FIVE years ago, vegans didn't have much in the way of options when dining out. Nowadays, those that follow a plant-based diet can often order straight from the menu, whether at a fine dining restaurant or a pub.
"Ten years ago, restaurants in Newcastle barely knew what veganism was, let alone offered vegan options," says Chelsey Johns, founder of Newcastle-based blog and website Like A Vegan (likeavegan.com.au).
"It has been exciting to see so many local businesses branch out into offering vegan options and, in many cases, entirely vegan menus. Eating out has gone from being an awkward and often unpleasant experience to one full of delicious and creative options."
As well as the all-vegan eateries that have popped up, such as Bonta Vera at Minmi, Johns says The Kent Hotel, bakery Fifi LaFemme, ramen noodle joint Susuru, gelato shop Monella, Harry's Pizza at Adamstown, and VietKing on Darby Street all offer great vegan choices.
The latest eatery to offer a 100 per cent plant-based menu is Winnie's (inside Finnegans Hotel) where chefs Colin Greengrass and Jared Phillips offer an all-vegan menu of homestyle meals, such as wild mushroom risotto with rosemary and enoki crisp; smoked jackfruit mac n cheese; buttered sweet corn ribs; and southern fried jackfruit with mustard aioli.
"I guess we are trying to break those conventions of what vegan food is known for," Greengrass says.
"When people think of vegan food, they think of lots of vegetables or lots of tofu, salads and all this healthy stuff. That's not to say our food isn't healthy, but it's packed full of flavour and it's reminiscent of things that everyone eats or would have eaten through their childhood - mac n cheese, burgers - everything like that.
"We want to bring something that people are still familiar with, but it doesn't contain any meat, dairy or eggs."
Here's five places to try vegan food:
21 Darby Street, Newcastle (inside Finnegans Hotel) The Jamaican theme of the menu has been ditched in favour of embracing classic comfort food. Vegan pub grub? It might sound impossible but chefs Colin Greengrass and Jared Phillips have managed just that.
The menu includes a Seoul Burger with fried seitan, gochujang slaw, kombucha kimchi and house-made pickles on a brioche bun. The 'chicken' fillet is made from a plant-based protein made in-house at Winnie's.
"We combine gluten four and other things like chickpeas and jackfruit, mix that together and knead it like dough and then cook it, and when it's cooked it develops a very meaty texture which is very similar to chicken," Greengrass says.
Winnie's is open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and Saturday for dinner.
Cnr Hunter and Brown Streets, Newcastle While Momo's is not strictly a vegan cafe, vegetable and plant-based dishes dominate. The breakfast and lunch offerings are colourful and full of flavour, and the specials change often, with Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian-inspired flavours finding their way into the dishes.
Recent vegan specials on the menu include organic roast veg salad with sweet potato, cavil nero, cauliflower, crispy chickpeas and chermoula; Indonesian fried rice with tofu, organic greens, shallots, coconut samba, roasted peanuts with ginger and chilli sauce; and kimchi pancake with chilli mayo,slaw, herbs and shallots.
Momo makes an effort to source their produce locally and stock a range of vegan treats, such as cookies and muffins.
98 Maitland Road, Islington The Italian eatery has remained a long-standing favourite in Islington for many years (since 1977, in fact; it was called Giuseppe's before switching to Pino's). Since changing hands last year, the restaurant's menu is entirely vegan.
They don't promote it as such, because they want people to simply enjoy the food rather than question it.
The menu is small - a handful of starters, a couple of pastas, and dessert - and changes regularly. The fried sprouts are popular as an entree and the pasta dishes are simple, but hearty and full of flavour.
34 Charlestown Arcade, Charlestown Like the name suggests (Claire's Cupcakes 100% Vegan), the cupcake creations lovingly made by Claire Johnson are all completely vegan. Johnson is celebrating the launch of her shopfront this Saturday from 9am to 4pm when she opens Newcastle's first vegan bakery at Charlestown. She has spent six years honing her skills in her home kitchen to create vegan goodies such as cupcakes as well made-to-order vegan cakes.
Cupcakes are her speciality and she has 50 flavours on the menu, which will be on rotation at the shop, the most popular being strawberry milkshake, red velvet, s'mores, chocolate overload and Golden Gaytime.
The bakery will also serve coffee, milkshakes, slices, doughnuts and "sausage" rolls, with plans for a full lunch and breakfast menu soon.
"You don't have to be vegan to enjoy my products," Johnson says.
Organic Seed Cafe
3/47 Glebe Road, The Junction Located at Hunter Organics, Seed's cafe menu is proudly 97 per cent vegan.
The menu is short, but big on flavour and uses organic produce when possible. Try an Uprising toastie (roast pumpkin,cashew cheese, rocket pesto and baby spinach, or oven-roasted mushroom with chargrilled capsicum), corn and zucchini fritters with kaleslaw and salsa, soup of the day served with Uprising sourdough, or curry of the day served with brown basmati rice, salsa and coconut yoghurt. On Saturdays, they serve up a Moroccan big vegan breakfast.