In Sydney’s increasingly competitive vegan dining scene, Paperbark in Waterloo sets the 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.
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.
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 natural wine producers, and cocktails made with all-Australian spirits and native flavours, is available for both services. The wines are all vegan, too.
Paperbark opened in the old Allegra Dining space, and is 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.