Teacher educator and author of many teacher reference books. Amused by random ideas and loves random acts of kindness. Enjoys writing humour...seriously!Please see my Instagram: wilsonjeni
Published January 11th 2015
Unique Menu- They Even Have a Dog’s Brekkie For Your Pooch
Resist this if you can
You wouldn't think Eltham needed another great café but here we are at Café Zen Den. It bears the old sign of the previous bike shop and at first glance does not appear to have a car park. It seems like an unlikely place to have successful café but it's packed and bustling full of patrons who already know about the Zen Den secret.
Yes… look for the bike sign
This is a comfy café and that's exactly how the owner Julie wants it. She's a true blue gutsy go getter. Julie told me that a few years back she decided that she would spend her divorce settlement on setting up a café. She had experience in the trade and thought if worse came to worst she would have a small café in the front room and live in the rest of the building. The Zen Den is deceptively big with tables spread across three spaces: a room for families and groups, a quieter room, and an outdoor garden space.
Outdoor and indoor spaces
Julie works ten hours a day and seven days a week and absolutely loves it. She has lived in Eltham all her life and has never been happier. Currently open for breakfast and lunch, Julie is trying to get a liquor license so she can open some nights. Imagine the hours she will be working then!
Julie's daughters E.J. and Britt also work at Café Zen Den and helped furnish the restaurant. It's eclectic with a mix of furniture (including a cable reel table and reel chairs) and funky decor accessories selected by the staff. They shopped at Savers, Schots and other stores to get the eclectic, industrial, little bit of everything look. E.J. said that spending money on decking out the shop was her favorite part.
Take time to have a good look around. My kids were amused by the 'sloppy painting of the blackboard'
From what I have learnt from Julie, she must be one of the most positive, resilient role models around for young women. She has bounced back from her personal misfortune, the robbery of her shop just before opening and now a lengthy, fruitless battle for signage. And Julie she says she has a new lease on life and has never been happier!
One thing I noticed was how relaxed the waiting staff looked. They looked like a bunch of friends mingling in the same space enjoying their time together. Julie credits them with a lot of the styling decisions.
Perfect for a cosy conversation
Café Zen Den caters for families, younger couple and an older clientele. Julie said she wanted it to be a cafe for all comers who could come in their thongs or bare feet if they wanted to. Café Zen Den also have take away, cater for conferences and events and hold functions.
And now for the main reason you must try out the Zen Den… the food. You can have brekky all day (but note the kitchen closes at 2.30 week days and 3pm on weekends). They cater for vegans (apparently they have a lot), vegetarian and and gluten free. A young local chef makes all the unique GF and vegan desserts. Cashews are the secret ingredient as an alternative to cheese in cheesecake.
Not your predictable selection of desserts
If we had known how big the servings were, we might have ordered less but, then we wouldn't have been able to share in a range of the delights the Zen Den has to offer. The Big Brekkie is always a good price comparison (a bit like the international Big Mac comparison). At Café Zen Den this is $20.
We chose the poached pear and walnut salad. This is served with your choice of chicken, smoked salmon or tofu lightly tossed through wild baby rocket. The walnuts are honey glazed and delicious. The salad also has fresh shaved parmesan cheese and olive oil.
Pear and walnut salad with a generous serve of smoked salmon
The baby beet and lentil salad was a real hit with my 12 year old daughter and that says something. The baby beets are slow roasted with high quality goat's cheese, walnuts, green lentils, mint and verjus dressing.
If you just want something small, from 11.30 pm they have a list of great options for example, duo dips for $10 or rice paper rolls for only $9.
Baby beet and lentil salad
I highly recommend the berry Zen smoothie served in a jar. This was mixed berries, natural yoghurt and cinnamon. My daughter is a bit of a sweet tooth and thought it wasn't sweet enough but I thought it was perfect. This was $7.50 but big enough for two people and almost a meal in itself.
The kid's big breakfast included a poached egg, bacon, homemade hash brown on toasted sour dough. This was $12. Under the kid's brekky section they have (and I kid you not) a Dog's brekkie for $4. When I first read this I thought it sounded like something I slop on the table after work while rushing to make the footy practice run on time. But no, it's so your pooch can dine on their sausages and bacon… presumably outside.
Very flash for a kid's meal
I wish I'd asked Julie why she chose the name Zen Den. I wonder if it has anything to do with Buddhism and the idea of providing for the benefits of others. They say that in serving others you receive much happiness. Julie is working tirelessly to provide a unique café experience to all who drop by and obviously reaping the rewards of her efforts as she is smiling from ears to ear.
You are in for a few pleasant surprises when you visit Cafe Zen Den. I have to ask the obvious question: How could you not like this café? We came in with a couple of moody children but left smiling and happily contented…. That's priceless!
Absolutely love it. We had lunch there on the weekend. The corn fritters were amazing and the tandoori chicken pizza delicious. So many choices that all look great we'll be back next week to try something else
Loved the surroundings and the coffee but really disappointed with the very dry and tasteless fruit toast ($9.50). When I read that it was Abbotsford Convent sourdough fruit bread I thought it would be great. The friendly staff said they would tell the chef but that was little consolation for me.