Vegetarian dining no longer means watered-down versions of animal-protein-based entrees and mains. Instead, in response to diners who are increasingly seeking meat-free eating options, whether for ethical, religious, environmental, health or other reasons, chefs are creating delectable menus with vegetables as the star ingredients.

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Spanning 3.2 hectares, Babylonstoren’s gardens contain over 300 varieties of vegetables, herbs, edible plants and fruit trees.

Vegetarian fine dining is a growing trend as high-end restaurants cater to discerning diners looking for food with full-on flavour that’s lighter on their digestion and the planet.

As dietary choices become a driving force for change in the world, meat-free menus are on the rise. In South Africa, chefs are responding to these dining trends by creating dishes that are satisfying despite being animal-protein free; and by serving innovative vegetable-based dishes people can’t make for themselves at home.

Ciaran McCarthy at Karkloof Spa in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands was one of the first chefs in South Africa to elevate raw and vegan food to five-star dining standards. Though the raw-food menus at Karkloof are a way for clients to cleanse and lose weight, McCarthy’s flavour combinations and presentation ensure a sophisticated and refined vegan dining experience.

At Planet Restaurant at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s four or six-course wine-paired vegan tasting menu transforms seasonal, organic ingredients into haute vegetarian cuisine.

The six-course wine-paired vegetarian fine-dining menu at Signal Restaurant at the Cape Grace hotel in the Magaliesberg sees Chef Malika van Reenen tempt diners with sweet potato lasagne, lemon-scented quinoa pilau, and for dessert, a salted caramel tart with caramelised banana and pecan-nut brittle.

At Cape eatery La Mouette, the exquisite tasting menus prepared by chef Henry Vigar always provide amply for vegetarians.

The chefs at Babel restaurant at Babylonstoren boutique hotel, near Paarl, have arguably the Cape’s largest and loveliest outdoor larder to raid for their virtually vegetarian menus. Just-picked garden produce, served au naturel, forms the core of this colour-coded, anti-oxidant-packed, seasonal smorgasboard.

Chef Garth Almazan at Steenberg Hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Catharina’s, in Cape Town, presents a meat-free, three-course vegetarian tasting menu paired with organic wines that dazzles diners.

Almazan introduced the ‘Meat Free Monday’ menu in as a practical way for Catharina’s to showcase exciting, fine-dining vegetarian options and drive awareness about global warming.

In Johannesburg, Cube Tasting Kitchen ensures that vegan diners enjoy the same gastronomic marathon as their meat-eating patrons. Chef Dario de Angeli’s 23-course menu tailored for vegetarian or vegan diners embraces vegetables.

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