Lentil As Anything is an excellent, non-profit cafe in Melbourne (and I think there’s one in Sydney too). There are two branches here, one in St Kilda and one in Abbotsford. I visited the one in Abbotsford and I liked it so much I had to go back again on my last day as somewhere I knew I needed to go back to at least one more time before moving on. I’ll tell you the reasons why, and it wasn’t just because the food was the best I had in Melbourne.
When you walk into the cafe the first thing you notice is the funky decor, tiles decorated with people’s messages, tree branches hanging from the ceiling decorated with cool things, colourful pieces of artwork and a massive piece of graffiti on the wall behind the food area. The tables are large and set for sharing with different chairs gathered around. There is a sheltered and inviting outdoor area with, at least on both occasions I was here, an acoustic guitar player and a view of the courtyard. Music playing is eclectic and could be anything from electroswing to world music. As soon as you enter, you want to stay: it certainly is very welcoming.
The cafe is vegetarian with the majority of the dishes being vegan-friendly or a vegan option. It is very casual too which suits me down to the ground; when you arrive you take a place in line, grabbing your own plate and cutlery. There are several dishes you can choose from, when I was there it was some excellent salads, one with a creamy and flavoursome tahini dressing and wholesome grains like quinoa and barley, a spiced biryani, a veggieful couscous, onion and cabbage pakoras with a coconut and tomato sambal, a warming carrot thai curry and a chocolate cake, but it changes daily. There are also some amazing teas and coffees to select from including homemade chai options, all offering soy milk. You order these from your table. You help yourself to the food you want, totally getting enough but being encouraged not to take more than you can manage. It all tastes incredible, filling and, as an added bonus, healthy.
It’s the mission statement and philosophy of the cafe that makes it amazing. Lentil As Anything is a non-profit charity organisation that is based on ‘trust, generosity and social inclusion.’ It wants people to enjoy their food and restaurant space without the divide that money can cause. There are no prices on the menu because of this. You are encouraged to contribute towards the meal but there is no pressure to. If you donate $5 it won’t cover the cost of the meal, but perhaps you could pick up a volunteer shift to support the charity. The contribution is optional, and doesn’t have to be monetary. $10 will cover your meal cost, but $15 will cover all overheads, like electricity, water and gas as well. However if you want to pay for someone’s meal like someone new in the country, someone who can’t afford their dinner or someone who needs a friend, you could put in extra. There is no pressure and what you pay is anonymous, in the Abbotsford branch this is in a locked chest. What’s also great is that it’s really easy to get involved in volunteering here with two days every week where you can sign up and get trained. Simply all you have to do is to be there.
You feel like you are part of a community effort here, and something bigger than just getting yourself a plate of delicious food. You clear your plate at one of the stations near the exits, are trusted to pay what you can and walk out feeling happier. An added bonus if you’re at Abbotsford is that you are surrounded by a beautiful garden, perfect for a snooze in the sunshine to digest your lunch. I really recommend you try this place, and if there isn’t something like this in your city, maybe like me, you will start thinking that there should be.