Who said you can't make friends with salad? The not-for-profit vegan chain Lentil as Anything has quickly become the dahling of King Street. No need to book, just turnip for amaizing food and an atmosphere that can't be beet.
With four thriving stores in Melbourne, what better location for Sydney's first branch than Newtown, a colourful, alternative neighbourhood where even McDonalds couldn't hack the fresh vibe and ended up skipping town in the '90s.
Vegans make up just one percent of Australians and it looks like they got the memo — it's a full house tonight with a queue waiting eagerly at the door. There's a live bongo session starting up, the waitstaff are super friendly (and working for free) and there's no alcohol, only chai — what is this place?
As 30 percent of the ingredients are donated from food rescue operations, the menu changes often so you'll need to ask your waiter what's on offer. Today there's a creamy Sri Lankan curry made with potatoes and pumpkin, served over rice with dahl, beetroot, banana tossed in coconut, blanched greens, a salad and pappadums. That's just one meal by the way. Yes it's vegan and yes it's donated food, but no, it's not a bowl of flavourless gruel. It's exciting, colourful, healthy, delicious — and yes, it's a huge surprise.
Our burrito comes out next, who would have thought you could make a burrito without meat, cheese and sour cream? Well you can and it works, our toasted tortilla is topped with spicy Mexican beans, salad, chilli salsa and a cashew-based cheese sauce (open your mind people) and once again, it's delicious. Who knew? For our third dish, we opt for the brown rice salad topped with eggplant, onions, green vegetables, tomatoes and chickpeas. It feels pretty good to be eating a week's worth of vegetables in one sitting. This is the kind of food that could convert an otherwise blood-loving, alcohol-swilling human being into making some serious lifestyle changes; Lentil as Anything proves being vegan isn't the ultimate sacrifice. The one minor food falter is the chocolate and banana cake which tastes a little claggy, but they did make it without chocolate, eggs, milk and butter, so the team still get a star for a top effort.
If you swing by on a Friday or Saturday night, head upstairs for a tasty tonic in their new Lentil on the Rocks mocktail bar. It's a new initiative aimed at creating an inclusive ambience where non-alcoholic drinkers, especially teenagers and pregnant ladies can enjoy a friendly and social environment without booze.
One of the most curious features of Lentil as Anything is its unique 'pay as you feel' financial model where there are no bills and no social pressure, just an honesty box as you walk out the door. The money you donate goes straight to the food, rent and utilities and not to anyone's pocket in particular. So, if you pay a little extra, your dosh goes to feeding someone who can't afford a meal, allowing that person to feel accepted and valued by their community.
Lentil as Anything has been heartily welcomed by the Newtown fold and once you've bean, you'll olive it too. Don't forget to pay it forward.