There’s a review on Garden Foods’ Facebook page that goes like this:
“In summing up: it's the constitution, it's Mabo, it's justice, it's law, it's the vibe and...aaah no that's it, it's the vibe. I rest my case.”
We couldn’t have said it better. It’s appropriate that Jewell Station is just over the road, because Garden Foods is an absolute backstreet gem.
Part 1: the garden. With a name like Garden Foods, you’d expect some greenery, but ‘indoors’ and ‘outdoors’ are relative terms here.
You’ve got a charming little courtyard studded with cumquats, coriander, dill, a maze of sugarsnap peas, old apple boxes full of parsley, potted trees and higgledy-piggledy timber planters. Inside you’ve got ferns and hanging boxes, chunky wooden benches and a big old industrial vaulted ceiling. The nearest equivalent would probably be Native Home House Of Plants in Abbotsford.
Ex-chef and carpenter Ryan Parker runs the show here. In fact he built every single bit himself. The tables, the benches, the interior fit-out (this used to be the old Nice One cafe). He found the ferns at a mate’s place up in the bush.
“The first thing I did was paint everything white,” he says. “It used to be this Ronald McDonald yellow.”
He also cooks a lot of the food, getting up at the crack of dawn to bake gnarly homemade chicken pies and sausage rolls, which he sells to hungry tradies for $5 (along with some spinach and house relish).
Part two: the menu. It's kind of charming, full of the sort of soul-warming food your Mum made you as a kid. Creamy Jap & Butternut pumping soup that coats the spoon (and comes with a big puff of curry). House-made lentils and beans with baby kale, salsa and Meredith goat’s cheese. The cumquats go into the icing on Ryan’s signature carrot cakes.
What really sets Garden Foods apart though is the ‘roaming concept’. Ryan wants this to be Melbourne’s first ‘nomadic cafe’. Not a pop-up (he hates that word), but a concept that lives for a while in one space, then takes over another. Maybe an old warehouse, or a derelict building, or some dead space down a laneway.
“Everything’s designed to be picked up and moved somewhere else,” he says. “Everything’s flat packed. The apple box planters, the tables, the kitchen gear. It can all be loaded onto the back of a ute. Every six months or so we’ll move and set up somewhere else.”
Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White