There are a few things about The Plant Gallery — Bondi Road's recently opened raw vegan restaurant — some people might find vaguely irritating. The fact it's in Bondi. The fact that the spiraliser, the most annoying of faddish health food tools, gets a massive workout. The fact it calls its dishes by their regular, non-raw vegan names, like the 'Caesar salad' with 'bacon'. (Smoked eggplant, no matter how it's prepared, will never take the place of actual bacon and should really stop pretending.)
But not me. I'm going to tell you about the digestive virtues of sipping the fermented drink kombucha, instead of wine, over dinner. I'm going to tell you that cooking anything over 48 degrees kills the health benefits and thus eating at The Plant Gallery is like washing your insides in a dishwasher filled with wheatgrass and kale. I'm going to tell you that leaving this restaurant sober and full of raw vegetables, you'll feel better than when you've left any other restaurant in a long time. And that, at perhaps more than one interval, you might change your mind about raw food.
And that in itself is a great thing — because, if nothing else, eating at The Plant Gallery is a new experience for both converts and curious alike. If their food can get punters even a little inspired and interested about the excellence of raw, quality vegetables, then I say they're doing a good thing.
For example, the pumpkin hummus ($6) defies logic in its deliciousness and creaminess. The two standout dishes — beetroot carpaccio with marinated tomatoes, cashew parmesan, mustard and olive oil dressing ($18), and the mushroom ceviche with lime, onion, coriander, chilli and corn ($14) — hit all the right notes of celebrating the star vegetable with punchy accompaniments and keeping things simple. The desserts too lend themselves to the raw vegan thing because, you know, it's fine for them to be cold. The suspiro a la limeña — traditionally a Peruvian dessert of dulce de leche and meringue — is a light and pleasing mix of date caramel and coco Chantilly cream ($12).
On the other hand, when you try to make things into something they're not — like spaghetti or a vegetable curry — it kind of loses it. The latter, arriving as zucchini and carrot noodles with green curry-infused coconut milk and marinated vegetables ($22), bares no resemblance to an actual veg curry and is confusing for both mind and mouth. Overall the dishes are quite nut-heavy, which means you might need a top-up of that kombucha ($6.50).
The space is gorgeous, an old art gallery with high ceilings, beautiful rotating art on the walls and generous tables made of wood from the Harbour Bridge (true story). There are plans for an outdoor garden to grow their own vegetables, as well as a pergola for tea-drinking and a yoga studio upstairs. Because it's a safe bet the people coming here might be into all that. Owner Dave Ortega is going for an 'urban retreat' vibe — and, offering the whole package, The Plant Gallery might just find itself a new crew of converts.