello Road and less than a 10-minute walk from Portobello Market. This small establishment offers an imaginative selection of raw vegan food in sleek and modern surroundings. To qualify as raw food, it must not have been heated above 46 degrees Celsius/115 degrees Fahrenheit, which ensures no nutrients are lost. Thus, raw food is alive, and the enzymes, vitamins and minerals remain. Nama uses organic ingredients wherever possible and their seasonal menu sources its fruit and vegetables locally. This is a really cool place and I’d go straight back if I found myself in Notting Hill again.
While we’re talking raw food, the aptly named Raw Food Bar at Via Sant’Agostino in Florence, Italy, is another winner. This little eatery is in premises made smart by going for an all-white and timber theme, and offers seating inside and out. The food here was amazingly good. Hubby had a burger and the raw bun was mind-blowingly clever. It looked like a perfectly usual bun, but it was super light and puffy and without the usual stodge of a white bread roll. We enjoyed our lunch so much that we bought wraps to take home for our dinner – stuffed full of veg and creamy hummus, with the thinnest wrap you could imagine, holding it all together. I did take a photo of those, so that’s one less of my holiday snaps you’ll have to suffer through. There’s so much to love in Florence: Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery, the Bardini Gardens, Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, watching the sunset standing on Ponte Vecchio, and the Raw Food Bar – all magnifico!
The Vege Bar at 380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy in Melbourne, is another favourite of mine. This is a vegetarian restaurant, but there’s lots of choices for vegans. It’s unique from all the others on this list due to its organised mayhem and casual vibe. It’s a ‘no bookings but if you wait we’ll always fit you in place’, with hip staff, loud music and a clientele made up of lots of groups, young families and a smaller contingent of ‘sophisticates’ (translation: over 50) like hubby and I. The menu is exciting in a casual way – the nachos are comfort food at its best, the rice balls are an entrée I find it hard to go past. You can choose from rice bowls, pizzas, pasta, Asian inspired dishes – there’s something here for everyone. This is the kind of place where the waiter plops down on the stool beside you to take your order, and where you’re so close to the people at the next table that you might as well be sharing a table – which in most cases you actually are. It’s a feel-good place because it all works, for the duration of your meal it’s all one big happy planet – elbow touching and all. It’s the kind of place that you can eat in peace amongst strangers, but your ‘neighbour’ is happy to shove their handbag out of the way to make more room for you. So, the Vege Bar has great food, but it’s also got great atmosphere.
Last but not least is the Kiwi contender, the Lotus Heart in Christchurch, 363 Saint Asaph Street, between Fitzgerald Avenue and Barbadoes Street. Formerly on Cathedral Square, until the big shakes sadly shut them out, the restaurant found a new home for the time being in the Sri Chinmoy Centre on St Asaph Street. The restaurant is owned and operated by students of Sri Chinmoy. The restaurant’s website advertises a ‘peace-filled inner-city dining experience’, and that sums it up pretty well. The Lotus Heart welcomes patrons to come and enjoy a superb meal in what truly is a lovely environment. You will need to book – it’s insanely popular and clearly has a tribe of regulars. No alcohol is served, but there’s a lovely beverage menu, great ginger tonic, cold pressed juices and beautiful teas. The Zen Sticks are a favourite, “skewers of grilled tempeh drizzled with sesame soy sauce on a bed of salad greens”. Also the Sun Burger, “a tasty sunflower seed pattie with melted cheese, house chutney, mayo and fresh salad”, with vegan cheese an option. Don’t be put off by the ‘religious’ connotations – no one will try to sign you up to follow Sri Chinmoy – not at the first visit anyway. Just kidding – this is top notch spot – go there!