Cafe: Monk Bodhi Dharma - Balaclava

Go Your Own Way

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Opening Hours:
Monday – Friday 6.30am – 4.00pm
Saturday & Sunday 8.00am – 4.00pm
5 Senses, Market Lane
Breakfast & lunch

What would you say if I told you that there was a new cafe on Carlisle Street serving vegetarian food that was named after the Indian monk who introduced Zen Buddhism to China? You’d be like wow, sounds heavy man. But put aside your prejudices, this is no hippie hugging squat masquerading as a cafe. You’ll still need to go to Smith Street for that. This is actually a bloody good cafe.

So what makes this place exceptional? Well for a start it’s different, which no doubt helps it stand out. What really makes this place shine though, is how clear its two owners, Kate and Marwin Shaw, are about what they want to do and refuse to dumb it down. They have a vision and they’re not going to lose that just to appease people. If you want eggs for breakfast, you can go to one of the dozens of cafes on Carlisle Street that already do that. You have to applaud anyone who has the balls to stick to their guns even when they know it’s going to cost them some customers.

Their vision is to serve outstanding vegetarian food and the best coffee from the best roasters in Melbourne. The good news for us is that it works. The coffee is very impressive. For the coffee nerds amongst you, there is a three group Synesso espresso machine and three Mazer grinders with each of the three coffees offered daily getting its own customised group. Every morning the barista adjusts the grind and the temperature to ensure the optimal extraction of the three coffees. This requires the barista to drink a half dozen coffees every morning, so rest assured he’ll be well chirpy by the time you arrive for your morning latte. They rotate the three coffees on a regular basis so there’s something new to try all the time. At the moment they are serving only single origin coffees, to my knowledge the only cafe in Melbourne currently doing so. The end result is that they are serving some of the best coffee in Melbourne.

Their vision is to serve outstanding vegetarian food and the best coffee from the best roasters in Melbourne.

The food also impresses. I have to admit to having reservations; I had assumed that vegetarian food would be a little bland and that I might still be hungry after the meal. The truth is that my Moroccan Vegetable Stew was delicious: spicy, robust and aromatic. I actually struggled to get through the huge serve. Must have been OK because I’ve been back and ordered the same meal a few times now. I’ve been similarly impressed with the breakfasts I’ve ordered: the Sweetcorn & Ricotta Hotcakes and the Avocado & Fetta mash are both winners. I think I can call myself an omnivore now.

The space is cool in a lo-fi kind of way, a renovated mini-warehouse with lots of exposed brick, reclaimed wood, an open kitchen, a huge communal table and a shiny new coffee roaster in the corner. The plan is to eventually roast their own coffee, but at the moment it’s for experimentation only. Tim the roaster and barista was sampling one of his roasts in a siphon while I was there yesterday and kindly offered for me to join him. Based on what I tasted yesterday, I doubt it will be long before their house roasts start appearing on the menu.

So if you live nearby and tired of the same old thing, check it out. The fact that the place is already consistently busy in such a competitive strip like Carlisle Street is an impressive achievement. Impressive and thoroughly deserved.

Monk Bodhi Dharma
202 Carlisle Street
Balaclava, 3183
T. 03 9534 7250


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