A new plant-based dining venture is about to put down roots in the Sunshine Coast, with chef Alejandro Cancino set to open not one, but two all-vegan projects in Noosa.
By day there's Lola's Pantry, a large-scale version of his café of the same name in Kuluin, north-west of Maroochydore. Lola 2.0 will be triple the size of its predecessor with a more upmarket menu.
"There will be lots of greens, herbs, sauerkrauts, preserves and ferments," says Cancino. From the apex of the food pyramid, he's experimenting with French toast served with a caramelised cereal ice-cream made with alternative milk. "We'll use coconut and soy, and we'll be making our own macadamia milk."
By night, diners can remain in the café for its simple, produce-driven set menu, comprising an entrée of sesame cheese with pickles, pumpkin sauerkraut and preserved feijoa, mushroom agnolotti in vegetable broth to follow, or a tiramisù to finish. Or they can head next door to the attached pocket-sized fine diner for an all-plant dégustation. Here, cereals, seeds and legumes are the star attractions, with vegetables playing a supporting role.
"We'll be sourcing ingredients no one else is using," says Cancino. "We will not only focus on vegetables but also on seaweeds and grains, too."
Lola's Pantry 2.0 and its yet-to-be-named fine-dining annex are set to open in August at Parkridge, an off-the-grid residential community and resort that overlooks Noosa's Lake Weyba. The design is still a work-in-progress, but the café dining area will be in a covered outdoor space, while the fine diner will feature a bar with six seats, and a handful of tables.
It's another big step for the Argentinian-born chef. Last winter, he left his executive chef position at Brisbane's Urbane (and ditched his co-ownership of Urbane Group, too) to open the first Lola's Pantry with wife Paola. There, vegan gnocchi, mac and cheese, and burgers are hot orders, and the kitchen runs in tandem with Fënn Foods, their burgeoning vegan-product business.
At the time, investors dismissed his plant-only dining concept as, well, nuts. "They'd see me and think: 'This guy is stupid, or else this guy is crazy'," he says.
He's not afraid to dream big, but he's realistic, too. The original Lola's Pantry in Kuluin will cut back trading to three days a week, with all kitchen prep done at the Noosa location. And for a chef who lists Spain's Mugaritz and Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in the UK on his résumé, he sees the fine diner as an opportunity to reinvigorate his culinary offerings. "I'll use it to reset my mindset," says Cancino.
Lola's Pantry Noosa is set to open in late August at Parkridge Noosa, Resort Dr, Noosa Heads, Qld 4567.