In Short: Manmaru is one of those rare cafes where you can find delicious food for meat-lovers, vegetarians, and even people with vegan and gluten-free dietary requirements. Together with great coffee, speciality drinks, and desserts that are so yummy, you almost forget they are actually good for you.
Locals at Dulwich Hill would remember the Graff Caff for its hip hop music and graffiti artwork. Owned by Erich and Takako Fasolin, it has always featured good food and great coffee, especially gluten-free and vegan pastry items handmade by owner Takako herself.
At the start of 2017, co-owner Erich went on a holiday, and when he came back, he was surprised that the café had undergone a make-over. It had a new name, and a new direction. Besides a name change from Graff Caff to Manmaru (meaning perfect circle in Japanese), the interior was re-designed by their daughter Lara, replacing the graffiti artworks with new-age exposed-brick walls and displays of abstract paintings by local Japanese artist Reiko Azuma. On the chalk board menu, there was a drawing of Buddha, with flowers and leaves falling from a tree, together with a little statue of a Buddhist monk sitting at the side of the ceiling in the café. There were also lots of green plants and cotton branches featured around the café to help give Manmaru a Japanese zen-feel when you stepped inside.
Keeping with the family theme, Takako has collaborated with her children to come up with a menu that is seasonal and relies on what’s available from their local providores. Their dishes are Japanese fusion with a balance of meat, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes so that everyone’s dietary preferences are catered for at Manmaru. Thankfully, with all the changes, they have decided to keep Takako’s exquisite baked goods in the revamped café, and she now has a proper space to showcase her talents.
Besides coffee, Manmaru has a range of unique flavoured hot and cold beverages, like their French earl grey and rose latte, or their lychee-rose milkshake which is suitable for vegans. High grade couverture chocolate is used in their hot chocolates and coffees, and their dark chocolate is even suitable for vegans, a proof that food that is good for you, can taste good at the same time.
If you have been reading our blog, you know that I love Matcha and chocolate, so there’s little hesitation in trying the White Choc Matcha Latte. The matcha flavour comes through in the latte with only the tiniest hint of bitterness. The drink is sweetened only by the addition of white chocolate, with no additional sugar added. It’s a well balanced latte, and I appreciate that it’s not overloaded with sugar as some matcha lattes can be.
To kick off our lunch, we start with the Koji Scrambled Egg with a side of miso butter glazed mushroom and toast. Koji, (a type of Japanese seasoning made from fermented steam rice, malt and salt) is used to season the scrambled egg, giving it an extra umami Japanese flavour. Black sesame seeds serves as garnish, while providing a contrast to the vivid yellow, as well as adding a crunchy texture. The large whole mushroom by itself is deliciously cooked to perfection, and the flavour further enhanced by the addition of the miso glaze. This dish starts off as being vegetarian but for an additional $4, you can add a side of a free range maple bacon sausage. If you are a meat lover, it is worth it, as it’s sourced from a neighbouring butcher Chrissy’s Cuts, who specialises in hand twisted sausages made with free range prime cuts with no gluten or preservatives. The sausage is full of mild, smoky flavours that enhances the meaty pork.
Aussies love their pies and quiches, and Takako’s pies have won medals at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show. Again, these are not your classic beef or chicken pie, or ham and cheese quiches. Takako has put her own twist on it, and the end result is a range of unique flavour combinations. Their best-seller is the oven roasted pumpkin, coriander and chicken pie, which was awarded the Gold Medal. Today however, we have decided to try her Beetroot, Tofu, Koji corn, Cherry Tomato Quiche with house made Salsa Verde. If the description sounds like a mouthful, so is the taste, because it really is spoonful’s of taste explosions with every bite. The short crust pastry is buttery, flaky, and melt-in-your-mouth crumbly, perfectly encasing the earthy and sweet flavours of beetroot and caramelised onion. The salad of rocket greens, apple, mustard seed, and fresh red cabbage works like a palate cleanser, and is refreshing. This quiche and salad dish is proof that vegan dishes can be healthy and delicious at the same time.
Takako is trained as a pastry chef and even back in Graff Caff days, she was known as their resident baker. With Manmaru, she is now able to properly flex her pastry skills and showcase her baking powers by offering a range of old favourites, as well as new creations.
Take for example their Matcha Blondie. A blondie is basically a dessert slice with a brownie texture, but has no chocolate in it. In traditional blondies, vanilla is used as the cocoa substitute, but In Manmaru’s case, they have chosen to add Matcha Maiden’s 100% Organic Pure Green Tea Powder, making this a zen-looking dessert, which perhaps should have been called a Greenie not a Blondie! Puns aside, this dessert is a haven for Matcha lovers. Not too sweet, with a slight bitter kick of matcha flavours for contrast, and swills of melted white chocolate on top, this is one dessert that you won’t feel too guilty indulging in.
Besides the Matcha Blondie, there is also the Coconut, Raspberry and Yuzu cake. What strikes you about this is the yellow cake at the bottom, contrasted with the bright pink icing on top. In case you are worried about artificial colouring, the bright pink colors are derived from raspberries. Kudos to Takako for her innovation on this! The cake is moist and dense, with a touch of citrus flavours from the yuzu, and rich coconut flavours. It definitely lives up to its description, showcasing each of the ingredients mentioned. And the best part? This cake is gluten-free!
One of Coco and Viner’s Sacha’s favourite dessert at Manmaru is their vegan Coconut-Caramel, Pear and Almond cake. Takako uses Inside Out‘s almond milk, made with filtered water and activated almonds, to bring out the almond flavours in this cake, The caramel gives it a slightly darker color, and the coconut imparts a rich nutty flavour. But the surprise in this dessert has to be the whole pear hidden inside. It is perfectly encased and cooked inside the cake, lending its juices and flavours throughout as it cooks. The end result is a perfectly cooked pear with the perfect balance of softness and crunchiness when you cut into the cake. A definite stroke of genius by Takako.
If you just want something small to end your meal on a sweet note, you should try the vegan Matcha-Yuzu Melting Moment. Shaped in the form of a flower with rose petals in the middle, this cookie is once again made using Matcha Maiden’s match powder. The contrast of flavours between the matcha and citrus works well, and results in a delicate cookie that you can eat in one bite, but you probably want to take small nibbles to savour the lingering flavours for as long as possible.
To go with the pastry, I sample a Flat White. On a street with a host of cafes, including a powerhouse of the cafe scene in Campos, I can imagine there must be pressure to deliver consistently good coffees. Manmaru’s owners trust Owen, their 17 year old son to deliver, and from the evidence presented, their confidence is well placed. A flat white which is smooth, full bodied and at a nice temperature that makes for a great coffee consuming experience. As with the produce, the coffee is local to the area and they have partnered with roaster Aroma and use their Ruby St blend.
When it comes to cooking, Takako believes that using ingredients that are in season allows her to price the dishes at an affordable level while at the same time ensuring that she gets the best flavours from ingredients harvested at their peak. It also allows her to vary the menu according to the different produce available at different times of the year. She doesn’t want to just cook food that will conform to popular dishes that would normally sell in similar cafés in the area. She would much prefer to cook from her heart and focus on food that she truly has a passion for. Takako also tries to keep Manmaru as a family business, with involvement from her husband, and also her son and daughter. By doing so, she has differentiated Manmaru from other cafes and created a niche for her business.