*A long-ago time when food trucks were a novelty.
48 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea (near Ripponlea train station)
The staff are delightful, the strong house-blend coffee’s ground per cup and consistently warrants a second, the serves are generous, everything (including a daily muffin) is made in the open kitchen, and there’s always a surprisingly unique vegetarian choice.
Citrus black beans with Meredith feta and quinoa bread
$15.50 plus $3 for a perfectly poached egg
The Middle Eastern style beans have a welcome hint of crunch from being soaked – not tinned – and the limey tang adds a freshness that instantly removes any memories of floury bean dishes. Combined with creamy oil-dressed feta, a silky egg (recommended by staff) and a flaky-yet-dense bread (that’s even gluten free), it’s a treat to go back for.
146 Little Bourke Street (they now have shops all over, including a great one in Windsor)
If you think Melbourne foodies argue about the best lattes, wait until you ask about the best dumplings!
Vegetarians always have fewer choices but, containing the search to Chinatown in the city, Shanghai Street’s vegetable dumplings are the consistent winner.
Fried vegetable dumpling
Made in an open kitchen (no frozen dumplings here), the serve of 15 is enough for the hungriest dumplarian and each is so plump that it’s impossible to eat one in a mouthful.
With your table-made soy, vinegar and chilli dipping sauce, the steamed ones are addictive, but when a dumpling is so amply filled with the greenest of greens, with a hint of tofu and chewy wood fungus, there’s no guilt in indulging in the fried – just let them cool down before biting in.
Borsch, Vodka & Tears
173 Chapel Street, Windsor
Vegetarian Polish borsch with porcini mushroom uszka
$14.50 (or $11.50 for lunch)
Unlike some borsches, it’s a clear broth. Served in hand-painted bowls, its purple is like the last glimpse of a pink sunset in a darkening blue sky. It’s sweet like the beetroot it’s made with but balanced with a lemony tang, which all comes together with a dunking of light rye bread – never skimping on the butter! Then there’s the real indulgence: three hand-made uszka dumplings with an earthy porcini filling that turn this soup into the one I want for my last meal.
Various. Today’s dish on High Street, Northcote
Forget food vans that only offer soggy chips for vegos because Melbourne’s food trucks have made lining up on the footpath and eating on a patch of grass a gourmet delight.
There are two Taco Trucks touring the inner suburbs. It’s not super cheap or fast, but every meal is made to order, is served by happy staff and redefines dated ideas about Mexican takeaway. And there’s always a vegetarian taco.
Taco plate with house-made corn chips and guacamole
Potato taco with jalapeno ricotta, slaw and salsa verde
Take a large first bite to include the crisp salad and mildly spiced cheese before feeling the crack of the deep fried taco with its chewy and soft potato filling. For heat fans, there are sauces and always upsize with corn chips and fresh guacamole, which tastes like it’s straight from an avocado tree.
Taco Truck Facebook page
Centro Shopping Centre, Box Hill. In the fresh food market.
If there’s anything disappointing about vegetarian eating in Melbourne, it’s steamed buns. Sweet custard and red bean buns are plentiful, but savoury ones are harder to find.
Magic Cuisine, in the Box Hill shopping centre, offers pre-packaged Malaysian-style marinated goodies, coloured jellies for drinks, and three steamed buns: pork, veggie and red bean.
Made in the kitchen you can see, each bun comes fresh from a steamer. The dense white bread is warm and soft and filled with a mix of mushroom, black fungus, bean curd and bok choy that, without spice or sauce to distract, surprises with its mix of flavours and textures – and instantly made me feel like I was in Kuala Lumpur.
Being palm size, each bun is a substantial snack, but you’ll need extras to take home.
15 Celestial Lane, Melbourne
If you haven’t had a three-course meal at Supper Inn at 1.30am, you’re not a Melbournian.
It’s at the top of a dark stairwell, at the end of a small dark lane that’s filled with bins. First-timers think you’re joking or trying to murder them. But it’s always full and I’ve never been there after midnight when there wasn’t a table of people in football scarfs, even when there hadn’t been a match.
The wood panelled décor, menu (and maybe the staff) haven’t changed much since it opened in the 80s and the Cantonese menu hasn’t always welcomed vegetarians, but there’s one dish that’s made it to the main menu.
Deep fried eggplant, beancurd and beans with spicy salt and chilli
The eggplant is melt in your mouth, the bean curd’s slightly chewy and the beans still have crunch – and it’s batter coated, deep fried and covered with chilli, spring onions and a spicy salt. The quality isn’t consistent, but at its best, you’ll have to order a second serve because everyone wants more.
Tuck Shop Take Away
273 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield
Take Away’s owners have, between them, worked at Fat Duck (yes, Heston’s), Attica and Vue de Monde. Now they’ve revamped a sad corner milk bar into a cooler-than-school-ever-was Tuck Shop where they flip burgers.
If the steady lunch crowd and extended waiting time is anything to go by, their burgers must be flipping brilliant. But my test is the veggie option.
Veggie Wedgie with Cuts
First, always order cuts (chips). Hand cut and triple cooked, they are greasy and salty and make you remember what chips are meant to taste like.
The Veggie is served exactly like its non-veg counterpart, but with a pink lentil, brown rice and beetroot patty. The patty is missing some chew factor, but it’s not what makes this treat memorable. From the butter-grilled, sesame-sprinkled brioche bun to the crunchy iceberg lettuce, it looks like the memory of childhood burgers. And with pickles, a very special mayo-tomato-mustard sauce and melting bright yellow cheese, it tastes even better than it looks.
Tuck Shop Facebook page
Naked for Satan: Naked in the Sky
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
A visit to Naked for Satan is already such a quintessential Melbourne experience that it’s hard to believe it’s only four-years-old.
Resist the plates of pintxos at ground level (next time) and find the lift to the rooftop, where the views stretch from the city to the Dandenongs to the balconies of nearby apartments.
The bar menu has about 15 tapas treats, plus cheeses, sweets and heaven-blessed house-made vodkas. The vegetarian offerings are limited, but irresistible.
Mushroom Parfait with onion jam, smoked almonds and radish
Never has a square of grey been so moorish. Intensely mushroomy, it’s also so creamy that it’s best to not think about the butter in it. And there’s plenty of crunchy bread to experiment with to find your unforgettable combination of parfait, sweet onion jam, smoky almond and fresh salad.
All photos by A-M Peard