It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday and we’ve taken the drive out to Minmi. It’s been a while since I’ve been out this way and viewing it with fresh, older eyes makes the little village seem quaint and peaceful.
Nestled in a back street is the old courthouse. But these days, rather than busting baddies, it houses goodness. True Goodness that is, otherwise known as Bonta Vera – a vegan cafe open for breakfast and lunch which boasts Newcastle’s first 100% plant-based menu.
The building is historic, rustic, and charming. It’s surrounded by gardens and gum trees and has views across to the Watagans from the back of the building. There's a big wrap-around verandah with lace wrought iron. The room is open and the floors are hardwood. Stained glass windows and ceiling roses surround hungry customers who want to be here, not criminals who would rather not.
It's only 12.15pm but already there's people waiting for a table. It's partly because it's growing in popularity through a savvy social media presence (despite only being open for five weeks) and partly because there’s not a lot of seating. Well, there is, but there's only tables for four or six people, which leaves all groups of two taking up more room than necessary by hogging a large table if it's the only one left. We are told by a waitress to wait on one of the pews that line two of the walls or to get takeaway. Meanwhile, a table of 12 leaves, freeing up a six-seater for the two of us to sit at.
The lunch menu, available from 11am and ordered at the bar, reads fairly straightforward: burgers, pies, schnitzels and so on. Except all the meat and dairy products – the beef patties, the fish burger, the slices of cheese – are actually plant-based.
I've always found faux-meat to be a little strange in its purpose. If you're against eating bacon (either ethically or for health reasons), why develop something that looks, smells and tastes like it, just so you can still pretend you're eating bacon? But that’s just me – for those who need the masquerade to help transition, or those who just enjoy the idea of chomping into a cheeseburger, then the Bonta Vera offerings will appeal.
The cafe uses a product range called Gardein. This company has won awards for their innovation in vegan food and one look at their ingredient list and you can see there’s nothing weird going into them. The beef patties that come out on the Triple Threat classic cheeseburger (with cheese, onion and sauce), that arrive pretty quickly despite the rush of the room, are meaty, juicy and look just like mince patties. The chicken schnitzel has the little golden crumbs and the texture and smell of chicken. The cheese slices are yellow and stretchy, they are even melting from the heat off the patties.
The taste is almost authentic - I can’t actually believe I’m eating plants. It’s incredible really and I feel so full afterwards (or was it all those chips that came with them?) that we opt to take a slice of the creamy rose and vanilla cheesecake home with us for later.
Other offerings on the menu include salads (chicken caesar, thai beef, roast vegetable) and sandwiches (club, chicken, salad, ham). In fact, more items use the pretend meat than not. It’s a bit of a novelty, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to a vegan diet than facon.
During our visit, the staff we see are a bit flustered and at times, a little abrupt. It seems at odds with the fact there is no table service and the simplicity of the menu. With time and evaluation, this will no doubt be addressed. Moving the cash register and queue to order food away from the door where the meals come out might prevent a future disaster too.
The current menu at Bonta Vera relies heavily on imitation, but the fact is, the place is packed and all these people have come to Minmi just to eat fake burgers in nice surroundings. Vegans must be rejoicing there is now a cafe purely dedicated to eating without any harm being done to animals.