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I’m on the veg of glory

July 15, 2016

Imagine going out for dinner only to find that the only thing you can eat from the menu are hot chips or a side salad. It’s happened to a vegetarian friend of mine, but they just shrugged it off as one of the complications of dining out as a vegetarian. That was many years ago, and thankfully for all of us there’s been a shift in both the quality and quantity of non-meat options, especially in Wellington.

Chefs are increasingly using vegetarian dishes to experiment with techniques and flavours, subverting expectations of what you can do with vegetarian food. When I’m perusing a menu, I’ll gladly order an inventive vegetarian dish over something meat-based. The rising popularity of other cuisines in the city has also helped with the increase in variety – from Indian curries to gluten and soy in Chinese and Malaysian vegan dishes.

The explosion of vegetarian and vegan dishes, burgers and events in this year’s Visa Wellington on a Plate line-up is super exciting, with more than 30 venues are offering vege Festival Dishes (in some cases multiple dishes), and there are 12 vege Burger Wellington options. So lettuce take a closer look at what we can look forward to.

One of the vegetarian Burger Wellington entries that caught my eye is Basque’s Good Golly It’s Cauli!, which features a habanero cauliflower patty, caramelised beets and a caper aioli. Peter Richardson has recently started at Basque as their new head chef. In fact, on the night that I popped in to preview their burger it was Peter’s first shift. Peter, who is vegetarian himself, says that things are definitely getting better in Wellington when it comes to vegetarian-friendly fare with more places recognising that many people are opting for vegetarian dishes whether it’s for dietary or ethical reasons.

For Burger Wellington, Basque wanted to create something vegetarian but also indulgent. Considering this year’s cauliflower price spike it certainly fits the indulgence brief! I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cauliflower patty, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the texture was like a very smooth and soft falafel. This is a burger bursting with attitude – the habanero gives big heat and the caper aioli is an intense salty kick. Kumara chips can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, but the chunky ones served with this burger were fantastic – crisp on the outside but lusciously soft on the inside. Their sweetness complements the spice and savouriness of the burger. I was absolutely stuffed after this burger – it’ll shatter the myth that vegetarian burgers are lightweight in size and flavour.

Cuba Street institution Olive’s Dine Wellington menu features a cashew vegan “mozzarella” (something they’ve previously used in their popular vegan lasagne) and a vegan mushroom pie with pine nut gremolata and cauliflower demi glace. If that isn’t enough to tempt your taste buds, Olive have just been named one of five finalists for this year’s Festival Dish Award.

Olive’s head chef Jamie Morgan sees VWOAP as a chance to experiment with unconventional cooking techniques and to get more people supporting vegetarian and vegan food. Jamie firmly believes that it’s important that chefs have the right mind set to cook for all dietary requirements, rather than just cooking for themselves. Learning how to create exciting vegetarian dishes has given him opportunities to develop as a chef, and has greatly expanded his knowledge of plant-based ingredients he can use to create vegetarian and vegan-friendly alternatives. Researching these alternatives keeps Jamie motivated to learn and aware of how people’s needs and tastes are changing.

Another Wellington eatery dedicated to pushing the boundaries when it comes to vegetarian and vegan food, and a newcomer to VWOAP this year, is popular Lambton Quay lunch spot Seize. In fact, they have a dedicated kitchen for experimenting and testing new concepts. At Seize, the focus is on clean eating for everyday foodies. Founder Mike de Lange says that Seize follows a plant-centric but inclusive approach to their food (they do serve meat, but it’s treated more like an add-on to their dishes). Mike and his team are passionate about making everything from scratch, taking familiar ingredients and presenting them in a way that is surprising and delicious.

Seize is always packed during weekday lunchtimes. However, they shut up shop during the weekends, despite many requests from customers to open for weekend brunch. This is something that Mike says he is addressing by opening on Saturdays during VWOAP so people can get their hands on their Dine Wellington menu, which includes a Vegan Benedict, complete with a vegan poached “egg”. Seize are also offering a burger called Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe! (surely the pun-iest burger name this year?!) with a mushroom, beet and quinoa patty, and vegan aioli.

For Modern Brunching at Seize, Seize will team up with Berhampore-based Libertine Blends to match organic teas with three courses of exciting vegan fare. It’ll be an intimate and communal affair over Wellington’s (arguably) favourite weekend activity – brunch. So carpe that diem and get your tickets as they are nearly sold out!

Some VWOAP events aren’t purely vegetarian, but they will happily provide vegetarian-friendly alternatives. Salty Pidgin’s Vino Naturale can cater for vegetarians, as can The Creative Table, United Dumplings, It’s a Sweet Night (the grown-up’s version of the gelato-making event I previewed), Not Your Grandmother’s Tea Party, and Brewed: Tea by Tuatara.

Here’s a tip: let a venue or event organiser know about your dietary requirements ahead of your dining date to ensure that they will have the vegetarian option on the day. You can contact the venue directly or email with the event and date/session.

Here’s a few other vegetarian offerings that you’ll be beet-ing down doors to try come August:

    • BIN44 Restaurant + Bar are offering both vegan “steak” and “pulled pork” for Dine Wellington – sounds intriguing!
    • Matterhorn’s entire Dine Wellington menu is vegetarian-friendly, utilising home-grown ingredients alongside buckwheat and seaweed.
    • Southern Cross are putting a vegan spin on the hotdog by using carrot, crispy brussel sprouts and gremolata.
    • Over in Paraparaumu, Woodshed Beer & Smokehouse’s burger might be called The Mis-Steak Burger, but rest assured it’s completely meat-free (it features homemade falafel, brie, portobello mushroom, wilted kale, cumin and coriander yoghurt, and citrus chutney).

Chris has the hard task of eating, drinking, previewing and reviewing the tasty menus, events, burgers and cocktails as our official Visa WOAP! Festival Blogger.