It’s no secret that Italian food is loved with passion across the globe. What’s not to love? It’s tasty, it’s got soul, and it brings people together. There’s no doubt that it is the unmatchable soul of Italian cuisine that has contributed to its massive success and status as a winning cuisine worldwide. Of course, when most of us think Italian cuisine we think meat and cheese. How then did one of Cape Town’s much loved Italian eateries manage to pull off a full Italian-inspired vegan menu? Adding one or two plant-based dishes to a restaurant menu is a challenge all on its own, but a full vegan menu, complete with a selection of starters, mains, and desserts? The V&A Waterfront’s Balducci has really managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat with this one! Offering an Italian soul food feast, Balducci’s vegan menu debunks the notion of sacrifice on a vegan diet.
Forget opting for the one and only interesting salad on the restaurant menu, at Balducci vegans can truly tuck in. The stand-alone plant-based menu offers vegans over 60 different dishes including a range of options such as pizza, pasta, curry, salads, burgers, curries, desserts, and even vegan wines. And the best bit? This menu isn’t just about lip service to drive vegan customers in store, the kitchen staff worked tireless for some time to ensure that every dish on the menu delivered on taste, texture and interest, not just for vegans but for carnivorous diners too. Coincidently, the vegan menu also caters to a wide range of special dietary requirements and the restaurant has set up a separate kitchen preparing the vegan menu to avoid cross-contamination of animal products and other ingredients from their regular menu.
But just because the food is vegan doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy either. Which is what I love so much about this new menu. Sure, there are plenty of wholesome, nutrient rich options on the menu for those who want to eat a little healthier, but there are also all sorts of opportunities to throw caution to the wind and indulge a little too! Tucking into the vegan menu at Balducci is an opportunity to think beyond the simple, healthy salad and really indulge in the generous spirit of Italian dining.
Salad jars, falafel, and vegan cheese: Starters to delight
I got the opportunity to taste a large variety of dishes from the Balducci’s vegan menu and seeing just how good these dishes were really made me reconsider my meat eating ways. For starters, we tucked into Falafel and freshly made Tahini (R55) served alongside the rather substantial and wonderfully fresh Salad in a Jar (R135), and Trader Joe pizza (R145). I’m usually not a huge fan of Falafel but the Balducci’s version may just have changed my mind. When Falafel is this good, I have no problem eating the simple ground chickpea fritter straight-up with just a Tahini dip.
As for the pizza, I was actually super impressed! I mean listen, as a devout cheese lover, the idea of vegan cheese doesn’t really excite me but eating this pizza I honestly didn’t think about the fact that it was missing cheese. The Trader Joe pizza is topped with mixed peppers, red onion, mushrooms, vegan pesto, and a generous dollop of dairy-free cheese and vegan parmesan so it gives you plenty to savour in terms of flavour. The dairy-free cheese and vegan parmesan worked wonders to offer that delicious cheesy flavour and the pizza base was crispy and delicious, giving me everything I’ve come to expect from a great pizza.
Mouth-watering curry, hearty burgers, and a nutty pasta: The main event
The starters were delicious but it was the mains that truly blew me away! We were treated to the Red Thai Curry (R130), slider versions of the Smokey Black Bean Burger (R135), and Cashew Nut Cream Pasta (R130). If you love curry then Balducci’s Red Thai Curry is a must try. Forget whether you’re a vegan or not, this curry is to die for. The tasty concoction of mushroom, tofu, bamboo shoot, cauliflower, and broccoli in a Thai red curry sauce was packed with flavour and nothing short of pure curry heaven.
I also adored the Cashew Nut Cream Pasta, served with fresh gluten-free pasta. I can never get enough cashews in my life so a pasta sauce made with cashews is basically the best thing ever in my books. This cashew nut pasta sauce was creamy, despite not containing a drop of cream, and paired beautifully with the tofu and smoked mushrooms in the dish. I enjoyed the Smokey Black Bean Burger but found it a bit dry. It could have done with more sauce to really bring home that indulgent burger and fries experience.
Cheese-less cheesecake and a frozen berry delight: A sweet ending
I’m not a massive lover of dessert, so it’s always the biggest anti-climax of any meal for me but this time around I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet ending to our meal. First up was a Frozen Berries served with coconut cream (R72), my kind of dessert. I love anything fruity, and often wish that I could just have fruit and yoghurt for dessert at a restaurant, so this was right up my alley. Not to mention the fact that coconut cream is only the best thing ever. Sure R72 is quite steep for what is essentially some fruit and yoghurt in a bowl but it was delicious, so I can’t fault it too much. We also got to try the Vegan Cheesecake with a Berry Marble Swirl (R67), which offered a nice, not overly sweet, end to an otherwise generous Italian-style meal.
After a rather in-depth tasting of the new vegan menu at Balducci I was thoroughly impressed, and even more excited about the prospect of finding a restaurant that could easily accommodate all my friends and their many dietary requirements. At the risk of sounding like a pampered Millennial, it’s refreshing to find a spot where I can book without having to worry about what my vegan, gluten-intolerant, pescetarian, ketogenic friends are going to eat. And that is perhaps the best thing about Balducci’s vegan menu — options. If you’re always on the hunt for a top-notch restaurant that understands the struggle of having friends who are fussy-eaters then Balducci will be right up your alley.
Balducci is open for lunch and dinner daily. Find them at shop 6162, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Check out the full Balducci vegan menu here.