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Hold onto your sprouted seeds, herbivores, we have some exciting
news: one of the country's leading restaurants, run by two of its
most acclaimed professionals, is about to ditch meat and go
vegetarian. Permanently. Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt are
leading the fine-dining vego charge, making Yellow meat-free from February 17.
Most top-tier eateries have by now long dispensed with the old grumbles about cooking for vegetarians (even veganism seems small beer in the face of curlier contemporary requests for biodynamic low-FODMAP meals and the like) and embraced the challenge - or rather the freedom - that comes with a plant-based mise-en-place. Interesting and thoughtfully designed vegetarian menus are now par for the course for starred restaurants around the country. Bentley and Monopole, the other restaurants Savage co-owns with sommelier Nick Hildebrandt, for instance, have offered vegan menus for some time. And newer vegetarian restaurants such as Transformer in Melbourne have more than shaken-off the health-food stigma of days past.
But this is the first time an Australian restaurant of Yellow's profile has nailed its colours to the mast and ditched the meat.
So why now?
"It's something I've wanted to do for a long time," says Savage. "It's been a personal interest of mine, and I feel like it's more relevant now than ever. The way we eat meat now isn't going to be forever."
Having said that, Savage adds that he's not currently a vegetarian (though his wife, Fleur, is), and that ethics are not his prime motivation for the change. "That's not my reasoning. I just feel that there's an appetite for it; we've had a following for it at Bentley. I've been hanging out with some great vegetable growers, and I think it's something we can do well."
It's also not necessarily about cooking for vegetarians so much as cooking with vegetables. "Sure, lots of the chefs joked initially about being put back on the garnish section," he says, "but it's just an idea whose time has come. We can make vegetables delicious - why do we have to have such a focus on animal proteins?"
A glance at the menu of 16 shared dishes (plus three desserts, cheese and the $70 seven-course set menu) shows Savage at his most inventive. There's certainly plenty of textural variety. Peas become mousse, pumpkin turns into crisps seasoned with toasted coriander, while chips are made from wild mushrooms and sesame. "Young celery and almond crunch" is all but audible on the printed page.
He and Yellow chef Adam Wolfers also appear to have given a good deal of thought to creating layers of flavour through fermenting, salting and picking. Malt and koji (the fungus used to ferment soy beans) make appearances, as do their umami-rich fellows parmesan and black garlic.
Savage says that one of his favourite dishes straight out of the gate is the "pappardelle" made from strips of parsnip, sauced with a confit egg yolk and sprinkled with mushroom powder.
Savage and Wolfers don't lean too hard on the old dairy crutch, but when they choose to deploy animal fats, it's to clever effect. Fennel butter enlivens raw radish and Japanese turnips, for instance, while that pea mousse is joined on the plate by toasted buttermilk. Dishes are designed to be shared, and Saturday night will be tasting menu-only.
One thing that won't be entirely vegetarian is the weekend brunch menu. The scrambled eggs still come with the option of house-made bacon, the fried eggs with pickled mussels, and the poached eggs still loll in pork-hock consommé, alongside the famed grilled liquorice bread (find the recipe here), and the baked eggs with cauliflower and spinach.
Wine, meanwhile, something that has always been as central at Savage and Hildebrandt's venues as what's on the plate, will also remain on an even keel. Hildebrandt has given the list at Yellow more of a tilt towards natural and bio wines than Bentley and Monopole, and intends to tighten that focus.
"It took me a long time to get Nick on board with it, but now he's in 100 per cent and we're both really excited about it," Savage says.
"We're putting our balls on the line a bit, but at the same time it's something that we think is missing in Sydney."
Yellow, 57 Macleay St, Potts Point, NSW, (02) 9332 2344, yellowsydney.com.au
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