I’m entering into dangerous territory writing about vegan / vegetarian food, like a meat-eater watching Dominion. Is there an ulterior motive in the friendly greetings, and the attentive morning service? Based on some earlier coffee / pastry only experiences I can conclusively say there is not.
This is a safe place. There is no need to push an agenda; the agenda is superb coffee and excellent food. Looking around Monk Bodhi Dharma (the cafe, not the person who brought Buddhism to China) you can tell this isn’t your normal cafe. For a start it is not all sleek lines and modern Scandinavian influenced minimalism; it has character. Wooden (read sustainable) stools, benches and tables are jam-packed into a small intimate space.
Suggestively, like bringing Buddhism to China, I have entered a vegan cafe and I’m willing to give myself to it for a meal. I am confident I will not be let down. For a start the coffee is delicious as ever, and two long blacks is a minimum requirement.
On the menu there is a variety of the usual breakfast staples. It is one meal where certainly meat is not a pre-requisite, and the inventiveness or initiative taken in the dishes is dashing. If Catherine didn’t order the zucchini hotcakes, there was a very good chance I was going to, especially having seen another couple of diners enjoying them.
They are served in a stack of three, along side beetroot relish, and pickled cucumber dressed with chilli oil, with a side of vegan sour cream (made of mainly cashew, along with soy). The beetroot relish is a winner, with the raisins adding this defined sweetness that lifts each taste of the fritters. The only issue for Catherine was the chilli which is medium, but impossible to get around (because it seeps into the fritters too). If you are not into chilli take note.
I took no time in ordering the umami mushrooms instead. A combination of king oyster, shiitake, oyster and Swiss brown mushrooms are served on pumpkin and polenta bread. A sauce of goats cheese, thyme and red chilli oil, surrounds and engulfs the main elements, making it feel like a close cousin to baked eggs. I took a few bites to decide that I like this dish, and had no trouble finishing. The query I often have with vegetarian food is the liberal use of chilli to add flavour. My only suggestion would be a bit more salt and a bit less chilli, but that is personal preference.
It was an added bonus that Catherine’s chai latte was just as good as my couple of coffees. This place is famous for the quality of its coffee, and certainly that introduction gave me confidence that the food would not let it down. There are several other dishes that we would be happy to try on the likely repeat breakfast visit.
I’ll never be a vegan or a vegetarian but I could survive on this type of existence. As much as I love meat, it is often nothing more than a filler to better elements in a dish. Several times a week we eat vegetarian at home without even thinking about it as such. In a world where excesses, combined with reducing quality of food to meet supermarket demands is the norm, I truly believe we all need to change our habits. Breakfast at MBD is a great way to start!