Thursday, December 08, 2011

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe

December 4, 2011

Edit 19/12/11: Unfortunately the cafe section of Westgarth Books has closed! Their chef is apparently available for home catering and events.
I'm sure I've commented before on the frightening reach and speed of Melbourne's vegan telegraph. As soon as Westgarth Books announced that they were incorporating a vegan cafe and becoming Westgarth Books & Cooks cafe, K and Toby put together a posse of Melbourne veg*ns to check them out. The gang at Westgarth are still sorting themselves out, they were a bit overwhelmed when a group of 8 of us rolled in for breakfast. They were short a few menu items and were generally a bit disorganised, but they struggled on cheerfully dealing with our massive order. The food took ages to come out - they're clearly still working out how to run a cafe, so for now I'd recommend turning up in small groups only.

The menu looks impressive - a couple of different breakfasts (big and small), a curry and a noodle dish, pasta, nachos, a selection of four or five raw-ish dishes, and some over-the-top desserts - all vegan. I really wanted to try the big Aussie breakfast (toast, smoked tofu scramble, spinach, mushroom, beetroot relish, $17.50) but that was one of the dishes they weren't doing yet. Instead I decided to start the day with something fresh - a raw papaya salad (scented papaya, tossed with organic carrot, pumpkin, green bean and tomato salad, garnished with crushed almonds and cashews, fresh chilli, garlic and house raw dressing, $15).

This was stunning - super fresh, loaded with nuts and crispy vegies, all covered in a tangy and spicy dressing. The only downside was the tiny orange pieces scattered throughout with the rind still on them - maybe I should have just eaten them rind and all, because picking each piece out and eating them off the rind was a bit of a pain. Otherwise, this was amazing - delicious and healthy.

Cindy had real trouble making up her mind, eventually settling on a breakfast dessert - the fool of the day (seasonal fruit compote layered between dollops of ice-cream, custard and cake, $10).

Look at that! It was basically a massive sundae for breakfast. Cindy seemed fairly happy with her choice - there was a good mix of fruit, loads of cakey goodness, custard and ice-cream with a cherry on top. The cashew-based ice-cream was outstanding, the smoothest she's ever tasted.

Everybody else at the table was happy with their dishes (see K's review for more detail), coffees were okay and service was friendly and gracious. But slow. Really, really slow. Still, they acknowledged the delays by offering us complimentary tea top-ups and a plate of delicious passionfruit-iced yo-yos to compensate.

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe is an exciting new veg cafe for Melbourne - a diverse menu prepared really, really well. It's worth noting (as K does) that they cater excellently for coeliacs, even offering gluten-free waffles! Once they sort themselves out a bit this could be a contender for Melbourne's best veg cafe.

Typically, the veg-blog scene hasn't wasted any time - In the Mood for Noodles and Words @ Random have already blogged about it, while @ah_blake has been there three times already!

Westgarth Books & Cooks Cafe
77 High Street, Northcote
snacks $3-$5, meals $9-$18
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a tiny step as you enter, and things are a bit crowded inside. Ordering and payment happens at a medium-high counter.


  1. sounds great - more bookshops should start cafes in them - though sounds like a challenge - food is just not as compliant as books :-)

  2. I've driven past this place a couple of times now but have never had time to stop and head in... by the look of those yo-yos, that's gonna have to change!

  3. Could you have discovered the magical secret? Is Canberra's hellmouth-esque lack of vegan cafes due to our concurrent lack of a vegan telegraph? I've gotsta get building us one of those, clearly! :D

    I'm also quietly giggling myself about the fact that this cafe has managed to take a dish I dream and long for and can never resist (green papaya salad) and has thrown in the devil's fruit (oranges) which I always do my best to avoid, complete with the part (peel) that makes me feel sick. Oh, the conundrum!




    not that i'm excited or anything

  5. Johanna - the biggest challenge for little Sylvia will be that the children's books are right next to the main dining table! Choosing between the food and the books will probably be difficult. :-)

    MM - the yo-yos were really good, I loved the passionfruit in the middle.

    Hannah - yep, it was a controversially orangey papaya salad. I liked the juice but tend to agree that the peel has no place here.

    Steph - why aren't more of us eating this, at home even?

  6. My friend and I went there yesterday. The food was nice and we enjoyed sitting outside and chatting in the little courtyard. However, there still seem to be some transition problems and they really need to brush up on their customer service and how they treat the people that work there.

    My friend and I were both keen to try some of the vegan cashew nut ice cream but no one came back out to the courtyard for ages. Eventually I went inside, where the manager was sitting at a table with two other people. I asked if we could order the ice cream and the manager said impatiently, 'can you wait five minutes, while we finish our meeting?' I was so stunned that I didn't know what to say. If I had not been there with a friend I would have walked out.
    The manager then said rudely and offhandedly to the young guy behind the counter in the bookshop, 'take their order and I'll go and get it when I'm ready.' The young guy said he didn't work for the cafe and looked understandably disconcerted. It was obvious that this has been happening a bit. We found out later that he was employed by the bookshop not the cafe. The young guy was professional and did a great job to his credit.
    We did have the cashew nut icecream and it was very nice but there's no way I would recommend this place with management like that.
    I hope the manager doesn't treat all her staff like that. The place also won't stay open long if that's the way she treats her customers. I'm disappointed because there's alot of potential to this cafe. My friend and I both have health problems that require special diets and this would have hit the spot, but I don't feel I can support a place that has this sort of management.

  7. Hi Michelle! Thanks for relating your experience - I can certainly understand your reluctance to return based on the interactions you saw and were a part of.

    We hear that today is their last day trading as a cafe, so you're right that they won't stay open long.