Inner west temple to the Buddha bowl comes from mountain high

The vegan brekky bowl includes a well-seasoned tofu scramble.
The vegan brekky bowl includes a well-seasoned tofu scramble.  Photo: Rhett Wyman

In a year when most of our energy has gone into staying well and resisting hugs, December seems like the time to let go and treat ourselves. After all, we've done so much with so little. It's tempting to say, "Hey, what's a little mimosa and double bacon breakfast burger before 10am?" 

To Adam Chalk, owner of Newtown's Buddha Bowl Cafe, the idea of cartoonish excess is something he doesn't envy after years of working as a hotel manager around the world.

Six years ago, he found himself escaping from the fast-paced life in the Middle East, with a one-way ticket to Nepal and no real agenda. "I had enough of that kind of career path and just did a complete 180 from living the high life in Dubai." 

Buddha Bowl in Newtown made the switch from vegetarian to vegan food last year.
Buddha Bowl in Newtown made the switch from vegetarian to vegan food last year.  Photo: Rhett Wyman

For 12 months, he lived in a tiny village where he volunteered as an English teacher at the local school. It was there that he started to embrace a plant-based diet – a move that would lead him to open Buddha Bowl when he returned to Australia nearly four years ago. 

"The primary theme [of our cafe] is respect. Then all other aspects of the business connect with that. This means using Fairtrade [crockery and products] and organic ingredients where possible," says Chalk. 

Originally opened as a vegetarian brunch spot, Buddha Bowl turned fully vegan when it relocated from Newtown's quiet Flourmill Studios to the restaurant-packed Enmore Road in late October. 

The classic Buddha bowl is comfort good territory.
The classic Buddha bowl is comfort good territory. Photo: Rhett Wyman

While the cafe's previous office building clientele made it hard to let go of eggs, haloumi and other dairy add-ons, its new home on a busy strip and its diverse dining crowd meant Chalk is able to take the plunge. 

Stop by for weekend lunch and you'll see the risk has paid off. Regulars huddle like happy satellites around wide, wooden tables – most nursing a colourful iteration of the cafe's namesake bowls. 

Why specialise in Buddha bowls? Well, they're pretty, for one. "Part of our objective is to inspire people to think differently about food. And it's not just about the taste or the ingredients, but also [how something] looks," says Chalk. In other words – he's banking on our bias for deeply photogenic dishes that are also, incidentally, more ethical. 

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Plus, anyone who has ever dined solo will vouch for the joy of having different side dishes to choose from without having to a) stay in a terrible meal-sharing relationship or b) order five things on your own. A Buddha bowl solves that problem. 

Witness the Bedouin bowl: a living collage of bright colours featuring a hero component — the falafel waffles. You'll find yourself playing a game of "prefect bite Jenga", adding a touch of beetroot or carrots hummus here, a mouthful of brown rice and kale salad there.

That is, if you don't become entirely absorbed by the falafel waffles covered in a slightly sweet, grassy, herbed tahini dressing. They taste like all the good things in a falafel – coriander, parsley, chickpeas. ground cumin – minus the deep-fry grease. 

The pastry selection includes croissants from Glebe vegan bakery Oh My Days.
The pastry selection includes croissants from Glebe vegan bakery Oh My Days. Photo: Rhett Wyman

A more homely option is the classic Buddha bowl.  Among tangy salad and rice, cubes of roasted sweet potato and warm quinoa passata make for deep comfort food territory. Chalk created the quinoa recipe years ago as a plant-based, textural alternative to a homemade bolognese. The same sauce is used in his nacho bowl, which is rich with guac and coconut sour cream.  

And yes, you can still get a big breakfast with all the trimmings. Expect a well-seasoned tofu scramble tossed in onion and garlic (plus cumin for colour) to replace your usual eggs. At the pastry display, I am pleasantly surprised by the sight of croissants from Glebe's Oh My Days. This means access to flaky, (vegan) buttery goodness without transuburban hikes.

If it isn't obvious by now, plant-based certainly doesn't mean indulgence-free. And there are cakes and sweet treats by Love, Sweet Vegan and Raw Passion to help things along on that front. Now, if only they stocked Comeco Foods' vegan matcha doughnuts.

The low-down

Buddha Bowl Cafe 

Where: Shop 1/52-60 Enmore Road, Newtown, buddhabowlcafe.com.au

Main attraction: A plant-based brunch spot with a colourful, attractive roster of Buddha bowls. You'll also find vegan croissants from Oh My Days and kombucha on tap. Plus, it's dog friendly.   

Must-try dish: Get your hands on a Bedouin bowl and try the herbed tahini-covered "falafel waffles". Sure, it's hard to beat old-school falafels, but these guys pack in all the flavours without the grease.

Insta-worthy dish: Most bowls are designed for maximum visual appeal. Our tip is to order your way through a few and wait for envious DMs from your vego and vegan friends. 

Drinks: Coffee by Sacred Grounds $3.50-$4.80; tea by Organic Merchant $4; kombucha on tap from Herbs of Life $5.50

Prices: Breakfast $8.5-$22; lunch $16.5-$18

Hours: Tue-Sun 9am-3pm, closed Mondays