25 January 2022

Canberra's best vegetarian eats when the menu is meats

| Lavanna Neal
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Vegetarian dishes from Baby Su

A vegetarian feast from Baby Su. Photo: Supplied.

As someone who grew up vegetarian in the 1990s, I find myself scouring menus for good vegetarian options.

I now enjoy a parma (or is it parmie?) or a bowl of beef pho, but I find myself gravitating to places that have plant-based menu items to balance out the ‘meat sweat’ meals.

I also like to consider the environmental impact of what I eat, and we know that vegetarian food usually means less water, less food miles and is better for your hip pocket.

Pub grub really is the true equaliser – a pub taking care of its vegetarian and vegan punters is a big deal to me. I look for multiple options, not tokenistic deep fried, dry mashed potato ‘veggie burgers’.

Some of Canberra’s best venues for both vegetarians and carnivores to enjoy a great meal and a beverage are The Old Canberra Inn, in Lyneham, and its sister pub, Dickson Taphouse.

The Old Canberra Inn has a smorgasbord of options from black bean empanadas to pulled jackfruit burgers. While I’ll never usually order a curry at a pub, the vegan curry is prepared by their Nepalese kitchen staff, many of who are vegetarian, and this takes the flavour profile to a whole new level for pub food.

Vegan curry from Old Canberra Inn

Vegan curry from The Old Canberra Inn, in Lyneham. Photo: Supplied.

Ben Johnston, co-owner of The Old Canberra Inn and Dickson Taphouse, shares my philosophy about the sustainability of vegetarian cuisine.

“As a business, we try to reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can to become a more sustainable business so vegetarian food wins all over the shop,” he says.

“Comparing plant food to meat and its byproducts, the impact is much lower, and local produce is best in that regard. We want our pub to be accessible for everyone so good vegetarian food just makes good sense.”

If you’re not feeling the pub vibe, or you just want to trick your carnivorous friends, take them to Dickson or Woden’s Au Lac Dickson Vegan Cuisine. Your meat eating mates won’t even realise it’s a vegan restaurant (provided you blindfold them so they don’t see the word ‘vegan’ in the name).

Start with chicken satays, follow with the plum duck, salt and spicy crab, and the tamarind fish. You don’t even have to be that person who always asks for a veggie dish because they are all vegan.

Continuing the Asian cuisine options, a relative newcomer to Civic is Biang Biang.

Imagine a chunky Italian ragu, then add super thick pappardelle with an Eastern twist. This place is allergy friendly and has excellent vegetarian and vegan options. If you haven’t eaten here, do yourself a favour and give it a try.

Vegan noodles from Biang Biang

Vegan noodles from Biang Biang. Photo: Isaac Dugdale.

When meeting friends in Civic, drop by Baby Su for some Japanese-Korean-American casual fusion. The menu of burgers, fried chicken and cheeseburger spring rolls is sure to satisfy every meat eater, but with veggie options such as the Soba Noodle bowl and Wonton Ramen, vegetarians will be happy.

My pick is the Tofu Bao-ger – proof that vegetarian food can also be full of deep-fried goodness.

Sometimes you want to eat a more balanced and healthy meal with friends and family.

Family restaurants have come a long way since Sizzler, and it’s often hard to find a place that will cater for the vegan teen, the meat-lover parent, and the picky toddler.

Eggplant, chilli and basil rigatoni dish from Dickson Taphouse

Eggplant, chilli and basil rigatoni from Dickson Taphouse. Photo: Supplied.

Dickson Taphouse isn’t exactly a family restaurant, but with ample outdoor seating (which makes everyone more comfortable at present) it’s well worth a visit early in the evening with the little ones.

The exceptional pasta is all made in-house with local ingredients and it is egg-free. There are two sizes to choose from so it is perfect for kids and adults alike.

Sauces include classic bolognaise or pork, beef and fennel meatballs for the meat eaters. For the vegos, there’s lentil, spinach, miso and lemon, or melt in the mouth eggplant, chilli tomato and basil sauces.

“All our meat is free-range, even though the pork is really hard to get,” says Ben.

“We cater to meat eaters, but we still try to do it in a sustainable way. With the vegetarian food we can change things seasonally and keep the menu really fresh.”

Food is about coming together, sharing delicious flavours and great conversation. Whatever your dietary desires, eating out should be fun, accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

What’s your pick for great vegetarian options in Canberra? Tell us in the comments.

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Another excellent vegan restaurant which may ‘trick’ your meat-loving friends is An Nguyen in Kingston

Pilot serve a pretty awesome vegetarian meal, a bit xxxxy but we’ll worth it. Sweet Bones in Brandon is great and soon to open at Scullin ?. For lunch you can’t beat Knox, they always have a good range of vego food, or two before 10 at Aranda

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