Friday 12 February 2016

The Glass Den: Coburg cafe

I spoke to someone moving into Coburg recently and they asked for some local knowledge.  The first piece of advice that sprang to mind was to check out the Glass Den.  It combines a fascinating historic building on the old Pentridge Gaol site with creative food with lots of great vegan and vegetarian options.  As soon as I heard they had coconut bacon I was excited and more recently I have tried their almond feta too.

The building is the old gatehouse of Pentridge.  The forbidding bluestone facade reminds us that not everyone has always enjoyed going through these doors.  Above the doorway it says HM Metropolitan Reception Prison.  Inside opposite the counter is a wall of bars.  It still surprises me that the historic prison, built in 1850, was closed as recently as 1997.  Most of the complex is being developed into housing so I love that there is still a little corner where the public can enter.  (You can see more in this market in Pentridge.)

However this space is not just doom and gloom of prison.  The cafe is welcoming with lots of space and light, plants and colour, upcycled furniture and modern touches.  I never see it empty because it is a great place to just sit and enjoy a coffee.

In fact I have been visiting previous cafes here since 2009.  When Sylvia was 3 months old we went here when it was Cafe Della Rosa.  I had mothers group meetings here because there was so much space for prams.  And I have been here for coffees with friends from time to time previous to this year.  In fact I had a superb savoury muffin here one day last year.

It was towards the end of last year that the menu changed and the vegan community was excited by the options.  Coconut bacon and candied almonds were mentioned.  It took us a while to get there but now we have been there enough that when we went last weekend the waiter seemed to know our faces.

We have had lovely service on our visits but there was one big problem on our first visit.  We ordered hotcakes and smashed avo and the crumpets on special.  We were in a hurry and when I checked, our order had been forgotten.  The staff were very gracious in the way they handled it (just as they were the time I forgot my purse) but it meant we only had time for muffins and a drink.  I really loved the chocolate chunk and coconut muffin I had.

Sylvia had a berry smoothie.  I think it was the Halle Berry made of apple juice, mixed berries, strawberries and chia seeds.  It was nice though I am not sure she finished it as it was so big and we didn't have much time for it.  I think she enjoyed the Banana Del Ray more which has banana, mango, orange and mint.

Since our first visit we have had so many occasions where something has been forgotten.  I have forgotten my camera, my purse, Sylvia's shoes.  Then we met friends there recently who had forgotten the documents they were bringing us.

I had lunch there with my mum back in November and they had this picturesque Banana Blossom Tom Yum Salad.  It was on the specials board and had chili, rocket, red onion, carrot, enoki mushrooms, toasted coconut, bean shoots, and coriander.  My mum loved it.

Meanwhile I had the Veggie Delight Sandwich.  I think it was made with the quinoa and seeded loaf and packed with with roasted pumpkin, zucchini, roasted capsicum, tomato jam, beetroot and rocket.  My memory is poor and my note taking is worse.  It seemed quite expensive for a vegetable sandwich at about $15 and yet it was very very good.

Sylvia and I went another day and I forgot my camera when I ordered the crushed avocado.  So the next time we came I ordered it again.  Sylvia just had the beer battered chips.  On this occasion, we had the option of one bowl of chips for $7.5 or two small serves for $3.5 each.  I might have been swayed to order a bowl but I really love the mini chip fryer baskets they use for the small serves.  And the chips are really good.  Hot and crisp and tasty.

Photographing the crushed avo and chippies was a tough ask for me but I can promise you it was such a good meal.  The smooshed avocado is served on seeded loaf next to beetroot relish macerated raisins, then scattered with pistachio dukkah and "smoked coconut" (which I call coconut bacon).  It is truly so much more amazing than your average smashed avo with a slice of lemon or side of feta.

Then there was the time we were driving home and on impulse I stopped at the Glass Den for hotcakes.  When the new menu was produced last year with almond meal hotcakes I was pretty excited.  They are gluten free as well as vegan and looked beautiful.  I apologise the my photo does not do them justice.

Our serve surprised me because it had changed slightly and now they come with grilled banana, jackfruit, lotus root compote, maple syrup, toasted coconut, taro chips, & coconut mousse.  I confess I am not so into tropical fruit.  I enjoyed the taro chips and coconut and even the banana.  The lotus root compote was like it was candied and quite interesting.  I am not into cream so the coconut mousse was pushed to the side.  I was not such a fan of the jackfruit.  But this was the first time I have had jackfruit and I always tell sylvia it takes 20 tastes to learn to like something new so maybe I just need more jackfruit in my life.  Sylvia was happy to just eat the hotcakes..

