Wednesday 30 September 2009

Monsalvat Café – rustic charm

When I have had visitors from out of town, a favourite place to take them is the former artists’ colony at Monsalvat. The beautiful Medieval-style buildings have olde worlde charm and artistic flair. (I am sorry my photos don't do it justice but I hope they will give a feel for the place.) While they are not typical of Melbourne, the place gives an insight into the bohemian lifestyles of the mid 20th century.

Monsalvat was the vision of artist, Justus Jorgensen, who established the artists’ colony it in the 1930s in Eltham on the Northern fringe of Melbourne. You can still view his paintings on display in the impressive Great Hall. It is not hard to imagine bohemian gatherings around the ornamental pool on a summer evening. My dad has memories of visiting the colony when he was young and watching the artists at work. More fascinating this was where he had his brush with ‘fame’ as an extra in a film about the Christian Brothers. (What? You don’t know the film? Either do I!) The artists’ cottages are reminiscent of a rustic French village, albeit with gum trees. Peacocks add an extra touch of romanticism.

Today the public can view historic artwork and contemporary exhibitions in the Great Hall, the Barn Gallery and the Long Gallery. You can walk around admiring the buildings or enjoy a meal in the café. It is also a popular wedding venue with a small chapel (which I think I remember reading was moved here after being closed elsewhere in Melbourne) and banquet hall.

Every now and then E and I like to visit Monsalvat. The beauty nourishes the soul. We always keep an eye out for the disposable camera my mother in law lost on a visit here. Please let me know if you see it – she lost her photo of Katie Koala.

I also remember roaming the grounds with a teacher friend who spoke sternly to young boys who were chasing the peacocks. We all know it is bad luck to take a feather from the tail of a peacock. Much better to admire them.

A visit is not complete without a meal at the café. Like the rest of the buildings, it has a rustic charm with solid wooden beams, artwork on the walls and large windows. If you are lucky a peacock might strut by. The waiting staff are friendly and were very helpful on our last visit with finding a place for Sylvia’s pram.

My memory of meals in the past are of a soup that the above teacher complained did not have enough salt and a fantastic dense chocolate cake. I’ll cope with an underseasoned soup if I can have excellent cake. The food was delicious on our most recent visit at the start of this winter when the cold weather is still a shock to the system. We needed warming up.

The menu was a little posh and pricey. You can view it on the website (see link below) where it is described as ‘a modern interpretation of classical European cuisine’. It is interesting reading with tempting items such as cumin roasted baby beets or candied black olives. A menu to salivate and swither over. We decided to order entrees and side dishes.

I ordered the blue brie and leek tart with grilled pear, whitlof salad and candied pecans. The tart was very light and tasty and the blue brie was not too overpowering as I had feared. I don’t think I have tasted whitlof before and it tasted frighteningly strong and bitter. Not at all a leaf I would usually eat. However, served in the salad with the sweet juicy pear and the crunchy candied pecans, it was lovely. E had a chicken pie with a pumpkin puree and a port jus. It was presented with great style. They were not huge servings but were enough with the delicious side orders of shoestring fries with aioli and steamed broccoli.

We had a walk around the grounds after lunch. A bridal couple was being photographed in the Great Hall by the grand piano and chaise lounge, and the banquet hall was decorated for the wedding feast. We had to avoid a few steps with the pram and take it in turns to climb up the staircase in the Great Hall but I love wandering about those rustic buildings even on a grey wintery day. Both the café and the entrance fee are pricey so it is not a cheap day out but it has always been quiet and peaceful when I have been there.

After our walk we returned to the café for a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of tea. The cake was lighter than the one I remember so fondly. We shared a generous slab, which was layered with cream and a rich chocolate icing, and was enjoyed by both of us. A fine afternoon tea and a fine end to our visit.

Monsalvat Cafe
7 Hillcrest Ave. Eltham Victoria 3095
Melways Map: 22 A8
Bookings (03) 9431 2681


  1. I love Montsalvat. What lovely photos :)

  2. It looks just gorgeous and oh so romantic (I can see why weddings take place there). Sounds like a lovely day (and yes, very posh food!).

  3. Thanks Lisa - it is a great place isn't it!

    Thanks Ricki - another place to put on your wish list for visitng melbourne!

  4. It looks absolutely beautiful - and I'm glad that you got your cake!

  5. Thanks Lysy - couldn't leave without cake!


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