I’ve been wanting to check out Monk Bodhi Dharma since reading Kristy’s post over at In the Mood for Noodles. Monk is just down the road from my place, but I hadn’t even known it existed until I read that post, because it’s tucked away down an alley behind a carpark next to a supermarket I never go to. They’ve only been open for about three months, though, and given the abundance of other options on Carlisle Street, it’s not too surprising I hadn’t noticed them.
Other people have. I was planning to wander down for breakfast with my friends E & D last Sunday, but on the way there I got a call from E & D saying that the queue was so long they couldn’t even get to the door to ask how long the wait for a table was. I was a bit astonished – I expect to have to wait on the weekend for a table at one of the Carlisle Street favourites Batch or Las Chicas, but for a new place that you can’t even see from the street? They must be doing something very right! (I guess reviews in The Age don’t hurt, either.)
So we decided to go around the corner to Monkey on Chapel St, which was an altogether disappointing experience. The coffee at Monkey was excellent, but the food was a big let-down: supermarket sourdough, average mushrooms, and under-ripe avocado which was served with the excuse “We can’t do anything about it, that’s just how they are right now.” If I had been told that when I ordered, I would have picked a different side. But for the kitchen to know full well it’s inedible (it was crunchy, for goodness sake) but serve it anyway and make a poor excuse is, well, inexcusable.
After Sunday’s disappointment, I was determined to try Monk on a weekday when I knew I’d be able to get a table. So I popped in for a late lunch on my way home from uni today. The space is smallish, but warm and welcoming, with a long communal table, lots of dark wood, and the ubiquitous distressed bricks. It has some nice touches like the skylights, and the hanging bottles full of daffodils. I’d happily linger there.
Monk is serious about coffee. They have three different beans on offer. I didn’t realise this when I arrived and, hanging out for some caffeine, just ordered my usual soy flat white (kinda like ordering the house red, I guess). I’m not sure which beans they used, but the coffee was good – strong, serious coffee that was exactly what I wanted. Apparently they’re also quite serious about their teas, which is definitely something to look forward to next time.
The menu is all vegetarian with no eggs, and they’re happy to vegan-ise where possible. The no eggs was a bit of a surprise, and the all-day breakfast menu tends toward the sweet more than savoury as a result (though I’m curious about eggless French toast?). There are also a couple of lunchtime specials (a soup and a curry) which rounded out the savoury options a bit. I opted for something savoury off the breakfast menu, because breakfast for lunch is just the kind of girl I am.
I had the sweet corn and ricotta hotcakes with basil pesto and roast cherry tomatoes (on the menu as ‘cheery’ tomatoes – a rather happy typo!), and a pot of sour cream on the side. They were delicious! I’m a big fan or corn cakes, and there are a lot of excellent versions on offer locally: Batch, Grindhouse, and my own kitchen would be my favourites, but Monk’s corncakes are up to the competition. They’re deliciously light, and the corn kernals are sweet and bright and flavoursome. The cheery cherry tomatoes are beautifully cooked, and the basil pesto is really good. Pesto is one of those things that is so ubiquitous that I’d almost forgotten how fantastic it can be when it’s done right. All the elements came together beautifully – it was savoury, sweet, and very satisfying.
I’ll definitely be back soon – I want to try that French toast, and the lunchtime specials look pretty tasty too. But I don’t think I’ll be trying for a table on the weekend.
Monk Bodhi Dharma
Rear, 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava (next to Safeway)Ph: (03) 9534 7250