Long before lattes foamed with oat milk and tech-bros made mega fortunes from plant-based meat, Newtown was a refuge for vegans. For decades, this inner-west Sydney suburb has kept it meat-free well beyond Monday – from old-school restaurants offering Buddhist cuisine to vegan taquerias, souvlaki joints and more.
Cheese-free pizza and a cheese-free cheese shop? You’ll find it here, along with a plant-based Palestinian cafe and a French patisserie selling croissants, macarons and creme brulee made without rolled butter, whipped eggs or torched custard.
If Newtown welcomes people skipping meaty and cheesy ingredients, then perhaps the most welcoming eatery of all is Comeco Foods, a Japanese cafe run by Yu Ozone and Masa Haga.
The couple’s menu of sushi, onigiri and sweets is vegan and gluten-free, which means everyone – from vegetarians to coeliacs, people with shellfish allergies or pregnant women missing sushi – can eat here.
The sourdough donuts were first created for a friend’s son who had severe dairy, nut, seed, gluten and egg allergies – and despite missing so many vital baking ingredients, the pastries are so good that one woman cried after eating them. She’d avoided the sweet for 20 years due to allergies and couldn’t believe she could enjoy donuts again.
It’s something Ozone can relate to – she was diagnosed with dairy, egg and gluten allergies in 2017 – and the menu showcases her ingenuity. The in-house tempura batter miraculously doesn’t contain wheat or egg, a feat six years in the making.
“I love tempura, so I want to eat good tempura,” she says.
The key ingredient is chickpea flour, a discovery she made after studying recipes for pakora (Indian fritters). Agedashi tofu coated with that crunchy batter has just been added to the menu.
Her shokupan – pillowy Japanese bread – is crafted from rice, a skill learnt in her homeland and reworked 100 times when the recipe had to be adjusted for Australian conditions. Her Zoom cooking lessons for gluten-free shokupan have attracted people from America to Indonesia.
It was a long road leading to the opening of Comeco Foods in 2020. When they met, seven years ago, Haga was engaged to someone else. Six months on, he was single and enlisted Ozone to help bulk out the numbers for a dinner with friends. They’re now married with a three-year-old daughter.
There have been huge hurdles, though. Haga broke his back while working as a jockey. “I couldn’t walk for half a year,” he says.
There was a fear he’d never walk again. He trained to be a barista at The Coffee Roaster in Alexandria, but recovery was slow.
“He couldn’t deliver the coffee to the table because his hand was shaking,” Ozone recalls. Balancing was hard. “When he arrived at the table, the coffee was almost gone,” she says.
Today, he expertly makes matcha and black sesame lattes at Comeco Foods – no spills or shakes. And the pair like to explore vegan eateries in the neighborhood together.
Here are some of their favorites, which I discover while joining them on a vegan tour of Newtown – its high-density of plant-based pit stops has led to the suburb’s main drag being called the “vegan mile”.
Herb-fresh falafel at Khmasa Cafe. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Khamsa Cafe is Sydney’s only Palestinian eatery – and it happens to be vegan, too. “My first Palestinian food was from Khamsa,” says Ozone. The cafe is near Comeco Foods, and while technically in Erskineville, it often gets counted in Newtown’s vegan mile along King Street.
Owner Sarah Shaweesh offers mushroom-powered musakhan (a Palestinian dish typically made with sumac-spiced chicken) and iced Nablus lattes with floral rosewater. The creamy, maple-rich drink tastes like a Middle Eastern version of Vietnamese coffee.
Turmeric latte from Khamsa Cafe. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Ozone is a fan of the herb-fresh falafel here and admits it inspired the Asian falafel on her Comeco Foods menu. At Khamsa, she also enjoys the hummus plate, with its garlic tahini yoghurt and fried pita bread.
Haga is curious about the bestselling latte with freshly juiced turmeric. Its easy-going, mild flavor is more palatable than the “mouthful of dirt” aftertaste of ground turmeric.
Shaweesh is a mutual supporter of Comeco Foods and admits to being delighted when a diner left their box of the Japanese cafe’s donuts behind at Khamsa and never reclaimed it. She enjoyed this “lost property” very much.
Buddha Bowl is known for its falafel waffles. Photo: Rhett Wyman
Buddha Bowl Cafe is a vegan venue Ozone visits nearly every week. “There are many gluten-free options and that’s one reason it’s my favorite,” she says. Buddha Bowl is a health-focused place with kombucha on tap (today it’s ginger lime) and salad-packed dishes.
The cafe’s specialty – falafel waffles – is loaded with herbed tahini dressing, beetroot and carrot hummus dips, black-brown rice and a vinegary kale and lentil salad.
“Even my daughter loves it – [it has] pink sauce, yellow sauce, green sauce! “says Haga, referring to the paintball-like splodges of hummus and tahini.
Owner Adam Chalk is known for his generosity. His blue algae smoothie gets its ocean color from organic spirulina. “It’s $ 500 for half a kilo,” he says.
