Well folks, I had my camera with me this time, and I actually ate there. This is what it looks like. It is an unusual place. That is a good thing. It is not a restaurant run by an anarchist collective which comes across as a hip cafe. Obviously there are reasons people pay good money to go to slick cafes, but this place has its charms.
Appallingly bad art hangs on the walls, some of it enough really to put you off your food. There are too many tables too close together, and it is all a bit like the lounge and dining room at Continental House in Hepburn Springs. Someone mistakenly made my coffee with soy milk (and so I discovered that soy latte [which should really be called a cafe soy if you think about it] is really not a bad drink). My other coffee though, a strong cafe latte, was as strong as bull’s blood, the strongest latte I have ever seen.
The distinctive feature of the place is that you “pay as you please”, posting your money into the slot in a “magic box”. I reckon this is a variation on the old Indian taxi driver trick, in which the driver turns off the metre and invites the foreigner to pay whatever he feels, knowing that the western mind could not possibly conjure up a fare as low as the meter would provide for. The cost of preparing vegetarian food is very low — a joke amongst restauranteurs who typically price vegetarian dishes at only a little lower than meat dishes — and it does not seem like a lot of money has been spent on fitout. One can imagine that there would be plenty of people in St Kilda (Lentil As Anything’s original location) who would come in for a quick feed, paying what they could afford, to wit not much. But who is going to come into the Abbotsford Convent but folks like the three of us who felt it churlish to pay anything less than slick cafe prices and felt vaguely excited (despite the ex-post facto cycnicism exhibited above) by the Che Guevara-ness of it all, the Bolivarian links to Sub-Commandante Marcos, to Lula, Evo Morales, even maybe Michele Bachelet and especially to firebrands without speech writers like Victor Chavez who say, whilst on diplomacy in Rome, that George Bush should be indicted before the International Court of Justice as a war criminal but still get an audience with the Pope? And all within a short walk from our mortgaged formerly-workers’ cottages and with good cafe latte to boot. Who indeed? Impoverished artists with studios in the Convent for one, I suppose.
Back to my review now, though: the cafe inhabits a a beautiful space, with a high vaulted ceiling, lit by three windows which look out through the foliage of the garden. The middle one frames that omnipresent chimney of the Carlton & United Brewery.
A man who looked a lot like a recently arrived migrant from the Horn of Africa was working away with a cast of Latin Americans and a blonde waitress straight out of Chapel St, to the tunes of what I would describe (probably wrongly) as lush retro film music.
Miss K and our friend enjoyed their scrambled eggs (served on untoasted wholemeal bread rolls) though I considered their plates sceptically, and I had a pancake with stewed apple, sultanas and almonds which was reasonable (depending on how much you like stewed apple, I suppose). Other breakfast options included porridge with good stuff in it, a Sri Lankan breakfast of roti and dhal, and scrambled tofu.