Review: Admiral Cheng-Ho

Six centuries ago, a towering Muslim eunuch and visionary named Zheng He, commanded the Ming dynasty’s fleet of trading vessels on expeditions as far west as Africa – later Romanised as Admiral Cheng-Ho. The Admiral and his fleet are regarded as being among the wonders of the world.

Marwin Shaw, owner of Balaclava’s Monk Bodhi Dharma, himself may be regarded as a kind of visionary, who is unafraid of venturing out into “tough-to-crack” locations and finding treasures. He has defied odds once again, by turning a tired sandwich shop in the duller part of Abbotsford into a bustling café.

Mum and I had driven part this place countless times (the first few times we didn't even realise it was a cafe, just assumed from its beat-up exterior that it was an abandoned shopfront), and decided it was time to finally venture inside. For the first time since we've gotten Jack the puppy, we were able to sit inside because we didn't bring Jack with us - a luxury I had taken for granted until now. Eating inside during winter, where it's warm, and I'm able to feel my fingers, is such a good feeling.

Check out those single origin options! Some of the flavour combinations that included mum and I were: Brazil "Fazenda Rainha Da Paz" - medium thick body, honey, chocolate and caramel and Guatemala "La Maravilla" - well balanced and heavy bodied with notes of dark chocolate, plum, and roasted hazelnuts (would you have guessed we have a secret sweet tooth?)
Coffee is Shaw, and Admiral Cheng-Ho’s, strong point. The impressive coffee counter operates six simultaneous grinders, all filled with different single-origin beans, all from unique parts of the world and all boasting unique flavour combinations. When mum and I went, the beans on offer were sourced from Ethiopia, El Salvador, Guatemala twice, Kenya, and Brazil. Sometimes, they even feature an ultra-premium bean that can go for around $20 a cup. So these guys really know what they’re doing when they make you a cup of coffee. They also serve up a range of fair-trade teas.

My menu option: Umami Mushrooms (GF/VG) - slow roasted king oyster, shitake, oyster, and swiss brown mushrooms on a house made pumpkin, spinach, and sun dried tomato polenta bread. Served with almond feta cheese, thyme, and red chilli oil (with a dairy feta optional). You guys know how much I like polenta, and you should know how much I love mushrooms, so you can probably guess I really dug this meal. (Admittedly it's not the prettiest thing to look at but appearance doesn't matter when you're stuffing it into your mouth at the rate that I was). 
The menu is strictly vegetarian and vegan, but don’t let that deter you – the menu has a wide variety of options (including three daily specials available as well) and uses ingredients that you’re comfortable with and you’ll recognise (especially if you’ve been to Monk Bodhi Dharma, which has some similar dishes). And more importantly, the food they dish up is tasty as. How ironic though that the week after I decide to eat meat again, we go to a vegetarian and vegan friendly cafe. Where was this place for the past six months?

Mum was in more of a lunchy mood and decided to pick a more lunch appropriate dish off the specials board: roasted pumpkin and quinoa salad with sweet potato, basil, tomato, and activated nuts. I tasted some of this dish and it was a crunchy delight and mum also enjoyed it.  
The interior fit-out and furnishings are handmade by Shaw himself from a mix of salvaged timbers and recycled materials – stools adorned with pennies that once belonged to his mother and caged light fittings. There are also features that are a nod to the cultural corners of Melbourne: coloured planks of timber resembling a beach house on the south wall, white minimalism on the east wall, and rustic exposed brick on the west wall. Mum and I sat in the very back corner of the café, and I got a great view of the inner sanctum of the kitchen as they made our lunch.

I don't know if this is meant to be a portrait of Admiral Cheng-Ho, but if it is, I have to say he is one formidable looking dude. This is the kind of new wave take on old school art that can be found throughout the interior of Admiral Cheng-Ho. 
There's no denying it: this place is "cool". It's cool in all the ways that cafes are trying to be cool now - experts in coffee, using premium, organic, and purely vegetarian ingredients, and a severely laid back attitude, but not one that's alienating whilst you're there. Go on, step out of your comfort zone, you might like it so much that you return home a vegetable loving, coffee drinking hippie. Peace.

Admiral Cheng-Ho
325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford
9534 7250

Mon - Fri: 6am to 4pm
Sat - Sun: 8am to 5pm


Admiral Cheng-Ho on Urbanspoon

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