Even after visiting for years, they’re still discovering new menu hits – like tempeh skewers in herby lemon and garlic flavors, and a chilli-sweet, gently spiced option. Tempeh might be known for its health cred rather than flavor, but these skewers are a hit. “That was good tempeh,” Ozone says.
La Petite Fauxmagerie first existed as a stall at the monthly Sydney Vegan Market. “Their cheese toast is so popular and always has a big queue,” Ozone says.
The full-time store in Newtown is run by Michelle van Rensburg, who credits her family’s anti-apartheid protests in South Africa as shaping her sense of ethics when growing up. Her partner, Carl Coyle, despite his Italian roots, gave up salami and mozzarella to follow her vegan lifestyle.
They produce in-house dairy alternatives such as an excellent garlic butter at the shop, as well as cheeses like feta (pictured, right). La Petite Fauxmagerie also stocks small-batch creations, like cashew cheddar by Tasmania’s Artisa, smoked with local applewood.
“It blows our mind!” Ozone says. “The ingredients are very simple, but it has stunning complex flavors.”
Could you imagine French pastries sculpted without butter, cream and eggs? You’ll find a counter full of them at Le Gourmanda vegan patisserie run by a Frenchman who used to be a seafood chef.
Frederic Mariage’s plant-based tribute to the rich food of his birthplace includes vegan macarons convincingly made with potato protein. Ozone is impressed by the chocolate and espresso flavors. A crunchy texture is a “rare” experience for someone on a gluten-free and vegan diet, she says.
Le Gourmand’s airy, light vegan chocolate mousse is another winner. To match its piano-accordion soundtrack, Le Gourmand offers madeleines with a local twist; try the coconut-flaked lamington and Iced-Vovo flavors.
On the way out, we bump into the owner. “I’m working on vegan snails,” Mariage says. “The recipe I was working on wasn’t rubbery enough,” he jokes.
Ozone is inspired by business owners translating their culinary heritage into something accessible to vegans. “Six years ago, I had only salad as an option when I went to a restaurant,” she says. “I felt isolated.”
Now she’s proudly part of a multicultural community in Newtown, one of Sydney’s brightest meat-free pockets, where people are catered to regardless of their dietary restrictions or allergies.
Figs, radicchio, dairy-free blue cheese, roasted pistachios and balsamic pizza at Gigi Pizzeria. Photo: Supplied
Adam Papastathopoulos knew giving up souvlaki was a big ask. He enjoyed it at many family gatherings and this Greek staple was what he’d miss most after committing to a vegan diet. His partner, Emma Langley, secretly mastered a plant-based souvlaki and surprised him with it. This led to their I Should Be Souvlaki eatery, a play on Kylie Minogue’s song I Should Be So Lucky (they aptly pour her wines for diners). The soy-based vegan lamb with tzatziki and chipotle mayo is a “delicious” gluten-free option, Ozone says, while Haga was “amazed” by the wheat-based chicken souvlaki.
Gigi Pizzeria was accredited by Naples’ Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana for its traditional pizza long before founders Marco and Daniela Matino controversially transformed it into a vegan restaurant in 2015. But given marinara pizza (simply flavored with tomato, garlic and herbs) was historically vegan to begin with , maybe cheese-free slices shouldn’t be that polarizing. The dough and toppings are still brilliant, with Haga naming this his favorite pizzeria. Ozone appreciates the gluten-free gnocchi and other wheat-less options, like schiacciata.
Family-run restaurant Vina Vegan opened in 2009 and its plant-based takes on Peking “duck” rolls, pho and other noodle soups (like Vietnamese bun bo Hue) reflects the old-school Asian restaurants that defined vegan dining in Sydney, with mock meats aplenty and a Buddhist omission of pungent ingredients, like garlic and onions. “It still tastes delicious,” Ozone says.
Vandal Taqueria joins the meatless mecca on King Street. Photo: Chris Grundy
Vandal is inspired by LA’s multicultural food trucks, such as Roy Choi’s influential Kogi, with its Korean short rib tacos. Ozone likes Vandal’s gluten-free tacos and its buckwheat and chia quesadilla packed with pickled shiitake and other mushrooms. Take note: chef Peter Varvaressos will open a nearby vegan complex with Sophia Stewart-Kasimba later this year. Expect a plant-based sushi train, speak-easy-style venue, solar-powered supermarket and more.
Need to know
Buddha Bowl, Shop 1, 60 Enmore Road, Newtown, buddhabowlcafe.com.au
Comeco Foods, 524 King Street, Newtown, comecofoods.com.au
Gigi Pizzeria, 379 King Street, Newtown, gigipizzeria.com.au
I Should Be Souvlaki, 399 King Street, Newtown, ishouldbe-souvlaki.com
Khamsa, Shop 3, 612-622 King Street, Erskineville, khamsa.com.au
La Petite Fauxmagerie 412 King Street, Newtown, lapetitefauxmagerie.com.au
Le Gourmand, 414 King Street, Newtown, legourmand.com.au
Vandal, 403 King Street, Newtown, vandalsydney.com.au
Vina Vegan, 395 King Street, Newtown, no website