How going vegetarian became the latest big spend food trend

Plant based eating is no modern day phenomenon. Whether you're choosing to eat less meat due to health reasons, a passion for animal rights, or simply want to up the vegetable intake in your diet, vegetarian options have never been more ubiquitous. But it doesn't mean you'll be saving a dollar for going greener with top-end vegetarian dishes fetching the equivalent of a meaty one.

Australia's first plant based hotel restaurant, Ovolo Wooloomooloo's Alibi, opened in Sydney over 12 months ago. They ditched meat-based burgers for vegetable bowls to remind us of the benefits of clean living.

In Melbourne, Smith & Daughters leads the way in vegan excellence; and after six years running a successful restaurant, has also opened a take-away deli for those hooked on mock-meats and vegan Italian fare.

Now, Dinner By Heston has upped the ante by adapting its famous meat fruit dish for vegetarians to enjoy, all in the name of peace, love and better understanding at the dinner table.

The meat fruit has become Dinner by Heston's most Instagrammed dish, adored for its chicken liver parfait silkiness and mandarin gel finish, but now a vegetarian version called The Truffle wants your attention.

The Truffle is a revision of a classic, an original recipe inspired by the 1500s Tudor Era and given it a plant-based makeover, but we do hope you love mushrooms and truffles.

The decision to include a mushroom parfait on the menu came about thanks to a version that exists at The Crown at Bray in Berkshire, UK.

According to Dinner by Heston's Chef Director Ashley Palmer-Watts, the demand for vegetarian dishes has increased in the last five years, which has forced his team in Melbourne to rethink the menu. 

"The goal is as a meat and fish eater to create a menu that we would not feel we have missed out on anything," says Palmer-Watts


The price for such a creation is just as eye-watering as any other dish on Heston's plate, with a degustation menu costing the same as a meat version. Because it all comes down to technique and delivery of course. 

The Truffle is made using alcohol and shallot reduction, mushroom juice, mushroom stock, a three mushroom puree, butter, eggs and truffle. And rather than overcomplicate the dish, Palmer-Watts says they've teamed with Australian truffle grown Peter Marshall in Canberra for the final wow factor. 

"The parfait is rolled in finely chopped truffle and finished with a dusting of dried shiitake that gives the truffle a seasoning as well as the look of a real truffle straight from the ground," says Palmer-Watts who swaps a dewy gel finish for a truffle sprinkle instead. 

According to Smith & Daughters chef and owner Shannon Martinez, the rise of the "flexitarian", or occasional vegetarians, inspired her to open the Fitzroy restaurant. 

"Diners aren't converting to vegetarianism," she says.

 "A lot of our diners are still meat eaters, but we're all eating less meat in general.

"The rising price of meat, health concerns and animal rights are reason enough to get people thinking about what they eat and why giving up meat is important to them."

At Ovolo's Alibi, US celebrity chef and restaurateur Matthew Kenney whip up a plant-based menu for their launch. Their iconic kimchi dumplings with red cabbage puree and ginger foam still rate highly, while more dishes are added each season.

"More customers want to eat better and many of them are opting for plant based meals," says Executive Chef Brent Morley.

"We saw this as an opportunity at Alibi to take that lead. We're about creating new dishes that you wouldn't even know are vegetarian based because they're big on flavour and you don't feel like your missing out," he says.

Acre Eatery's farm-to-table restaurant Head Chef Gareth Howard says diners are more health conscious and ditching steaks midweek for a plant based cleanser instead. 

He says climate change and drought will force prices of meat to increase over time. While the environmental threat is real, he says it will only get more complicated in the future.

"What I'm seeing is more people choosing vegetarian during the week and eating meat on the weekends," says Howard who says people are choosing vegetarian for health over hip pocket. 

The British chef, who worked with Jamie Oliver in London, says Sydneysiders overall are choosing less protein than their UK counterparts. 

"Diners are more health conscious and want more plant options. In the last 12 months we have introduced a separate vegetarian and vegan menu that runs alongside the main one," he says. 

"It's nutritious and better for you, you'd be mad not to cater for them."