LP's Quality Meats
You wouldn’t expect a restaurant called LP’s Quality Meats to have any vegetarian dishes – let alone a good one. After all, the menu showcases smoked shoulder ham, beef tongue and spiced blood sausage. But look closer and you’ll discover that head chef/co-owner Luke Powell has been serving a brilliant eggplant parmigiana here for years: the eggplant is baked to a tender point and then fried in panko crumbs, so it’s sweet, ultra-soft and bonusly crunchy, too; then it’s topped with a creamy knot of burrata, chunky tomato sauce, parmesan cheese and plenty of basil.
“We have always had the eggplant on because we get such a good response from guests,” says Powell. And despite being known for its cured and smoked meats, his restaurant actually gets a lot of vegetarian diners. “I think we always surprise people because we do a lot of different dishes. Vegetarians can eat really well [here].”
Chef Chase Kojima may be known for the sushi and sashimi at his restaurants, Sokyo in Sydney and Kiyomi on the Gold Coast, but creating meat-free alternatives is a priority for him, too. So while some Japanese restaurants struggle to offer anything beyond vegie tempura, Sokyo has an entire vegetarian menu, with a “sashimi” section offering four selections (such as a leek, yuzu and honey creation with miso and micro greens).
"The key is pushing all the elements until the results have the same 'punch' as a protein."
“When it comes to my vegetable sashimi dishes, I aim to stay as true as possible to my approach to traditional sashimi dishes – thinking about the texture, the umami taste and beautiful presentation on the plate,” he says. His take on vegetable sushi is also similar.
The chef admits it can be “super hard” to create meat-free options, but the key is pushing all the elements until the results have the same “punch” as a protein – like his asparagus tempura, which is sprayed with a truffle poke sauce straight from the fryer and served with Mexican chile de arbol powder.
Firedoor in Sydney is well-known for its signature steak – it’s dry-aged for around 200 days and its taste is so memorable that it once made Massimo Bottura cry. And while chef/co-owner Lennox Hastie can be seen coaxing flavours from cuts of meat in his wood-fired kitchen, his vegetarian courses are equally a standout.
“There is certainly a growing number of vegetarian diners amongst our guests and many of them are pleasantly surprised that we make an effort to showcase the vegetables as much as we do everything else,” he says. For example, grilled corn is not exactly new, but at Firedoor, Hastie takes it to the next level by placing the vegetable over slow-burning ironbark embers with the husk on – so the kernels steam inside, while the intensity of the heat unlocks an all-over smoky richness.
“We then take half of the corn to make a rich corn butter – combining the niblets with a stock made from the core, charred onions and kaffir lime. The remaining corn is stripped and toasted back on the grill until golden and nutty before serving with the butter.”
And while vegetables and proteins are markedly different ingredients, there can be similar approaches to cooking them.
“Like meat, many young tender vegetables are best cooked very lightly and quickly whilst larger roots, squashes, tubers and bulbs are best cooked slowly in the ashes or the wood-fired oven to allow them to break down and release all their flavour,” he says.
Porteño & Wyno
Whole animals being grilled over the fire pit may be a familiar sight at Sydney’s Porteño restaurant, but vegetables are no afterthought here.
“Sometimes I feel like I take more care with veggies than I do with meat – I get more excited about them,” says chef and co-owner Elvis Abrahanowicz. Growing up with a Spanish-Italian mum and Polish father meant a diet rich in stuffed, pickled and marinated vegetables, pierogi and cabbage rolls. Plus, his partner Sarah Doyle (also a co-owner in the business) has been a vegetarian for 24 years: “We’ve been together for so long, I guess it’s had some influence on me,” he says. “I don’t eat that much meat in general and at home, I never do, because I never cook a separate meal. So I eat mainly vegetables.”
Currently, he’s considering adding veggie-stuffed Guatamelan tamales to the menu at Porteño, while at its neighbouring bar, Wyno, Abrahanowicz is experimenting on a range of techniques to serve vegetables. He's been lightly salting zucchini, cutting it thinly, letting the moisture drain overnight, rinsing off the salt and eating it pretty much as is. “It’s just incredible,” he says. “It tastes like it’s been lightly blanched. It’s got that awesome texture, almost like pasta.”
"I think we’re more famous for our Brussels sprouts than our meat."
For another impressive way to transform vegetables, try this trick courtesy of his mother: salt eggplant overnight, press out its moisture, macerate the eggplant in vinegar for a week and preserve it in oil. He’s recently opened a jar from a year ago and “gave it to the guys in the kitchen and I didn’t tell them what it was”.
Their response? “It tastes like it’s meat.”
Or you could take inspiration from Porteno’s famous Brussels sprouts dish: the greens are fried until they’re crisp and creamy, and teamed with lentils and a mustard-vincotto dressing.
“I think we’re more famous for our Brussels sprouts than our meat. Everywhere we go, people say they’ve been to Porteño … [and they yell about] the Brussels sprouts! Everyone tells you the same story. We’re famous for the Brussels sprouts.”