LIZ LOVE: Momo Wholefood Cafe

What: Momo Wholefood Cafe

Where: 10 William Street, East Maitland

Price: Salads, $12 to $14; thalis, $17.50 and $18.50; lunch plates, $6 to $17; fruit and vegetable juices, $5.50; desserts, $5.50; kids meals, $5 to $7.50

Chefs: Tenzin Lodue and Greg Higgs

Wines: BYO; the cafe serves a range of vegetable and fruit extractions and organic bottled fruit drinks

Vegetarian: Good selection of vegetarian; other food choices catered for

Hours: Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm; Saturday, 8am to 3pm

Bookings: 49337849

Bottom line: About $70 for lunch for two, including juices and coffee

About 15 years ago, a fine arts graduate named Linda set out on a backpacking odyssey. At length she found herself working as a volunteer in India where she met and fell in love with Tenzin, whose parents had fled Tibet in 1969 and joined the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles.

Six-and-a-half years later Linda and Tenzin returned to Linda’s home town, Newcastle, where Tenzin completed a fitting and machining apprenticeship as a mature-age student. But food was his real passion and this past January he and Linda took over the lease of the cafe at East Maitland’s Organic Feast grocery.

The grocery gives the cafe access to the freshest produce possible, which the chefs are quick to incorporate into an imaginative range of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. Carnivores are not forgotten; the specials board offers a chicken and soba noodle soup and chicken liver pate with salad and sourdough, and the main menu includes an organic beef steak sandwich with caramelised onions and salad on sourdough. The Byron Beef Organic pie range includes meat and poultry, and this is the only food in the cafe not made from scratch.

You must try the eponymous momos. These moreish little numbers, like a spicier version of Shanghai dumplings, have been described as Tibet’s unofficial national dish. Yak is the traditional meat filling but there aren’t too many yaks in East Maitland, so beef will have to do. It’s finely minced, given a liberal dose of onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric and cumin, then encased in a fine noodle-like wrapper, sealed and steamed. Tibetan food seems mild but don’t be deceived; these dumplings come with a side of sepen, a blow-your-head-off tomato-based chilli sauce.

Palak paneer in spinach sauce (fried ricotta or Indian paneer cheese in a spicy creamy spinach puree), reflects Tenzin’s North Indian upbringing. This, along with vegetarian or beef thalis, features on today’s specials board.

The thali is a large flat dish holding small bowls of curry, yellow dhal, golden cubes of potato speckled with spice, tangy yoghurt, tomato and spring onion raita, a crisp pappadam and fragrant steamed rice. The flavours are tasty but subtle rather than chilli hot.

A wide range of food choices are accommodated, so expect some surprises when it comes to the sweet treats. Raw lime tart is one of a range of small cakes using only dried fruit and nuts. This one has a base of ground date, coconut and cashew and a topping of pureed cashew, banana, lime and lemon juice. It’s gluten-free, unbaked and a little dry on the mouth, but goes well with coffee. Raw red raspberry ‘‘cheesecake’’ is a new addition, and the gluten-free almond tart with a fresh plum topping is good too.

The cafe is unlicensed but offers various fruit and vegetable juice extractions with or without ginger, lassi and fair trade coffee. Beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger goes down well.

Check out the daily salad specials and wraps, or come back for breakfast for the power porridge or smoked salmon rosti.

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