Kappaya Soul Food Cafe

Nadine is completely obsessed with the Abbotsford Convent, and most particularly with all the food venues tucked away among its formally ecclesiastical eaves. She once went to the Convent’s Lentil As Anything outpost four times in the space of a week, true story. So when Maddy and I made some Saturday lunch plans to meet Nadine at the Convent, I assumed that we would inevitably end up at Lentil. But a secret part of me was hoping that we might get a chance to tick off one of my long held must-visit places – Kappaya and it’s Japanese soul food.

It turned out Nadine also had a vested interest in visiting Kappaya, as it’s daytime only opening hours means that it had been closed during many of her previous visits. So it was excitement all round on discovering it was open.

The interior does that cosy, mismatched furniture look really well, so it actually succeeds in being a super comforting space to be in. Cosy-ing up on some squishy plush vintage chairs, we were pretty instantly overwhelmed by the menu, with Maddy and Nadine eventually being drawn to the bento box options.

While the vegie bento did indeed sound good, I had my eye drawn by the all-day breakfast option of a rice and soup combo plate: you get mixed rice crowned with a gooey poached egg, served with miso-dressed mixed salad leaves, and a nice fat cup filled with pumpkin soup. Pumpkin soup for breakfast! REVELATIONS. It was a darn good pumpkin soup too, served in a heavy earthenware cup that felt solid and significant in my hands, with a thick, grainy consistency. It was less creamy than you would ordinarily encounter, but ratcheted up the spice considerably, and I was also given a shaker of flavour salt filled with black sesame seeds and other savoury bits and bobs, never give me shaker of savoury bits, it all just ends up going on EVERYTHING.

But let us also talk about the pure joy that is a softly poached egg broken over rice. Is this the most perfect experience yet devised by human people? IF NOT IT MUST BE CLOSE. I know by this point it must seem like I’m completely obsessed by gooey eggs and just having them pop and dribble over all kinds of carbs, but really, why wouldn’t you be, it is GREAT AND PERFECT. And Kappaya’s rice was already tasty from being flecked through with black sesame seeds, and the egg was just at that poached tipping point where it hovers on that edge between underdone and just right. I popped that dang egg, mixed it all through the rice and ate it like I hadn’t eaten in years. And lo, it was good.

Indeed, everything about Kappaya slotted neatly into the ever so good category. Maddy and Nadine both enjoyed their bentos – I snatched a taste of one of the tofu balls that came with Nadine’s, and it was a tasty wee thing of smoky savoury flavours. Everything just tasted fresh and lovingly hewn together using hearty recipes clearly developed for taste and comfort. Should you find yourself at the Convent during the day, I can think of no better place to look after your tum.

Kappaya Soul Food Cafe

Abbotsford Convent

1 Helliers Street, Abbotsford

Ph: 9416 0070

abbotsfordconvent.com.au

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Admiral Cheng-Ho

Originally I was sent to Admiral Cheng-ho on the second day it opened to cover it for an online guide to Melbourne that I help write for, but it turned out that the editors had accidentally put two writers on the case, so to avoid any potential argey-bargey I bowed out of the piece. But that’s okay, because it means that I get to write about it here instead! And my editors probably wouldn’t have allowed me to say things like HOLY SHITS ADMIRAL CHENG-HO IS FUCKING VEGAN SHANGRI-LA or write a review that was just transcriptions of drooling sounds, so it’s probably for the best.

Why is Admiral Cheng-Ho so amazing? Well, for one they’re run by the same folks who do Monk Bodhi Dharma, grand high poobah of quality Melburnian vegan and coffee dining. For another, it is in Abbotsford, which means northsiders don’t have to tramp all the way to Balaclava now to feast on Monk’s particular seam of foodie goodness. It’s a much bigger space than Monk too, although it still errs on the modest side of things.

But what you really want to know about is the FOOD. And the fact that everything on the menu, EVERYTHING, is either vegan or vegan-adaptable. You can’t hack gluten? Neither can half the menu here. It’s a goddamn specialty diet wonderland. You can eat ALL THE THINGS! And it’s all FREAKIN’ DELECTABLE.

As everything looks delicious, I was wracked with indecision trying to choose what to have, but in the end chose what looked like would yield me the most food – The Admiral, comprising three zucchini fritters with sauteed kale, pine nuts, seasonal vegetables (in my case roasted white carrots and tiny baby spears of asparagus) with a big mound of beetroot relish with dill sprigs, and basil cashew cream.

This was a big, generous plate of food and I dove in with gusto. All the components just complemented each other so nicely, I kept making little bitefuls, using pieces of fritter as anchors, and loading them up with tiny bites of everything. Special mention to the crispy salty kale and the teeny tiny asparagus spears that were just ever so sweet. My only quibbles were that the fritters had a higher dough to vegetable ratio, which was okay but threatened to be slightly stodgy, and the fact that the basil profile in the cashew cream wasn’t terribly noticeable, to the point that I forgot about the menu description and thought for a while it was actually some kind of emulsified avocado. But these are miniscule concerns in the face of mostly overwhelming hearty deliciousness.

For coffee nuts they have six blends on the go each day, as well as single origin and filter coffee and whatever else it is rings coffee people’s jollies. I had a flat white using the standard house blend and it was nicely strong and slightly smoky. FAR MORE IMPORTANT though is the tea menu, and the fact that like Monk, the Admiral has proper respect for appropriate brewing times and will steep your tea for you and serve it to you all ready to go. There’s a nice selection of FANCY teas too – I finished my meal off with a Korean persimmon tea that was simultaneously tart with tiny sweet, fruity notes, and had this lovely rough back up to it – sounds weird, but I assure you that it was a very comforting beverage, even on a hot afternoon.

Do you honestly need me to tell you to get your butt to Admiral Cheng-Ho right now? WHY AREN’T YOU ALREADY THERE?

Admiral Cheng-Ho

325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford

Ph: 9534 7250