With the growth of “meat-free Mondays,” awareness of vegetarianism has increased significantly in South Africa. Experts believe that cutting out meat, even for just one day per week, helps prevent four leading causes of death: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Eating less meat also helps mimimise our ecological “footprint” (because livestock breeding is very resource-intensive and causes greenhouse gas emissions), and is economically sensible, as meat is relatively expensive.
Until a few years ago, you’d be lucky if you found more than a sole veggie platter on the menu at most restaurants in Jozi. However, in recent years, several restaurants have proved that vegetarian food can be just as delicious as meaty fare, if not more so. Here are some of the top vegetarian restaurants in Johannesburg.
Dimitri Gutjahr opened Greenside Café four years ago, when the vegan restaurant landscape in Joburg was barren. He conceptualised each dish on the menu, resulting in a food offering that is as rare as it is enticing. His focus is on unique dishes that burst with flavour, while remaining balanced and healthy.
The highlight for me was our starter, the Raw Wrap (R36). Made of dehydrated apple and banana, it is filled with spiralised raw sweet potato drenched in a macadamia nut mayo and pesto, and topped with cucumber, avocado and tomato. The result is a tangy, crunchy filling, with the wrap providing texture to the dish.
For mains, I opted for the Victorino, R79, crispy sautéed tofu, brown rice with sprouts, wilted spinach, carrots and beetroot, while my husband went for the Mexican Pizza: R82, Napolitano with spicy beans, avocado, tomato and cashew nut cream. Pizza bases are homemade sour dough, and contain a mixture of whole wheat, rye and white flours. We found ourselves picking the dishes apart, trying to identify the ingredients, while my carnivorous partner was bewildered at the fact that no animal products had gone into such an enjoyable meal.
For me, it was refreshing to look through a menu and know that each item has been well thought out and put together based on its nutritional value, instead of having to comb through a menu to find isolated healthy options and wonder how healthy they really are. Gutjahr makes an effort to source organic ingredients where possible, and does not compromise on quality.
Even dessert was relatively guilt free. The Raw Maple Cheesecake, R45, is made from cashews, vanilla and lemon, and sweetened with agave nectar (a low GI sweetener extracted from cactus.)
Address: 34 Gleneagles Road, Greenside, Tel: 011 646 3444
It’s only been open for a few months, yet this vegan restaurant has quickly gathered quite a fan base — and apparently 60 percent of them are meat-eaters. Apart from the food being good, the eatery’s contemporary design and airy balcony are definitely crowd-pullers. Lights are draped over wooden beams, while floating shelves display a lavish dessert selection.
Owners Grant Nash and Misha Dhupelia are passionate about animal rights – even their pets eat specially produced vegan food! They opened Conscious 108 because they wanted to make this type of cuisine more accessible to the average Joburger. Aiming to prove that vegan food can be “normal,” the menu comprises homely, comforting meals like curries, gourmet bunnychows, sandwiches and burgers, mostly aiming to replicate meat dishes that we know and love. Soy or tofu products are used to replicate the traditional chicken mayo sandwich, beef burger, hot dog or BLT, for example. I’m not quite sure if this works taste-wise, but it certainly does make the transition easier for meat lovers.
Bunnies are comprised of two freshly toasted buns – one is topped with your choice of curry (replacement beef , lamb, chicken or beans), while the other is topped with a scrumptious potato and eggplant curry. I’m not a regular soya eater, so didn’t enjoy the taste of the soya lamb bunnychow (R52), but I loved the butter bean bunnychow (R41), which was flavourful and spicy.
Lactose-intolerant folk will be thrilled at the prospect of dairy-free ice cream, churned on the premises. Other sweet treats include bubblegum or Oreo cupcakes, carrot cake, croissants and doughnuts.
Address: 108 Greenway Road, Greenside, Tel: 011 646 7250
At Gingko, food is prepared using fresh ingredients with no preservatives or colourants, based on the Paleo diet – wholesome foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have lived on.
Most days, there’s an expansive vegetarian buffet from which you can take your pick, featuring interesting, healthy dishes like the crunchy sprout and veg salad with avocado and mushrooms, or the roasted beetroot salad with goat feta, pine nuts and radicchio. For something more substantial, try the zucchini, artichoke and sundried tomato pasta, or the gorgonzola, fig, rocket and walnut pizza.
The eye-catching cake table is quite an attraction- if you’re watching the waistline, try the sunflower seed and cinnamon truffles, or, if you’re in the mood to indulge, the moist chocolate cake is a winner.
Gingko’s deli section allows you to recreate their magic at home, and offers many homemade products under the Gingko brand, like kale chips, muesli, biscuits and rusks, as well as products from a few other suppliers, like organic and gluten free flours, plus a wide range of health teas.
Bonus: there’s free wi-fi, and the restuarant is situated in a scenic garden with a fun play area that kids will love exploring.
Address: 61 Dundalk Road, Parkview, Tel: 011 486 3361
Leafy Greens in Muldersdrift, only 30-40 minutes away from Johannesburg, is a partially raw food, vegan café on an organic farm. It’s got a menu crafted from what is available in the garden, to ensure that food is sustainable with the smallest carbon footprint possible. The café shares its space with well- known Italian restaurant and wedding venue, Casalinga, within which you can easily stroll around after your meal. I see it as somewhat of a destination restaurant, because the beautiful country setting combined with a bit of a dirt road drive makes for a nice afternoon out, especially on a Saturday, when you can tuck into the buffet and have as much as you’d like for R120. Expect exciting dishes like spinach croquettes, falafel, raw pizza, rice paper rolls, and every type of salad under the sun.
If you’d prefer to go when it’s a bit quieter, breakfasts are always great. Try the home-baked sourdough toast with homemade jams and raw nut butters (R35), or the organic oats – with homemade raw almond milk or non-GM soy milk with raisins, cinnamon and raw honey or agave (R35).
Address: Rocky Ridge Road, Muldersdrift. Tel: 087 805 6221