Monk Bodhi Dharma seems to be the one southside cafe all the northsiders get excited for. Personally I like it well enough, but I don’t think it’s the best my neighbourhood has to offer – I’d put Carlisle St favourites Batch and Las Chicas both ahead of MBD.
It’s exciting to have a veg-only venue, and one that has plenty of vegan options, but I still have a few complaints. The first is that the blocks of wood they use for seats are damn uncomfortable. It’s true I have a spectacular arse, but I’ve eaten there with svelte friends who found the accommodations equally uncomfortable. That said, I love the fit out, and find the use of the tiny space endlessly fascinating.
The second is that I think the food is overpriced – $15 for beans and rice is, frankly, a bit much. The third is that I find the meals, while always flavoursome and hearty, sometimes lack one element that would bring them together and lift them above what I usually make at home – a bit more protein, say, or a little creamyness; perhaps some yoghurt to cool the spiciness. I certainly wouldn’t apply this to all the dishes – the corn hotcakes are perfection – but I’ve eaten a few almost-but-not-quite -perfect dishes, too.
Complaints aside, I am very fond of MBD, and it’s on semi-regular rotation for breakfast out (if I ever make it past Batch, that is). And I was *super excited* when I booked a table for the Breakfast Degustation way back at the beginning of December last year.
The MBD Breako Dego (as I took to calling it) is 100% vegan and consists of three courses plus chocolates and coffee for $40. I opted to pay the extra $10 for fancy coffees to go along with the courses.
The coffees (all pourovers) were amazing – hardly surprising given coffee is one of MBD’s great strengths. They know their coffee, have a variety of different beans on offer, and are happy to make recommendations. As much as I love coffee I’m happy to admit my ignorance once things get past a certain level, but I appreciate the knowledge that goes into the selections.
The first course was ‘summer vegetables with tomato water and horseradish vinaigrette’.
This consisted of thin slices of squash, heirloom radishes, tomato, herbs, and peaches in a light broth. It was a beautiful dish, though I thought there was just a touch too much olive oil, which overwhelmed the delicacy of it.
Next up withs a ‘king oyster muchroom and avocado carpaccio with grated summer truffle, drizzpled with jalepeno oil & served with fresh bread’.
Now I love king oyster mushrooms, and I love avocado, so this dish was always going to be a win. The jalepeno oil added a gentle heat and complexity to this delicious dish. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it – but any tummy rumbles were kept at bay by the two fresh bread rolls served alongside.
I love bread, too, and having both the seedy grainy and the crusty sourdough was excellent. Some good butter would have made these perfect, but I guess that would’ve spoiled the vegan-ness (Nutelex, perhaps?).
The last ‘proper’ course was a ‘sweet potato and coconut breakfast custard on a macadamia and ginger cookie crumble, served with Cointreau caramel and a balsamic tamarillo reduction.
This was truly spectacular! The sweet potato custard tasted exactly like pumpkin pie, the crumble had a good ginger spike, the caramel was sweet but not over sweet, but the true genius of the dish is the balsamic tamarillo reduction. Those dark smears on the plate had an incredible intensity of flavour – sweet and tangy and caramelised and lively and truly amazing. I wanted to lick the plate, and probably would have were we not seated at the communal table with eight or so other Dego diners.
The final course was a selection of handmade organic vegan chocolates.
Look, they have gold on top! These were amazing. I’m actually not always a huge fan of dark chocolate (I realise this makes me a complete failure as a foodie snob), but these didn’t have the harsh bitterness that I sometimes object too. They were smooth and moderately sweet, and intensely flavoured with orange and cocoa.
The breakfast degustation was a pretty spectacular start to the day, and I left feeling perfectly satisfied but not stuffed. It was a highly enjoyable experience, and I’d probably go back next time I have $50 to spare on breakfast.
Monk Bodhi Dharma
Rear, 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava (next to Safeway)Ph: (03) 9534 7250
Breakfast Degustation: $40 + $10 for matching coffees