Plant-based eating goes gourmet

As a chef, Savage is a purist, building his menu on vegetables in season. Intensifying their flavours by smoking, fermenting, dry-ageing and dehydrating, he deploys the natural umami of seaweeds, house-made soy, miso and coconut yoghurt throughout. “My whole philosophy is to reinforce the original and natural flavour of the vegetable,” he says.

It’s a different approach to that of Shannon Martinez, of Smith & Daughters in Melbourne, a non-vegan vegan chef who deliberately makes vegetables taste – and look – like meat.

Shannon Martinez has gone back to her Spanish roots for Lona Misa.  James Morgan

At Melbourne’s Lona Misa in the newly opened Ovolo hotel in South Yarra (owned by lifelong vegetarian hotelier Girish Jhunjhnuwala), Martinez uses every trick in the book to push vegan food right into the non-vegan market’s mouth.

“People are coming here for health or environmental reasons, and to have a smaller footprint on the planet,” she says. “Lona Misa provides that dining experience without the guilt.”

Martinez has gone back to her Spanish roots for Lona Misa, with a menu of “chicken” braised in tomatillo salsa, “prawns” aguachile in spicy coriander and lime, and even “morcilla” sausage (made with beetroot) topped with a vegan egg yolk. She’s in love with her giant Josper grill oven. “It means I can treat vegetables like meat, and get that beautiful smoke and char and colour,” she says.

Vegan dishes at Mother. “We’ve seen a whole new audience of guests experiencing this type of cuisine for the first time,” says Emma Daly.  

It also means vegans and omnivores alike can join the party, sharing cocktails, “meat” dishes and desserts. “I think a lot of people will be keeping a very close eye on how this goes,” she says.

In Fremantle, Emma and Heath Daly transformed their 10-year-old The Raw Kitchen into the plant-based, comfort-food-and-cocktails Mother in 2020, to attract the new non-vegan vegan diner.

“A surprisingly small number of our guests would identify as vegans or vegetarians, the much larger portion falling into clean-eating, flexi and meat-reducer camps,” says Emma. “We’ve seen a whole new audience of guests experiencing this type of cuisine for the first time. It’s been a really lovely evolution.”

Non-vegan fine diners refuse to be left behind, with many committing to equally high-end dietary menus. At Brisbane’s seductively dark Rogue Bistro, chef Dan Myers’ ever-changing six-course “vegan dego” goes to 20 per cent of tables on any given night.

“What might be miso-honey-glazed pork belly on one menu becomes ponzu-miso-glazed pumpkin on another,” he says. “We often have guests who find multiple omnivorous dishes overwhelming and go for the vegetarian alternative.”

For Yellow’s Savage, it’s just the beginning. “In five years’ time, so many chefs will be doing plant-based offerings as a major part of their menu,” he says. “It just won’t be a big deal.”

5 top vegan choices

YELLOW, Sydney | The finest vegan dining experience in Australia. Chef Brent Savage’s seasonal tasting menu celebrates the richness of vegetables, herbs, ferments and pickles. 57 Macleay Street, Potts Point. Tel: (02) 9332 2344

LONA MISA, Melbourne | Trail-blazing vegan chef Shannon Martinez (herself a meat-eater) of Smith & Daughters brings all-day dining and funky Spanish/South American food to the new Ovolo South Yarra. 234 Toorak Road, South Yarra. Tel: (03) 9116 2000

ALOFT, Hobart | Not a dedicated vegan restaurant, but with Glenn Byrnes’ dedicated vegan and vegetarian tasting menus and rigorously local, often foraged produce, it’s one of Hobart’s best big nights out. Pier One, Brooke Street, Hobart. Tel: (03) 6223 1619

ROGUE BISTRO, Brisbane | An ever-changing “vegan dego” menu from Dan Myers might go from roasted wild mushrooms with smoked mash to a dairy-free Gaytime brownie with dark chocolate sorbet. 14 Austin Street, Newstead. Tel: 0476 764 833

MOTHER, Fremantle | Emma and Heath Daly created Mother for “vegans, non-vegans and everybody in between” with natural wines, clean cocktails and plant-based comfort food, from charred corn with pickled avocado and chipotle to warm sticky date pudding. 181a High Street, Fremantle. Tel: (08) 9433 4647