Monk Bodhi Dharma
202 Carlisle St, Balaclava, VIC
03 9534 7250
Today Melbourne is a haven for those in search of raw vegan treats, but when Monk Bodhi Dharma first burst on to the cafe scene in 2010 it made waves with its vegetarian-friendly menu.
Marwin Shaw was looking for somewhere he could experiment with coffee roasting when he came upon the Carlisle Street location. The tiny space is dwarfed by the surrounding buildings but is warm and cosy inside.
The small space is fitting. The cafe’s namesake is a 5th Century monk, Bodhidharma, who, according to legend, spent nine years meditating in a cave. According to folklore the monk became frustrated when he fell asleep and cut off his eyelids in a bid to stay awake. Legend has it the world’s first tea plants sprouted where his eyelids fell and thereafter tea was taken as a stimulant during meditation.
So it should come as no surprise that Marwin takes his tea as seriously as his coffee. When he first opened Monk Bodhi Dharma, he was underwhelmed by the range of chai teas that were commercially available. With some help from tea guru, Nathan Wakeford from Somage, they created their own chai recipe.
For a pint-sized cafe the menu features plenty of options. The signature acai bowl is the perfect way to start your morning and is packed full of banana, berries, maca, mesquite, licuma and almond milk. The coconut and vanilla rice pudding is also a popular choice, – served with earl grey and spice macerated fruit, sprinkled with toasted almonds and coconut. With allergy friendly options such as these it is no wonder the cafe is popular among Melbourne’s wellness crowd.
On the more indulgent side of the menu you’ll find buckwheat and apple pancakes with raw cinnamon ice cream, maple syrup and raw vanilla-bean whipped cream. A stand out is the umami mushroom dish with roasted king oyster, shiitake, oyster and Swiss brown mushrooms served on gluten-free polenta bread and topped with goat’s cheese, thyme and chilli oil.
While the main focus is on breakfast, Monk Bodhi Dharma also holds the odd dinner. Dinners are spectacular degustation affairs consisting of 11 courses. Staying true to their ethos, each dinner menu is vegan, gluten free, refined sugar-free and free from both onion and garlic.
If it weren’t for the mural of a lone monk it would be hard to spot the unassuming cafe. Inside, Monk Bodhi Dharma feels like it simply appeared one day in a forgotten shed – as if an espresso machine grew from a from a handful of discarded coffee beams. The walls have been stripped back to expose red brick and black exposed beams are exposed to reveal a wooden roof.
Monk Bodhi Dharma may be hard to find but just follow your nose. It’s hard to miss the aroma of coffee coming from the little 3kg roaster at the rear of the cafe.