Adelaide’s expanding appetite for vegan dining

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By David Sly

Growing curiosity about veganism in SA has lead to a broader acceptance of vegan food in mainstream Adelaide restaurants.

No longer isolated as a fringe interest, vegan dishes are being featured in eateries that cater exclusively for vegans – and also at restaurants that had initially staked their success on the popularity of meat dishes.

American-born chef Greggory Hill has made vegan dishes a star attraction at Hispanic Mechanic Mexican Restaurant at Frewville in Adelaide’s southern eastern suburbs.

Appreciating that vegans shun all animal products, and eat only plant-derived ingredients, he has introduced a separate vegan kitchen and degustation menu as part of what the restaurant provides.

Hispanic Mechanic’s 10-dish vegan feast includes pantacones (crisp slices of deep-fried green banana and guacamole); tostones made with smoked corn, black-bean soy protein and chilli; bola sin carne (non-meat balls made of soy protein, rice and quinoa in chipotle sauce), and his quirky and delicious KFC (Korean-Fried Cauliflower), which has now become the restaurant’s most popular taco filling, far exceeding meat and fish options.

The popular KFC taco by Hispanic Mechanic.

“I’m always looking for the delicious factor, and I find it in how creative and inventive the Mexicans are with plant-based materials,” says Greggory. “This is where the really exciting deep flavours are.”

The spread of established vegan restaurants throughout Adelaide is growing, with notable attractions including Raw Conscious Eatery in Chapel Street, Glenelg, Salem Vegan Café on Marion Road, Ascot Park, and V-Vego at Gawler Place, Adelaide, where proprietor Coco Chen has noticed a surge in attention for the eatery since she opened in June.

She says it’s not just about serious eating, with the Asian-influenced vegan dishes featuring grilled zucchini, banana blossom salad and Dengaku Nasu (miso grilled eggplant). It’s about enjoyment and fun, as Coco Chen notes that pomegranate gin and tonic is V-Vego’s signature cocktail.

More new vegan eateries are emerging, including the recently opened Bob Bowls Café in Port Adelaide.

Jessie Morris of Bob Bowls Café in Port Adelaide.

Vegan caterer Jessie Morris has created a café space within the large Cult & Harper art gallery and retail space, after deciding to take a serious step beyond providing regular pop-up food stalls at events and markets.

“I seized the opportunity to have a crack at presenting this food in a permanent space – and I call it delicious street food rather than vegan, so that I don’t limit the number of people who’ll eat it,” says Jessie.

“I’m pleasantly surprised by the reaction, especially from 30–40-year-old blokes from offices, who first try it tentatively, but keep coming back for more.”

To demonstrate Jessie’s point, his All In Bob Bowl (sumac roasted pumpkin and baby spinach stacked with red lentils, pickles and coleslaw, toasted hemp seeds, fresh dill and house sauces) has become a universal favourite.

He points to other eateries in the heart of Port Adelaide featuring vegan and vegetarian options, at Raw Earth, Red Lime Shack and Drummer Boy, as a sign that vegan eating options are shifting towards mainstream acceptance.

“There’s no sign of this slowing down,” says Jessie. “There’s no limit to what a vegan menu can offer. It’s a springboard for a chef’s imagination.”

These vegan pumpkin tarts are works of art!

To underline the broadening interest in veganism, the annual Vegan Festival Adelaide has recorded a sharp escalation in attendees, from 7500 in 2015 to about 18,000 last year, including a sharp increase in curious non-vegans.

Numbers are expected to be even higher at this year’s festival in Victoria Square/Tardannyanga on Saturday 27 October, from 10am to 9pm, and Sunday 28 October, from 10am to 4pm.

“Everyone’s jumping on board, but I can only look at this in a positive light,” says Vegan Festival Adelaide director and festival co-ordinator Lea McBride.

“The number of options that vegans now have is so very exciting. To get people tempted into trying vegan dishes, we have to make our food taste so much better.”

Diverse food choices – from pickles through to extravagant vegan chocolate desserts – are being presented within a festival program packed with live performances, speakers, cooking demonstrations and more than 80 stalls with merchandise, information and food.

The informative nature of the festival also shines a light on I Choose SA Day on October 27.

Chocolate almond torta by Francesco’s Ciccetti at last year’s festival. Photo by Linda Tobitt.

Stallholders at the Adelaide Vegan Festival will display I Choose SA Day merchandise, so that consumers know the products are sourced from SA.

Escalating esteem for vegan food is also evident in the popularity of the Veguastation Dinner – an elite five-course dining statement that will open the festival on October 24, hosted in Prohibition Gin’s Gilbert Street warehouse.

Tickets for the fine dining experience, prepared by Sydney caterers Alfie’s Kitchen, who are flying into Adelaide especially for the event, sold out four weeks ago.

“Chefs are experimenting, working outside the norm with plant-based menus, and the results are both fascinating and delicious,” says Lea. “Adelaide is proving to be a leader in this area. Yet again, South Australia rides at the forefront of a powerful social movement.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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