While Sylvia has enjoyed a few smoothies, she is now asking for the Raspberry Fizz at the Glass Den.  I occasionally have the mint tea but I really love the Good Brew Kombucha.  At $7 it is not a cheap drink but it is so refreshing.  I have tried the lavender, the hibiscus and the apple mint.  Once I was told to beware it fizzing up when it was opened and it never fizzed.  Another time I was not warned and for a few minutes the fizz kept bubbling out of the neck.

I love that the kids menu is not just meat. One of these days I will order the vegemite and cheese for Sylvia.  So far she is more enamoured of the chips and pancakes.  We went to the Glass Den last weekend and she loved the kids pancake with ice cream and sprinkles.

On this occasion we met up with friends who brought along a school kid and a baby.  They were impressed by the coffee, the food and that there was plenty of space to park a stroller.  The place has interesting details for kids to look at too.  Apparently there is a toy box so must check if that is still there.

Once fun sight was the old red telephone.  However it has recently disappeared.  I once saw a waiter answer the phone there.  Then when I asked where it was gone I was told too many people had thought it actually worked.    So I am confused.

I ordered the Biggy (photo at top of post as well as above).  Silly name but one of the best big breakfasts I have ever had.  Ever!  It was a generous spread of roasted Dutch carrots, smoked coconut, avocado, grilled mushrooms, home made baked beans, grilled cherry tomatoes, lightly sautéed kale, beetroot relish with a couple of slices of sourdough toast.  I also spied almond feta on the extras and wanted to try it so I ordered this on the side.  Good choice!  It was soft and creamy and tasty.  The vegetables were really beautifully cooked, I loved the piles of coconut bacon and had lots of saucy sides with the avocado, baked beans and almond feta.  Even the toast was substantial and golden.

It was $22 for the Biggy, plus $4 for the almond feta.  Not cheap but worth paying to have a brunch so filled with vegies and coconut bacon and almond feta.  (Please take note other cafes!)  On the weekend we were chatting to the waitress who told us they had had to put up the prices for avocado dishes because the price of avocados had risen so steeply locally.

The Biggy was so good I could dedicate a whole post to it.  However I will just say that it is interesting that when the menu first was available on leaves of brown paper on a clipboard it included chorizo and bacon with an option of carrots and smoked coconut instead.  Now it is written on clean white laminated menus and offers chorizo and bacon as alternative options.  I also had the avocado instead of the eggs.

Coburg just continues to offer more and more in great cafes.  At the moment, The Glass Den is my favourite.  My only reservation is that it is not cheap enough to eat in too often.  However I am sure I will be back soon.  The food is so good, the staff so nice and the space is the perfect place to relax and enjoy life.  How it must have changed since the days when it was once a the gatehouse of a prison.

For more beautiful photos and reviews, also check out Veganopoulous and Where's the Beef.

The Glass Den
15 Urquhart Street, Coburg
(03) 9354 5032

The Glass Den Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


  1. You have certainly made up for your delayed first visit to Glass Den! There are still so many things I have yet to try...

    1. Thanks Cindy - there are always some interesting specials too - I went there this week for a coffee and really wanted to try the tempeh tempura

  2. I still love this place and am hopefully going back next week. I want to order something different but those hotcakes are just so tempting, especially now that they've changed the toppings from my last visit! I loved the Biggy as well :)

    1. Thanks Faye - the hotcakes are really good but I am now wondering what else I can order with almond feta - I think they need some savoury pancakes with almond feta (yeah I should try that myself)

  3. amazing presentation on the plates!

  4. What a fantastic place and a lovely review. I suspect if I lived in Melbourne this would be a highlight!

    1. Thanks Kari - it is great to have a fantastic local cafe but I still can't get there as much as I would like

  5. You're making me very hungry with these photos! It looks like it would be a hit with vegos and omnivores alike.

    1. Thanks Lorraine - indeed - my friend who had the pulled pork tacos said they were amazing

  6. All those lovely meals! I have been past here several times but have not yet tried it out. Everything I've seen looks delicious, and I especially love the sound of their almond feta.

    1. Thanks Caeli - you really need to stop there as I am sure you would love it


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