There was a time not so long ago when the only vegan thing you could hope for at high tea was a cup of Earl Grey. But Sydney restaurant Alibi is changing that with the launch of an all-vegan high tea menu today.
Part of American chef Matthew Kenney's 22-strong empire of plant-based restaurants, Alibi opened earlier this year at Ovolo Woolloomooloo with nine-course tasting menus and a la carte dining, offering the likes of lasagne (made with macadamia ricotta and layers of zucchini and tomato), cashew raclette and tiramisù featuring almond chantilly. Now, the kitchen is turning its hand to high tea, a first for Kenney, who became a vegan more than 15 years ago.
"It's completely reverse engineered," Kenney says of the new dishes. "This is something that's taken us 15 years to perfect so that we can do it in a way doesn't compromise texture or flavour."
Michael Nicolaou, who's on the pans at Alibi, is crafting pastries both sweet and savoury for the menu, including lemon meringue tart on a sablé base, plus a strawberry and blueberry cheesecake and thyme-scented mushrooms on sourdough with wasabi cream. Aquafaba, olive oil and Irish moss do the heavy lifting of omitted ingredients such as eggs and butter. Afternoon refreshments range from a kaffir lime Mule and an Earl Grey Sour to Bellinis and bottomless Perrier-Jouët.
Kenney is also taking his vegan menus on the road, with one-off dinners this month at Canberra's Monster Kitchen + Bar, the all-day diner inside Ovolo Nishi, and Salon de Co at Brisbane's Ovolo Inchcolm. Asked if plant-based dining could expand to other Ovolo properties, Kenney says he's open to the idea but only if the location is right.
"Ovolo is not very cookie cutter. Each of their properties is completely different."
In his native America, Kenney – whose restaurant empire includes pizzerias, cafés, burger bars and a Mexican-inspired restaurant – sees lasting change, not a fad, in the move towards vegan diets by top athletes, requests by schools for vegan meals and the growing demand for vegan products at major supermarkets. Certainly, the idea of an all-vegan restaurant as the flagship diner of a hotel would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
"One thing that's been really interesting is the percentage of guests electing to have the tasting menu," Kenney says of Alibi. "I wasn't expecting that in the beginning. It shows that they're coming here to really experience the potential of plant-based dining."
Alibi, 6 Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo, (02) 9331 9088, alibibar.com.au. High tea Wed-Sun noon-4pm, dinner Tues-Sat 6pm-midnight.
Alibi Pop-up at Salon de Co, 6 October 6pm (5-course degustation) or 8.30pm (7 course degustation), Salon de Co, 73 Wickham Tce, Spring Hill, Qld, (07) 3226 8888, ovolohotels.com.au
Tickets for Monster Mash at Monster Kitchen & Bar on 5 October have sold out.