There was once a time in Sydney when vegan cuisine meant under-seasoned risotto, burgers with no patties or cheese, and tofu everything. That was before Gigi’s Pizzeria, Bad Hombres, Yellow and Matthew Kenney.
The internationally recognised chef and personality, whose forte is plant-based cuisine, is the latest restaurateur to push the boundaries of vegan cuisine in Sydney with Alibi, a casual restaurant-cross-bar that focuses on the same ideas and recipes as his famous Los Angeles venue, Plant Food + Wine. “I think the market here is growing fast. There's room for quite a few [plant-based] restaurants,” says Kenney.
Kenney has some serious vegan and raw-food credentials. He was instrumental in making plant-based cooking and entertainment approachable in the US and he oversees an empire that includes restaurants in several American cities. He’s written 10 cookbooks, runs a raw and vegan culinary academy and has a retreat in Thailand.
Kenny consulted on Alibi’s menu, working with executive chef Kasper Christensen and group chef Scott Winegard to create an approachable, fun food offering. There’s a burger, tacos, pizza, dumplings and lasagne. While some are healthy plant-based executions of the dishes, others are more unique creations. The margherita pizza, for example, simply substitutes mozzarella for a cashew-based cheese, whereas the dumplings are unconventionally colourful and nutty because of a coconut and spinach-based wrapping and a kimchi filling. They also come served with sesame foam for dipping.
Other items, such as the raw-kelp-noodle cacio de pepe (a Roman pasta dish that translates as "cheese and pepper", are in-between. It looks radically different – like everything here, it’s painstakingly pretty – and its base ingredients have almost no connection with the traditional pasta recipe, but it still manages to replicate the buttery, cheesy taste.
Having something that appeals to non-vegans is the goal says Kenney: “If we created a business just serving the vegan community, we're not facilitating change.”
The bar is an entirely different matter. With an inspired David Green (he set up Zephyr Sky Bar in the Hyatt Regency) at the helm, the cocktail list is as visually alarming and intricate as the productions of a molecular gastronomy laboratory. One cocktail, named Harvest, emits lime-flavoured smoke and contains an entire pinot grigio-soaked green apple. Another, with pisco, yuzu and mandarin, is served with an edible log of jellied lipstick. Wines are primarily organic and local.
The one theme that links everything is colour and fun. The restaurant – in the interior passage of Woolloomooloo’s Ovolo hotel – is also whimsically pretty and slightly chaotic, like an Ikea showroom washed with the colours of a Wes Anderson film. “We've never done anything in a formal or stuffy way. We want this to be playful and colourful,” says Kenney.
Ovolo Woolloomooloo, 6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo
(02) 9331 9000
Tue to Fri 6pm–12am
Sat & Sun 12pm–12am