The Vegie Bar, 380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
Open 11am-10pm, Licensed
Accepts some credit cards and EFTPOS
Tel: 9417 6935
Starters $3-5, Wraps/Burgers/Pizzas, $7,50, Mains $10.50, Desserts $5
The best thing about the Vegie Bar is the varied choice you have in seating. Walk into the barn-like sunny room and you can choose to sit at tall stools at the front window and watch the boho Brunswick Street crowd amble by, on purple or orange retro swivel bucket seats at a communal table, on a side padded banquette, on a groovy upholstered sofa at a coffee table or at your traditional 4-legged wooden cafe table with wooden chairs.
Something for everyone, which I think is very much what the Vegie Bar is trying to do. A cross between a hippie vegetarian cafe and a sleek Brunswick Street bar, the Vegie Bar is a Fitzroy institution. Its clientele is representative of the area, a diverse mix of students, graphic designers from local studios, chic older bohemians in designer gear and hippie families with brightly dressed children. It's a vibrant, friendly place with the kind of vibe so many other cafes on that strip would kill for, but there's just one major problem. The food.
On my first visit to the Vegie Bar, a classic autumnal Melbourne Sunday - rain, hail and shine all in one day - my friend and I were just happy to escape the elements inside its warm buzzing atmosphere. Chosing between vegie burgers, pizzas and wraps on their small meals menu we settled on a couple of wraps. Mine was a roti wrap filled with lentils and it was adequate - warm, filling and tasty; the roti itself lightly fried and just the right side of chewy and elastic, the filling a mushy, tasteless disappointment which reminded me of the "everything stew" of my penniless student days. My friend replaced the wholemeal bun with a roti in his tempeh burger and loved it. We both ordered lemongrass tea ($2.50) as an accompaniment which was refreshing.
I recently visited again on a slow Monday lunchtime. Not as crowded or warm as on the Sunday but on the food front, very disappointing. The soup of the day, sweet potato, lemongrass, corn and chickpea tasted alright at first (although the copious amount of chickpeas in it made it more like stew than a soup) but my palate soon wearied of the cloying sweet taste. That it was obviously microwaved in the bowl in which it was served and lukewarm in patches didn't help me finish it either and I moved quickly on to my next course. For my main, buoyed by my previous roti experience I had lentil and potato curry with roti and brown rice. The roti was again scrumptious but the brown rice was dry and hard, the lentil and potato curry flavoured overridingly by cumin and not much else, rendering it inedible. I limped along to my dessert course and had a look at the well-presented dessert bar where I found the standard Brunswick street cafe cakes - sticky date pudding, fruit crumble, cheesecake and vegan chocolate cake all served with cream or ice cream. I ordered the chocolate cake, reasoning not much could go wrong there, and soon found myself scraping off and eating the admittedly delicious icing from a dry cake that tasted like the refrigerator where it lived.
To be fair, my fellow diners seemed to be enjoying their food and I noticed none of them left a crumb on their plates. Perhaps this is because they ordered more wisely -nachos, home made pizzas and burritos, food that is safe to order in basic vegetarian establishments. I think I just expected more carefully cooked and served food from the Vegie Bar, but I'll know better next time.