If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years reading and writing vegetarian food blogs about Melbourne, it’s this: if Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef really, really, REALLY like a place, you had best sit up and pay attention. Because they know their shit. Consequentially, Cafe Lua has held a high spot on my ‘must go’ list for an embarrassingly long time.
After a morning enormously well spent watching Jurassic Park in 3D at Imax with Michaela (turns out my whole life had been waiting for the moment where I got to see a three story tall shirtless Jeff Goldblum), the opportunity to finally visit Cafe Lua was now at hand.
The space runs wild with op shop hipster kitsch – mismatched tables and chairs, miscellaneous crockery, potted cacti and other tchotchkes crowd any flat surface, but it’s endearing rather than obstructing. The staff are friendly but not obtrusive, and the menu is a highly intriguing one, containing not only multiple dishes that are either vegan or coeliac-friendly (or both!), but also dishes that seemed to me to be quite unique in terms of Melbourne’s overall brunch dish trends.
This difference is present from the drinks menu onwards. Michaela and I were pleased to see a variety of interesting cold drinks. She went with the red orange juice, a cool glass of ruby red, while I couldn’t go past the chrysanthemum iced tea with peach nectar and mint, which was just as refreshingly, sweetly decadent as you would expect.
Food wise, I had been eying off one dish in particular through all my blog review reading envy: the pumpkin and chia seed pancakes with yoghurt, lentil and spinach salad, sprinkled with sumac and red onion. The description alone just sounded so different to what I am accustomed to expect from a brunch menu. Savoury pancakes! Savoury pancakes with LENTILS! And they were every bit as good as I was hoping, with the pancakes fat, fluffy, and noticeably pumpkin-y. The chia seeds definitely added interest texturally, while the saucy lentils were alternately tart with the yoghurt, and spicy with the sumac, and all over DELICIOUS. This is a candidate for dish of the year for me.
Michaela went with the sweet version of the Canadian French toast with rhubarb, strawberries and cream. This looked like the kind of meal you’d get in a dream American diner from a movie, all fluffy piles of cream and shiny strawberries, complete with a jug of syrup. Michaela was very well pleased with it indeed, and I also couldn’t help but think it would be the perfect sweet recovery from a hard night before.
After such a pleasing initial foray, it didn’t take me long to make a second visit to Cafe Lua in the company of Alison and Phoebe. While it was very tempting to just order the pancakes again, I diversified by going with a blackboard special of strawberry and rhubarb bread with orange ricotta and hazelnuts. While serving size-wise it was a bit smaller than expected, it was still a delightful (and rich) breakfast, with the warmed wodge of fruity-threaded bread generously drizzled with the thinned out ricotta and sprinkled with hazelnut chunks.
While I sipped on a nicely decent chai latte, Alison got stuck into the pumpkin pancakes at my suggestion, while Phoebe tackled the corn stack with bacon and a poached egg. They greatly enjoyed them, although Phoebe’s monster-sized dish ended up getting the better of her; going savoury is clearly the way to go if you have a big appetite. I also spotted a dish that sparked instant food envy, the haloumi and cherry tomatoes combo which has me itching to go back just to try it.
Seriously, get to Cafe Lua now. It’s clever, comforting food in a very unpretentious package.
Cnr Elgin & Drummond Streets, Carlton
Ph: 9348 1118