Trend and health-conscious Melbournians have jumped on board the clean eating craze, and the number of organic, vegan-friendly and raw food options out there is growing with fervour. The healthy options are found in every corner of the city. If you have the time and inclination, it would be easy to spend a lot of time visiting different parts of the city on a healthy-eating tour.
I was lucky to end up living in an optimal spot: Fitzroy and Collingwood seemed to me to be right in the epicentre of the vegan action. On Brunswick Street there are at least five vegetarian/vegan/raw/organic friendly spots, and just a couple of blocks over on Smith Street there are even more options. I certainly didn’t get a chance to try all of them (and I loved some of them so much that I went there a few times), but here’s a rundown of the ones I did try out.
Soulfood Café on Smith Street is a little organic breakfast spot right beside the Whole Foods organic grocer. It’s nothing particularly special, but if you want to go out for breakfast or lunch and stick to organics, it’s a great choice. They are able to modify dishes to your liking or dietary restrictions as well. There are different specials on each night as well, for very reasonable prices.
Vegiebar is a Melbourne institution. It’s always busy, loud and high-energy. The menu is long and varied, and includes a number of raw dishes and daily specials. It quickly became my go-to healthy comfort food restaurant as it’s well priced and has an excellent selection of juices. The big selection of raw desserts also drew me in. The quality of the food and service, however, can be inconsistent.
I’ve had a whole bunch of dishes there and they were a bit hit-and-miss in certain ways. One day I my samosa appetizers were cold and had a weird consistency. Another time the server was very inattentive and seemed to forget about our drinks all together. There were definitely times I left feeling a bit blah about the experience The best dishes I got were definitely the raw ones- the tacos were great, as was the pad Thai. I think it’s sort of hard to get raw food dishes wrong when you’re just putting a bunch of ingredients together in a dish. I would say overall it’s worth a visit with some friends for a fun healthy meal.
Yong Green Food:
There is a great selection of raw food here, and lots of other options including macrobiotic plates and tots of tofu and tempeh options. There was also a ‘wheat chicken’ option. I eat soy very sparingly and don’t generally enjoy faux meats, but I had never before seen wheat chicken on the menu and was curious about it. I asked our lovely and attentive server and she responded that it was a wheat protein. Oh, ok, seitan. No thanks. I was already feeling a bit heavy so I started with a turmeric detox shot and opted for a raw choice, as I always do when they’re available.
I had a hard time choosing between three salads- the Daikon Salad, the Seaweed Salad and the Vietnamese Coleslaw. After a long deliberation, I decided to go with the Daikon Salad as it isn’t very common to see daikon on the menu and I like to vary my veggies as much as possible. It was just what I wanted- light, fresh, not too spicy after a small starter of homemade crunchy kimchi that had quite a kick. Robi had a starter of Oyster Mushroom Calamari breaded with a rice batter and served with a wasabi dipping sauce. I don’t even like mushrooms, but Robi convinced me to try a bite and to my surprise, I found this dish incredible.
For his main course, Robi had a Mexican bean and lentil hot-pot, which was hearty and served with a fluffy, cold and limey guacamole, which is in my opinion just how guacamole should be. We finished off with a delicious raw cheesecake for dessert and called it a night.
This was probably my favourite place overall for healthy food in Melbourne. It was just a tiny bit more expensive than Vegiebar, but the ambience and the service were far better. I had hoped to make it back another day for breakfast or lunch and to try some of their selection of nut milks, but I never got there again before I left the city. If you’re visiting Melbourne for just a short period of time and want to get out to a raw vegan restaurant, make this the one.
The Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies is a small paradise in the northeast of the city. The grounds house a beautiful garden, bike repair co-op, educational centre and café. The café offers fresh organic dishes made daily in a lovely outdoor setting. The two times I visited I was delighted by the light and tasty meals. It seems that others feel the same, as it’s a busy spot.
This little hole-in-the-wall is on the south side of Gertrude on Smith Street, and is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. This restaurant has friendly service and a homey ambience with two little rooms with a couple of tables outside on the street.
Their vegan motivation is animal rights, as is clear fairly quickly when you arrive, so the menu isn’t all that health-focused, but it is fresh, tasty and homemade. There are also pictures of cute animals that they’ve sponsored through Edgar’s Mission, a farm sanctuary. I enjoyed having Boots the goat as my dinner companion.
It was quiet when we went in, and I had a chance to ask the friendly server a bunch of questions, in particular regarding what they use as meat replacements. The Vegan schnitzel and fish sticks are made of soy and wheat protein. As is usual in Australia, there were lots of tofu and tempeh options.
As I mentioned, the food on offer wasn’t the healthiest fare, so for the evening decided to embrace it-I’d had light meals all week and was quite hungry.
I started with a big bowl of chips, as I’d heard they were tasty. To be honest, this was one of my main motivations for visiting Las Vegan, as I hadn’t had a good bowl of fries since I left Canada. I was not disappointed. It was a big bowl with a choice of dipping sauces, and they were hand cut and perfectly cooked. Be warned: we were raving about them and the server mentioned that some days they are better than others, depending on who is in the kitchen.
For our main courses, I ordered rice balls with a garden salad and sprouts and Robi opted for nachos. The rice balls were big crunchy bites with peanut butter slathered on top, and a simple fresh salad. They were delicious. The nachos were not all that flavourful, and I found the salsa to be too sweet, with more of a pasta sauce flavour, but it was still all very fresh and tasty.
The raw, gluten-free, sugar-free lemon coconut cheesecake we had for dessert was the consistency of harder crumbly cheesecakes, which are not typically my favourite. The flavour was great, but the consistency didn’t do it for me.
All in all Las Vegan was inexpensive, fresh, and tasty but not all that unique or healthy. It’s the type of place I’d go spontaneously when I want something fast easy, and a relaxed place to hang out.
Trippy Taco: A tasty and very busy vegetarian and vegan friendly Mexican shop on Gertrude Street.
The Organic Food and Wine Deli: Didn’t live up to the hype on my first and only visit, but if you want to visit the incredible Degraves Street to soak up some Melbourne laneway culture and still eat healthy, this is the spot to go.
Bon: A wonderful surprise in downtown Melbourne. Really healthy, fresh, tons of vegetables. In my opinion a must-try.
Gluttony…Is A Sin: A popular neighbourhood hangout and one of my favourite places to have a lazy, long and tasty veggie breakfast. They also had a good selection of vegan lunch options. Cheap, gritty and good.
Friends of the Earth: Excellent homemade organic vegetarian lunches every day for $10 for a small plate or $12.50 for a large. Get there early (they start serving lunch at noon) because once they sell out they’re done for the day! It’s always fresh and there are a few different dishes on one plate.
Lentil as Anything: There is a location at the Abbotsford Convent, which is buffet-style, and another in St. Kilda with table service. Both are busy and popular, but I preferred the incredible setting of the Abbotsford Convent, which now houses a number of restaurants and workspace for creative businesses. Lentils has theme nights, and start serving at 6:00 pm. There will be a line, so get there a bit early. The food is fairly simple, as it’s made to serve a lot of people, but it’s good, fresh, and there is quite a bit of selection.
It’s clear that there are lots of options in Melbourne for healthy food, and more are opening all the time. Have you visited Melbourne? Let me know in the comments which restaurants are your favourite for healthy fare.