We are blessed in Melbourne with a terrific cafe culture, which provides a wide range of experiences. Some cafes are hip, some are slick, some do great coffee art or pipe groovy tunes.
Some cafes make you feel like you are visiting an old friend, welcoming you with warm, relaxed atmospheres - Mannafest Cafe is one of those cafes. And it's not even in Melbourne - it's in Yea, 98 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, and a pitstop on the way to Lake Eildon, Mansfield and the snowfields.
Don't misunderstand me though - the relaxed atmosphere doesn't mean the owners are relaxed about what they serve. The food and (most importantly for Melburnians) the coffee is fab here. Set next to Gallery 34 in Yea's main street, and in fact occupying part of the gallery as well, this cafe is a real find. But it's easy to miss - the front of the cafe is narrow and a little dark. Don't pass it by though, it's worth the visit.
The first thing that struck me as I walked in with my daughter was the quirky and comfortable furniture and furnishings. The mix of new, old and handmade worked very well, even in the fairly small space, and immediately made me feel like sitting down and taking my time. My daughter loved looking around at everything - the artwork on the walls (most for sale), the rustic furniture, the display of beautiful handmade soaps, the wall of delicious-looking preserves.
Gorgeous handmade soaps and gorgeous-smelling lotions
She was quite interested in the floral display in the middle of the table - actually a spray of fresh herbs, a nice touch. The tables were a mix of the laminate ones your nanna used to have, and wooden - including a big round one that can seat about six people - with vintage chairs to match. Maybe that's why I felt at home at Mannafest - it felt like my grandmother's place, where we used to get fed to the eyeballs, sitting around old tables where a scratch or two didn't matter.
But enough about the decor, you say - what about the coffee? I'm very pleased to report that the coffee was excellent. I have soy lattes (yes, I'm one of them) and usually they are weak and not great, but the coffee at Mannafest was strong and creamy, exactly how it should be.
The food was delicious too. The owners of Mannafest take great pride in the quality of their produce, and some of the fruit, vegetables and preserves come from their own garden. They focus on local, freerange and organic supply including Tom's Paddock eggs, Wild Crust sourdough, Lillydale Free-range Chicken, and Yarra Valley Dairy cheese.
My daughter is a fussy eater, so she opted for the ricotta pancakes for lunch, without the poached fruit and I think there was also yoghurt, but with the maple syrup ($18 for full serve). You order your meals and coffee at the counter, and the lady taking my order offered unprompted to do a half-serve for my daughter, which was appreciated. The pancake (one is a half serve), slathered in maple syrup, was big and fluffy and moist, yummy. A full serve would have been very filling.
I had the baked egg and bacon baskets with tomato and basil, served with sourdough ($14). This was a truly unique breakfast - I have never seen this anywhere else, though maybe it's a new thing. It looked like the eggs had been poached in the bacon with the tomato and basil, then put under the griller to crisp off the top. However they did it, it was delicious. This is however the only egg offering on the breakfast menu.
Egg and bacon baskets - delish, and check out the gorgeous plate
Next time, I'd like to try the French Toast made with Wildcrust Fruit & Spice Sourdough Toast with MannaFest Berry Jam ($8), or the avocado and Yarra Valley Persian Feta on sourdough toast ($12).
The lunch menu has some good-sounding offerings too - vegetarian rice paper rolls made daily ($12), and an impressive Sausage Roll selection, including Cyclist's Roll (with chicken, brie, spinach and pine nuts), Beef Sausage Roll (with sweet chili, plum and mint, wrapped in puff pastry), and Karon's Vegetable Roll (roasted MannaFest vegie mix wrapped in puff pastry) - all $20. Or you could try a fennel, apple and pork pizza with thin crusty olive oil base ($20), or grilled free-range chicken sandwich with crispy bacon, grilled tomatoes, avocado mayo and greens ($20).
The coffee was so good I forgot to photograph it! Note the herb arrangement on the table
The cafe is licensed, so you can try their selection of wines, beers, ciders, and a brewed ginger beer (Dawnie). These are sourced locally, from suppliers including Sedona Estate, Brave Goose, Delatite Winery, Philip Lobley and Plunkett Fowles 490 Metres, Jamieson Brewery, Hargreaves Hill and Punt Rd. If you prefer to pass on the alcoholic beverages, you might want to try their homemade berry or citrus syrups with sparkling or still water, which are served by the glass or the jug. There are also fresh juices, including some interesting sounding combos, or you can concoct your own combination. If you feel like something a bit out of the ordinary, perhaps sample their Khmer coffee – black coffee on ice with a generous drizzle of condensed milk.
Meals are served on cute mismatched crockery, the pretty type that used to come in sets and be saved for special occasions. Breakfast is served till about 12pm, and lunch is served till about 3pm. The kitchen is small but busy, and the staff are all very friendly considering the pressure they are under. They don't hide away - you could walk into the kitchen if you wanted to, and you can just about stand next to the person making the coffee, who is not hidden away behind a counter.
They also have a funky outdoor area, with vintage seats and throw cushions. It's probably getting a bit chilly now to go out there, but on the sunny Autumn day we were there, some people were out there soaking up the season's last remaining rays. On the other side of the courtyard, there is the entrance to Gallery 34, which is well worth a look.
The outdoor area includes pots of edibles, which will appear in your meal!
I can't emphasise enough how great this cafe feels. I felt right at home; no pressure to hurry up and go, and a warm atmosphere that encourages you to wander around and explore the space. In a town that has its fair share of boring takeaway shops (plus a couple of okay bakeries), this place is a standout. I will definitely be back.