I have a bit of a thing for health food shops. While I’m no health fanatic, I do love big bags of lentils and trail mix and wondering exactly what food manufacturers have to do to soybeans to make them look and taste like beef jerky (and wondering what marketers have to do to vegans to convince them to buy soybean products that look and taste like jerky).
So it was no surprise I ended up at health food shop and café, As Nature Intended, when I ventured out to the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets for lunch last week. I’ve shopped at As Nature Intended before, but this was the first time visiting the café, which is open for breakfast and lunch and serves organic meals, drinks (coffee, green smoothies, juices etc.) and a range of delicious-looking cakes and treats.
The café may never win any awards for fashion-forward interior design, but it is endearing. A row of crystal lamps take pride of place on a bookshelf in the corner, sunshade umbrellas are opened indoors and the furniture is mismatched in a cosy, eclectic way. For a place that specialises in what my sisters would affectionately describe as ‘weird hippie food’, the aesthetic makes sense.
There’s only one problem. I can’t figure out how to order. The staff don’t appear to take orders at the tables, but I can’t find a menu anywhere. I ask a staff member for assistance and it turns out that the menus are stored behind the counter. That’s fine, because I’ve decided I’d like the pumpkin tart and salad from the specials board for $15.90. It’s 90 cents over budget, but who cares about going over budget when you ‘accidentally’ spend $20 on fancy trail mix in the same transaction?
Each table is stacked with second-hand books and magazines, so I grab a copy of last September’s Vanity Fair – a strange thing to read in a vegan-friendly, organic, pesticide-free health food shop – to flick through for ten minutes while my order is prepared.
The food is pretty good: a warm, fresh-tasting pumpkin tart that didn’t look like it had been defrosted and reheated, as is sometimes the case at cafes, and a big mixed leaf and carrot salad with plenty of honey mustard dressing. When I cut into the tart I discover a thick layer of greens at the bottom and generous chunks of pumpkin on top, so I’m pretty sure I’m getting close to the recommended daily serve of vegetables with this meal.
I was ravenous when my food arrived, and I was still a little hungry afterwards. Suddenly I feel a bit silly for forking out $15.90 for a meal that that consisted of eggs, pastry and vegetables (even if they are organic), and left me still feeling peckish. The serving size would probably be fine if you were after a lighter lunch, but I reckon that to qualify as a truly cheap eat, a meal needs to also be satiating – like those big laksa bowls that never seem to end, or burritos that weigh as much as a newborn baby.
That said, I’m keen to go back to sample some of the cakes. Cake isn’t bad for you if it’s served in a health shop, right?
What: As Nature Intended
Where: Belconnen Markets, Lathlain Street, Belconnen
Opening hours: Tuesdays 11am to 4pm; Wednesday to Sunday 8.30am to 6pm