Last Friday night it seemed Melbourne’s supply of cute, young, tattooed waitresses had been corralled into the opening of the anticipated new Brunswick Street restaurant Smith & Daughters. In a corner bluestone building that used to be Spanish restaurant De Los Santos, owners Mo Wyse and Shannon Martinez have transformed the space into a new vegan bar and eatery with a rock‘n’roll vibe (framed band posters, a cross-shaped neon sign on the wall and punk rock on the speakers).
While meat-free eating certainly isn’t new to Melbourne, the peppy pair behind the new venture have a mission with Smith & Daughters: to challenge the perception that vegan dining is bland. Wyse was the events and operations manager at the People’s Market in Collingwood and Martinez the head chef of the Market’s resident food stall, South. Martinez has previously worked at a string of Melbourne’s top vegan and vegetarian-friendly dining institutions – The East Brunswick Club and Gasometer (both now closed), and most recently Sweetwater Inn. “It was working at places like The East Brunswick Club kitchen that I came to realise how popular vegan food is, even for non-vegans,” Martinez says.
Not vegan herself, Martinez insists that “this is not about being vegetarian or vegan, it’s about making and eating good food that tastes great.” Meaty flavours do prevail in dishes at Smith & Daughters. Spanish and Mexican-influenced plates can be shared for lunch and dinner and on the weekends, brunch includes dishes such as tuna and green-pea croquetas with béchamel, a smoky paella with saffron stock, veggie prawns and scallops, and deep-fried chiles rellenos – char grilled peppers stuffed with cream cheese and minced chorizo (very meat like, and incredibly tasty).
And though this is no mock-meat restaurant, the texture and taste of some of these meat substitutes, made with processed veggie protein (‘seafood’ and ‘chorizo’ made from tofu and the root of a plant called konjac), are strangely close to their animal-product counterparts. “It’s taken a while to get the flavours right, but I think because I am a meat-eater I know what I’m trying to create,” says Martinez.
“When I’m trying to create something cheese-like, I know what I’m doing because I ate it yesterday.” While unusual and inventive, the menu skimps a little on fresh greens and raw salads (there are two – a taco and a palm-heart salad), but Martinez insists she wanted no “clichéd vegan dishes” on the menu (“no tofu salad”). Freshness comes in other ways on the drinks list, which is packed full of day and nighttime juices, killer smoothies, and lush cocktails (try the pina colada with coconut water).
“I realised that too often vegans actually get punished for making good, moral choices,” says Martinez. “They get shitty sub-par salads and things without cheese on it. I really wanted to be able to offer them awesome food with great flavours.”