I’d like to preface this review by stating that I am an avid meat-eater, a passionate foodie and am reluctantly gluten-free, so for a vegetarian/vegan/GF place to impress me, it must be really bloody good.
A GF friend of mine suggested we try Monk Bodhi Dharma and see what all the fuss was about. We opted for a later brunch, and I headed out to meet her at 11am on a Saturday. They’re at the rear 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava, under 15 minutes from Melbourne city in the trendy St Kilda/Balaclava area.
I parked in the supermarket car park next door and took the alley shortcut. The had my eyes peeled for the entrance (and by that I mean I was solely relying on Google maps, which definitely didn’t want me to go to the right place), and the only reason I spotted it was because my mate was standing there. There’s very little signage, and the main thing that makes it visible is the line of hipsters and chicks wearing athletic gear snaking into what looks like someone’s fancy garden shed.
The place was totally packed, and my friend had already put our names on the waitlist 5-10 minutes earlier. As we were standing out the front waiting and chatting, a staff member came up and asked if we’d like a coffee while we waited.
****Bonus points for this! Ding Ding Ding!****
I find that a lot of staff at restaurants & cafés in Melbourne treat you like some form of leper/plague victim when you’re in line or on a wait list instead of the ‘soon to be patrons’ you really are, so the fact that the staff at Monk Bodhi Dharma a) acknowledged that we existed and b) treated us like customers was very impressive. Sad that was worth mentioning, but that’s Melbourne for you!
We got our coffees (in proper cups with saucers, not in takeaways cups, mind you) and only a few minutes later were shown to our table.
The inside is just as you’d expect – tiny and raw. Yet it managed to feel warm and welcoming; cozy even. The exposed brickwork is to die for, and the furniture looks to be reclaimed and well-loved.
We sat right next to the door and got to studying the menu. This took us about 20 minutes because we kept getting distracted and chatting, and the staff were very patient with us, and at no point did I feel rushed.
I absolutely adored the little finishing touches such as wildflowers in a glass, a magazine rack overhead, and a small card on a local produce supplier of theirs.
I opted for the Coconut Rice Pudding (Coconut & vanilla rice pudding served with Earl Grey and spice macerated fruit, toasted almond and coconut) because I can’t go past an interesting rice pudding, and B went for the Avignon Apple Pancakes (Buckwheat apple pancakes served with raw cinnamon ice cream, maple syrup, raw vanilla bean whipped cream and dehydrated apple chips).
The food took around 15 minutes to come out which, considering how packed it was and how tiny the kitchen looked, was very impressive. The presentation was spot on (they made a pudding look about as appealing as is possible for something that is a bowl of mush, which isn’t easy!), and it smelt absolutely fantastic.
The pudding had just the right level of sweetness, and the hints of Earl Grey were delightful. I am a HUGE tea fan so they could have smothered me in it and I would have been in heaven, but even for someone who isn’t as into tea as I am, you’d still enjoy the taste.
As for the pancakes, they had a great texture (fluffy and light, whilst still being moist, as much as I despise that word), the dehydrated apple wasn’t too dry and the ice cream was to die for. Things being ‘raw’ can sound off-putting, but at Monk Bodhi Dharma I promise it’s a huge positive!
Overall, I highly recommend you try Monk Bodhi Dharma, regardless of if you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or just a stock standard normal person. The menu was very varied, and honestly had options to cater for all tastes. I will most definitely be heading back here ASAP to try the savoury options, including the Umami Mushrooms and Zucchini Hotcakes.