Vegans must have a tough time in pubs, with meat and cheese usually front and centre of most menus. The Green Lion — the new eatery above The Red Lion Hotel in Rozelle — however, is catering exclusively for vegans and recreating pub classics like burgers, hot dogs and nachos with meat- and dairy-free alternatives.
If you're not vegan or a regular to the category, it can be hard to judge how good vegan pub food is. Visually though, the resemblance is uncanny. Here, soy-based products are turned into beef patties, mince, battered fish, pepperoni and even melting cheese — the success of which is variable. For instance, a Green Mack Burger with a beefless patty, 'cheese', pickles, and special Mack sauce ($18) definitely resembles a cheeseburger; the mind boggles at what has to be done to soy products to make them look, and taste (sort of) like meat. And while it's perhaps not the most delicious thing you'll ever eat, it's definitely not bad. But, for carnivores at least, the vegan substitutes don't live up to the rich, savoury, salty cheese and creamy mayo flavours the brain is expecting.
The fish tacos ($16) are more successful — the fishy-tasting tofu is battered, fried and thrown into a tortilla, and benefits from a fresh tomato salsa. The Panko tofu chips with wasabi mayo ($11.50) are oil-heavy, not really crunchy and the mayo lacks any real wasabi heat. It's a shame the less processed options like a vegetable curry ($15.50) don't deliver in flavour or texture, but it's early days and we're hoping they're still tinkering with dishes in the kitchen; adding a bit more spice, sharpness and freshness could smarten things up. The tiny cups of chocolate coconut vegan ice cream ($4) are cute and tasty.
The interiors are — to put it one way — eclectic. There's a fairly bare dining room that's generally busy with families, younger and older locals and other mix of other punters. It's pretty tattered, in a nearly charming pub-like way. There's a library-cum-bookshop, green carpet, dark brown upright dining chairs and a redeeming wrap-around balcony. Service is friendly and we give major props to the vegan drinks list, particularly the vegan wines.
The soy-based meat substitutes at The Green Lion do an okay job of recreating the real thing, but if you're vegan, the experience of being in pub — and being able to order anything off the menu and drink anything behind the bar — is a fantastically rare experience. It's worth a visit for the vegan and the non-vegan, the curious and the ardent alike.
Images: Steven Woodburn.