In Sydney’s increasingly competitive vegan dining scene, Paperbark in Waterloo is setting a new standard for plant-based eats.

It’s not a fine diner though – that is, according to its owners, Verd’s Grace Watson and Joe Pagliaro, and Hellene Algie and Joey Astorga, the pair behind popular pop-up Alfie’s Kitchen’s.

Paperbark is probably best compared to Sydney’s top mid-range venues, offering premium Australian produce, good ideas and stellar drinks lists.

“Being plant-based doesn't mean we just leave out animal products; the dishes really hero vegetables,” says Watson.

The style of food is hard to describe. The menu mixes cuisines, but is peppered with native Australian ingredients.

Fat gnocchi dumplings arrive bathed in a rich mushroom and pepperberry broth; potatoes are cleverly transformed into savoury salt-and-vinegar churros; smoked portobello mushrooms are skewered on paperbark twigs and charred yakitori-style; and a doughy homemade rye flatbread is used to dip, scrape and package a sheet of roast capsicum, hummus and pickles. “I've never been keen on cuisine labels – we don't want to tie ourselves to anything. We use lots of different techniques. I guess you'd call it modern Australian, but that's so vague. We just try and keep it interesting, fresh and fun. It's what we like to eat,” says Astorga.

These dishes are available for dinner and served as share plates, or as part of a $70 chef-chooses banquet. The weekend brunch service, while similarly creative, is more recognisable and closer to standard cafe fare: smashed avo toast with finger lime and marinated oyster mushrooms; a smoked potato, cauliflower and silverbeet toastie, with fior di latte and mustard pickle; and hummus bagels.

That stellar drinks list, filled with Australia’s best and brightest natural wine producers, and cocktails made with all-Australian spirits and native flavours, is available for both services. “They're all vegan wines with no additives and all from small producers we work with. We want clean, beautiful wines. It’s the same ethos with our food,” Astorga says.

Paperbark has opened in the old Allegra Dining space (which has had four restaurants in just as many years), so it’s well suited to both time slots. The glass facade on both sides means it’s flooded with natural light, while a forest of indoor plants and huge paperbark sculpture makes the dinner service feel like an evening spent in a greenhouse.

8/18 Danks Street, Waterloo

Mon, Wed & Thu 5pm–10pm
Fri 5pm–11pm
Sat 10am–11pm
Sun 10am–3pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 11, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.

Want to read about more vegan restaurants? Here’s our guide to Sydney’s best.