Justine de Jonge is a Melbourne freelance travel writer and blogger who loves travelling the vegan road. She also loves blogging about her vegan travels at www.fireandtea.com .
Published February 10th 2013
A destination for all-day vegan brekkie and beverages
Neo Tokyo, Fitzroy's vegan fashion store for animal lovers, has refreshed itself and re-emerged as a non-descript hole in the wall for all-day vegan brekkie and beverages. Its new personality now goes by the name of The Bear Café.
While the masses generally congregate more towards the Johnston Street end of town, The Bear Café sits snugly before Alexandra Parade and Royal Derby Hotel; competition is virtually non-existent. Though, it's easy to walk straight past it unless you're looking out for a street number. Having said that, a spray-painted sign hangs sneakily from the façade above and it shouts to the foot traffic below: "The best coffee in the universe".
Once we walk in to The Bear Café, we're met by the pre-existing retail area that still sells vegan threads, belts, hats and other ethically-aware accessories. To the back of this white-washed retailer-come-café is a makeshift kitchen bearing the scars of a previous warehouse existence. Naked beams hang above while the front of the shop finds space for a small handful of utilitarian tables and barber-style seats. Outside, more seating is free for some of the overflow. The window cradles a table and cushions so we can nestle ourselves against windowsill seat backs. The pane pours sunny warmth over our faces that have been bitten by the early morning cool outside.
Atmospheric music plays happily while we're left to peruse the menu. Our waitress is immediate in delivering water to the table and she's keen to anticipate our coffee order. Within what seems like seconds a soy cappuccino is delivered. It's a carefully balanced blend of espresso, warmed milk and thick creamy froth. Amongst origami cranes, trinkets and dainty sugar pots near our table we find VIP business cards. Before The Bear Café started serving all-day breakfast, coffees were prepared for Brunswick Street clientele and hand-delivered to retailers in the area. This coffee delivery service for Brunswick Street businesses and shops still exists and is available on request.
What we find on the menu is a concise list of vegan short-order items. All dishes are $10 and under and the choices are tempting, healthy and filling – toasties with an array of fillings and melted vegan cheese, home-made muesli with coconut yoghurt and seasonal fruits, chunky fruit toast "with real fruit", or plain toast served with a decent side of guacamole. I opt for the Big Bear Brekkie, a plate filled with scrambled tofu, spiced house-style baked beans in tomato, wilted spinach, mushrooms and guacamole, all piled on multigrain toast and peppered with dukkah. I notice on the menu that the guacamole is served with chilli so I ask our waitress if the guacamole is spicy. She goes to the unprompted trouble of bringing me a sample to try so I can determine the spiciness for myself. Such attention makes me feel like a genuine friend of this establishment.
The food arrives and exceeds expectations in terms of size, flavour and value. It's enough to set me up for both brekkie and lunch all while sending me into food-coma hibernation. Bottled juices, herbal tea and flavoured coconut crushes can also be ordered to accompany any breakfast chosen. Our waitress insists that both vegans and non-vegans alike love it here and are very satisfied with what they consume.
If it's too early for a sweet treat, then vegan cupcakes, chocolate and cheese are available to purchase and take away. Cupcakes are supplied by Mister Nice Guy and Merry Cupcakes, plus the staff make some on the premises too. A $7 coffee and cupcake deal is an option should you need an extra espresso hit for the road.
So, back to the coffee. Was it the best in the universe? It's a big call but mine came pretty darn close!
Please note that VEGAN is NOT the same as VEGETARIAN. VEGAN means not using ANY products from animals; so, a vegan person will not eat cheese or eggs or drink milk or eat any products with milk or eggs.