Matt Moran's ARIA in Sydney couldn't be in a nicer spot, especially for a spring lunchtime on a lazy Friday in November. Vegetarians up for a bit of fine dining are well served by at least one item on every section of the menu, as well as incredibly accommodating staff for dietary requirements. It's reassuring going in with that knowledge, as the restaurant is happy to burst the perception that fine dining is only for the carnivorous and impeccably suited.
Eating at ARIA can be as modular as you like it, with an a la carte selection that lets you choose one item each from four sections of the menu, or three sections if you are dining for lunch or dinner.
PRO-TIP: If you are fine dining on a bit of a budget, the lunchtime menu is significantly less expensive and comes with almost all of the same options. A 3-course menu at lunch is $95pp, as opposed to the $135pp the dinner menu will cost you. Or if you prefer a full tasting menu experience, that is going to set you back $185 - $300pp (depending on if you get the wine pairing). Vegetarians are still catered to, just be sure to give the restaurant a little notice.
ARIA has an unexpectedly cool selection of craft beers in their cellar, which we elected for over any of the wine offerings. It was here we discovered the brand new Batch Tiny Coconut Bubbles, a 4.7% ABV served in a 640ml bottle. A solid wheat beer taste with a subtle coconut in the back, it was a good match with the spring flavours. We also tried France's Fly 2 Mumbai from Le Chat-Volant, an English style IPA that was super crisp and equally delicious.
The meals begin with a small complimentary appetizer, and in our case the non-vegetarian one swiftly being replaced with a delicious smoked eggplant puree on chickpea cracker and home baked bread. The staff were careful to let us know that the one lot of butter wasn't vegetarian as well.
The menu changes seasonally, and on this visit the vegetarian options were a burrata with heirloom tomatoes and fennel jam (with the burrata adaptable for vegans), and a phenomenal eggplant served with hazelnuts and braised mushrooms that is hands-down one of the best things ever done with an eggplant. Desserts also change seasonally, with the blood orange soufflé with marmalade ice cream offering a little bit of table theatre, and a Valrhona chocolate with beurre Bosc pear and roasted cocoa sorbet being a popular option. A selection of petit fours rounds out every meal.
ARIA is definitely a vegetarian-friendly fine-dining experience, and compared with the prices of some of the nearby restaurants, it's decently priced as well. With at least one vegetarian item on each section of the menu, along with a willingness for adaptability, vegetarians can confidently eat here.
ARIA is located at 1 Macquarie St, East Circular Quay, Sydney NSW 2000 | ariarestaurant.com/sydney