Admiral Cheng Ho Specialty Coffee

Appetite and flair combine in the cafe.
Appetite and flair combine in the cafe. Photo: Penny Stephens

325 Johnston Street Abbotsford, Victoria 3067

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Opening hours Mon-Fri, 6am-4pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-5pm
Features Vegetarian friendly
Payments Mastercard, Visa, eftpos
Phone 03 9534 7250

Marwin Shaw is emphatic (rhymes with "fanatic"?) when it comes to coffee: "Single estate. Fresh crop." That means coffee from one farm, and as soon as reasonable after harvest.

Shaw ("Professional dreamer and risk taker. City dwelling hippie", according to his Twitter bio) is the man behind Monk Bodhi Dharma, the vegetarian-wholefood-specialty coffee bunker in a car park off Carlisle Street, Balaclava.

Now Shaw has raised his silk-fringed vegetarian-wholefood-$25-coffee banner over a street corner in Abbotsford with Admiral Cheng Ho Specialty Coffee.

Quinoa pancakes with butterscotch sauce and coffee 'soil'.
Quinoa pancakes with butterscotch sauce and coffee 'soil'. Photo: Anu Kumar

Cheng Ho's short all-day breakfast menu bears some resemblance to the Bodhi Dharma menu. Monk Bircher turns up as House Bircher - organic yoghurt and seasonal fruit (mango, blueberry, nectarine right now) atop some moist apple-and-raspberry-soaked Bircher mix.

Almost straight from the Monk menu is a dish of umami mushrooms: a nicely sauteed mix of oyster, shiitake and Swiss browns, toothsome and tasty and served with goat's cheese brightened by yellow rivers of marinating oil.

The mushrooms are served on toasted house-made polenta bread, which some may find mealy and others will find pleasantly reminiscent of home-made cornmeal bread.

The vibe here is hand-made, funky-noughties-hippy; you are more likely to see head scarves and baseball caps than chef's whites and toques in the semi-open kitchen.

So I was mildly surprised when a dish of quinoa pancakes with vanilla cream and butterscotch sauce arrived as a careful stack of pikelet-sized pancakes (nicely crisp outside, soft and savoury in), light, syrupy butterscotch sauce in a ceramic Chinese spoon on a scatter of coffee soil (ground Panama Gesha with rapadura sugar) and a little pot of vanilla cream with two wings of candied orange.

The mix of flavours - vanilla, coffee, butterscotch, orange - and textures works well, but if you were Very Hungry and expecting a plate-sized stack for your $18.50, you might turn a little browned off.

Did I mention $25 coffee earlier? That's a Lotus Solkin Panama Gesha on the filter menu. But just $3.50 will get you a very nice espresso - maybe a single-estate, fresh crop Kenya Gichathaini, with a syrupy mouth, clean high fruit notes and a lingering savoury finish - while a flat white at $4 was deliciously creamy (and biodynamic, too).

There is a crazy amount of coffee to try in this compact space: 10 or 11 origins, offered as espresso or pourover, and all roasted in a small three-kilo machine at Monk; it must be cooking 24/7.

Wait. Did I say "emphatic" back there?

Do … dessert-brunch - on the gluten-free vegan banoffee pie

Don't … ignore the tea menu - including some organic and fair-trade exotics

Dish … Northside quinoa pancakes

Vibe … pretty laid back, man