“A burger is simple, but it seems to make a lot of people happy” –…
When our fearless leader, Amanda, tasked me with reviewing Canberra’s top 5 healthy cafés a few months ago, at first I was a little hesitant.
Cafe food is not usually known for being particularly healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a BLT as much as the next person, but whenever I’ve done nutrient analysis on cafe menus or meals I usually come to the same conclusion. Cafe food is delicious, of course, but usually laden with fat, sugar and salt and often unnecessarily high in energy. Not to mention being a poor source of vegetables.
Being the adventurous type, I thought: “Heck, show me what you’ve got Canberra!” and off I went on a healthy cafe crawl and was pleasantly surprised. Here are my top five healthy cafés in Canberra.
Located in Phillip, this local business takes my number one spot. Quizine’s signature dish is a Fit Meal. And I’m impressed. The concept is that you can create your favourite meal by choosing a combination of a protein source, a healthy carbohydrate source, a healthy fat source and some extra sides. I was like: “OMG this is what I teach my clients!”
On my first visit, with my mum, I had my first Fit Meal of quinoa tabouli, tandoori chicken breast, avocado and a side of aioli. It was great. The meal came out hot, the chicken was perfectly cooked and not dry, the tabouli was fresh and flavoursome, the avocado ripe and it was perfectly filling. Not too little, not too much. I also tried a juice with orange, ginger and other things… I’m not a huge fan of juice, but it was good.
The thing that I like most about this place is that it’s so simple. There are not many places I know that serve up a plate of broccoli, sweet potato, chicken breast, a portion of avo and some sauce on the side. This was my meal on my second visit and again I was impressed.
You’ve got to be pretty confident in the kitchen to serve up food that speaks for itself without the addition of flavours and sauces laden with fat, salt and sugar. The meal was so transparent that I knew exactly how much energy I was eating off the top of my head (about 400 calories – which is awesome for a cafe meal). When I eat at other cafés, this is almost impossible to do.
My mum ate a chicken salad and a shake for her meal and said it was really delicious. So full of vegetables! One of The Healthy Eating Hub’s interns, Mariana, who is a vegetarian, had a Fit Meal with brown rice, quinoa tabouli and a vegie fritter and really enjoyed her meal as well. We liked that they serve the sauce on the side, which is a common tip for making healthy choices when eating out, so you can moderate your intake.
Overall the meals were a great source of vegetables, they offered high fibre sources of carbohydrate, they tasted great and the coffee was good. A Fit Meal will cost you around $14-$18 depending on how many extras you order.
Local Press is definitely a new favourite of mine. It’s got the whole funky/cosy vibe thing going. Combining this with a delicious whole foods menu, it takes my number two spot.
Set on the trendy new Kingston Foreshore, you can warm up with a hot cup of coffee whilst sitting in the sunlight coming through the windows, looking out over the water. With trendy decor and fit out, it’s genuinely is a really nice place to just sit and enjoy. I’ve been there three times now. If it’s for business and I keep my receipts I can write it off, right?
So let’s get down to business and talk about the food. Oh the food. I love a cooked breakfast. Eggs are one of God’s little gifts to us and you can eat them in so many delicious ways at Local Press.
At my first visit I had a Green Pea Pancake and a kale, apple, lemon and ginger cold pressed juice. The pancake came with poached eggs, fresh herbs, a tomato relish thing and feta. Wow! Super yum! On other visits I’ve had eggs and ham on toast and poached eggs, smoked salmon and avocado on toast. I really like the use of rye bread, a great source of fibre, whole foods such as eggs, avocado, tomatoes and fresh herbs and they don’t go overboard with sauces, oils and spreads.
Whilst the pancake dish was so large that I couldn’t finish it, the other meals were a really great portion size and left me feeling really satisfied but not ‘stuffed’. It’d be tricky to estimate the energy content of the meals without being able to analyse the recipes, but I’d say, that most of their menu is not too bad.
My only critique is that although their meals do have more vegetables than the average cooked breakfast, I wouldn’t rate them as being a great source of vegetables. Most cafés could always do this better, in my opinion.
Local Press pride themselves on offering whole, minimally processed, locally sourced foods and I think they’re doing a pretty good job of that. You can eat a meal with a coffee or juice for $20-$25.
Maple & Clove
Set in the beautiful Realm precinct, this wholefoods cafe aims to offer seasonal, locally sourced, minimally processed foods that promote good health. With a sunny outlook and trendy vibe, Maple & Clove takes my third spot.
