Few places will see you torn between Japanese braised pork, taco rice and an award-winning vegan pie, but that’s the scenario you're facing at the recently launched Manmaru in Dulwich Hill. Locals noticed the former Graff Caff was turning Japanese (I really think so) at the start of the year, with a name change and menu shift. Husband and wife owners Erich and Takako Fasolin are still on-board, but Manmaru – which translates to perfect circle in Japanese – means Takako’s baking pop-ups now have a permanent home.
At the counter you’ll find a baking cabinet filled with yuzu (Japanese citrus) cookies, white chocolate matcha brownies and gluten-free matcha friands. If the vegan ginger caramel apple crumble pie is in there, get your mitts on it. This beauty took out bronze at the 2017 Sydney Royal Fine Food Show. Score one for the plant-eaters. Their vegan pie – roasted pumpkin and chickpea in a crumbly pastry made using Nuttelex, took home a silver medal in the same competition.
Meat eaters can celebrate too. Manmaru’s grass-fed beef pie is made with Black Bunny dark ale by local brewers Willie the Boatman in St Peters. Even better is th efact that the café’s alcohol license means you can wash it down with a Kirin or Young Henry’s brew.
The rest of the menu yields a quirky collection of Japanese-leaning dishes. Scrambled eggs are mixed with koji (the same type of culture used to make soy sauce and sake). Crispy mochi dumplings are stuffed with tofu, cabbage and quinoa. Our money is on the heartier offerings like the kakunidon – sticky and tender simmered pork belly in a bowl of brown and white rice with soy sauce eggs and salad. Taco rice swaps out corn chips for organic brown and white rice, draped with tomatoes, cheese, lettuce and a sauced up textured vegetable protein that looks just like beef mince.
Be warned: seating is limited and service can be slow and distracted, but that just means more time to decide whether you’ll have the matcha cookie crumble or homemade chocolate ice magic on your vegan vanilla bean or salted caramel ice cream.