When looking for the best vegetarian burgers in Sydney, we came up against some opposition. Apparently the carnivores feel that a burger without meat on its menu isn’t worth a lick in this bun fight. Which is a shame, because for those in the know, a really good vegetarian burger can be a thing of great beauty, for meat-lovers and the meat-free alike.
“When we developed our vegetarian burger what was in my mind was not specifically ‘what would a vegetarian like to eat’, but ‘what would I like to eat’,” says Chad Rahme of burger Mecca Ribs & Burgers in Neutral Bay (and soon to open in Northcote, Melbourne).
“I’m not a vegetarian, but I thought if it appealed to me because it was just good, then it would be a good vegetarian option,” he says.
And it turns out he was right, because not only do the vegetarian customers love it – he’s even converted a few meat lovers. A huge grilled field mushroom, served on a hand-rolled bun, topped with haloumi and served with onions rings has earned quite a reputation north of the Bridge. And with that combination what’s not to like?
“I have a lot of meat-eaters choosing the vegetarian burger as their meal,” says Rahme, pointing out that when he started looking at vegetarian options, all he found was a bland mix of tasteless vegetable patties on the market.
“There was no form, no texture and nothing that appealed to me,” says Rahme, adding that his answer was to create something with layers of texture, which is what a good burger is really all about. “We grilled the mushroom just like our patties. It comes down to having something that stands out and isn’t just mushed up vegies.”
And Marian Kissner of Beautiful Burgers in Chippendale agrees, pointing out that while flavour combinations are obviously important, texture plays a huge part in a vegetarian burger. “To make a vegetarian burger stand out, you have to take care with everything,” she says. “We take such care with every bit – even the sauces – so that it’s not just a mix of mush.”
And while she credits her homemade relishes, marinades and sauces as playing a key role, there’s more to it than just dressing vegetables up with condiments.
“We use thick cut eggplant coated in perri perri, secret spices, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Then we bake it in the oven and as it’s ordered we put it on the grill to heat and to get a really good, crunchy coat,” says Kissner, adding that since they opened way back in 2003 she’s taken to playing with the vegetarian specials as much as the meat options, just to keep things interesting. But texture can also come from the quality of the vegetables used.
“Every time I’d had a vegetarian burger previously it was just a horrible mushy patty,” says Mark Esplin of The Burger Joint (Darlinghurst and Potts Point), where their Veggie Burger is stacked with a field of char-grilled vegetables. “So what we decided to do was layered vegetables.” The stack includes char-grilled eggplant, sweet potato, zucchini, capsicum and sautéed mushrooms. “Then we layer and stack it up and dress it with house-made aioli and rocket…they’re awesome.” He’s not wrong.
“For me it’s about distinct flavours and the right textures,” says Rahme, and it seems that once people try it, they are often smitten. “We have a lot of return customers with our veggie burgers, and regulars who eat it once a week.” Which just goes to prove that no matter what your preference, a really well thought-out vegetarian burger can be just as good as one packing meat.
Feel like skipping the mince? Here’s our pick of the burgers whose absence of animal doesn’t leave them lacking:
Ribs & Burgers – They might be known for their selection of hand pressed beef patties, but the vegos aren’t missing out here, with the vegetarian burger packing a huge grilled field mushroom and haloumi. Add onion rings and there’s a vegetarian meal to have the carnivores drooling. Served on a hand-rolled bun of course.
Shop 3/19–25 Grosvenor Street, Neutral Bay 9904 5774
Beautiful Burgers – Here the veg option features eggplant coated with spices and parmesan, or try the tofu with lime mayo.
Shop 5/87 97 Regent Street, Chippendale
(02) 9319 3132
The Burger Joint – Packing a stack of char-grilled veggies and dressed with house-made aioli, this veggie burger contains a whole field of veggies.
393 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9380 2575
Also in Llankelly Place, Potts Point
Charlie & Co. – Again it’s the field mushroom (meat for vegetarians) that shines here. In the ‘Producers’ burger it’s paired with salty haloumi and creamy aioli.
The Sydney Room, level 5, Westfield CBD, Cnr Market & Castlereagh Streets, Sydney
(02) 8072 7777
Also at Opera Kitchen, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Burgerlicious – They have a full vego menu here, including the ‘Big Veg’ with beetroot relish and hummus. It’s nice to have options (from tofu to bean) and have them all with a bit of personality.
(Newtown, City, Kings Cross)
Moo Gourmet Burgers – They have a couple of vego options here, but the lentil burger with walnuts and garlic in the patty has a strong following, while the red kidney bean with eggplant and mayo isn’t far behind.
(Bondi, Coogee, Newtown, Manly)
Yulli’s Bar – For something a little different, try the haloumi bagel here. Not strictly a burger, but certainly full of texture, flavour and vegetarian goodness.
417 Crown Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9319 6609