I was really impressed on my visit to Maple and Clove. Great food, great vibe, great coffee. I took my friend and coach, Jamie Osborne, and tasked him with coffee and food snobbery – I wanted an honest critique of the food (the man can lift over 100kg on a bad day, he has the appetite of wildebeast and will pretty much eat anything).
Their menu has fabulous variety. I both love and hate this. I love it because of the possibilities and I hate it because I can’t eat it all at once. They have a vast breakfast menu offering other alternatives to eggs (good for me to know as my husband has a egg allergy and finding places with good non-egg breakfast options can be tricky) and then other meal options from salads, soups, burgers and curries.
I ended up settling on the curry of the day and Jamie had a thai beef salad. Jamie ate his salad in less than five minutes. He said it was light, fresh and zesty (very articulate for him). My curry was really yummy with tender lamb, beautiful cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and a perfectly portioned pile of brown rice. I actually couldn’t finish it, much to Jamie’s delight who happily ate my leftovers.
Overall I liked their whole grain, higher fibre carbohydrate source options and a good portion of their meal options contained a decent amount of vegetables.
This little gem, situated just opposite the carousel on the corner of City Walk and Petrie Plaza is a vegan and vegetarian cafe catering for a range of special diets from gluten free to diary free and it takes my number 4 spot.
We can learn a lot from a vegan diet. Not because animal foods are bad for us, even a vegan diet can be unhealthy, but because a smart vegan diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and minimally processed grains and these foods are good for us.
I’m a meat eater. I really like milk and yoghurt, I eat these daily. Meat, poultry and seafood feature weekly in my diet. I would, however, cook at least 1 or 2 vegetarian meals each week because I don’t feel the need to have meat in everything! Let’s just say I was really looking forward to trying a vegan meal.
And it didn’t disappoint. I ordered a chilli-non-carne (such a clever name, love food puns) and a bliss ball. Both were fantastic and I’d definitely eat them again. The chilli-non-carne was a very tasty mix of slow-cooked beans, coleslaw, avocado, tomato, coriander salsa and tortilla chips. It was crunchy, warm, super tasty and the perfect portion size. Followed with a bite-sized sweet treat, it was a really great lunch.
My only critique is that I’ve had better coffee elsewhere, but to be honest, I wouldn’t go to V-Spot for the coffee (unless I wanted a milk alternative other than soy), I’d go for what they are specialising in which is good quality vegan and vegetarian food.
Chrissy, the owner, is really passionate about what she does and I really enjoyed chatting to her about her passion for fresh food. You can find out more on their website.
Overall, eating at the V Spot is a great way to include vegetables in your diet as well as other nutritious foods that many Aussies don’t eat much of such as legumes and beans. Lunch and a bliss ball will cost you less than $15.
Number 5 on the list is the funky little vegan, organic cafe in Lonsdale St Traders, Sweet Bones. It’s a strictly vegan cafe except they do offer full cream milk in their coffee for those of you that only cows milk will do. For the owners of Sweet Bones veganism is a lifestyle, not just an eating pattern.
Their food is sourced from Organic Energy in Griffith and the cafe owners have been vegans themselves for many years, for both ethical and health reasons. They believe there is a good vegan culture in Canberra, however, about 80% of clients who enjoy the whole fresh food are not vegans themselves.
Eating at Sweet Bones was my very first vegan meal, ever. I regularly cook vegetarian meals but it always has some kind of animal product present. I ordered the sourdough, roast pumpkin, hummus and sun-dried tomato sandwich and a green kale and banana smoothie. Both were delicious and very filling. The sandwich was whole meal, thick cut sourdough with a decent serve of roast pumpkin, salad greens and the tasty extras. It was a great flavour combination!
Green smoothies are all the rage right now, and although not the cheapest thing to drink (cost me $8), it’s almost a meal in itself with banana, juice, avocado and kale.
Lonsdale St Traders is a funky place to visit but I did find the atmosphere a little dark and it was a really cold day and sitting in the cafe didn’t make me much warmer.
Overall, eating a vegan meal can be a great way to up your vegetable intake and increase variety in your diet. A vegan diet, if well planned, is high in fibre, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin E.
One important note is that Sweet Bones specialises in vegan cakes and treats. And just because they’re vegan doesn’t mean they’re particularly healthy. So with all treats, eat and enjoy in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.