Food Garden Vegetarian Cafe REVIEW 6

1356 Rd, Greerton, Tauranga
2.5/5 stars

THERE’S ONE ABIDING reason I could never live in Tauranga. No, it’s not the fact that the name is synonymous with Winston Peters, or that there appears to be more boy racers per square kilometre there than anywhere else in our dandy country. It’s not even to do with the fact that the close proximity of its international port has made it a haven for migratory cockroaches with a collective mind set on breeding like rabbits.
No, it’s the fact that, as the Food Garden Vegetarian Café proudly exclaims, they are Tauranga’s only vegetarian establishment.
Now, if the food at the Food Garden Café was as delectable as the name makes it sound, I might just move there. Sadly, I have to report that I have eaten there not once, but on a number of occasions while visiting family members, and thus far, I haven’t had a single “wow” moment, and each time I end up eating there again, I think, “maybe this will be the last time.”
The fact is that my Mum likes it, because it does offer a variety of cabinet food of the gluten free variety, and she finds the staff to be friendly. She’s right about that, and in that cabinet can also be found some rather tasty sweets, but we won’t get our nutrition in us that way.
Let’s look at the meal I tried to buy Mum for her birthday – and which she paid for in stealth, naughty Mum. There’s no other way of saying this: it was poor.

Mushrooms on toast – standard fare.

She ordered mushrooms on toast, which were just okay. Fried in a modicum of onion sauce and with a leaf or two of spinach, they did the job, more or less. Still, there was nothing to distinguish them from the mushrooms on toast you could buy from any self-respecting café, and given that it’s such a standard dish, even in meat-oriented establishments, you’d think the cooks here would be capable of coming up with something that was just a little bit outside the square.
I ordered the big breakfast (or something similar, I can’t remember the exact name on the menu, and the menu isn’t available on their website) and it was profoundly disappointing. As you can see, there’s a slice of toast with what looked suspiciously like spicy beans straight out of a can, tomato with herb dressing, avocado, potato, vegan rissoles and mushrooms. It didn’t look attractive, and it didn’t taste of much at all: the big problem being a lack of any kind of sauce to dip the preponderance of dry matter in (the mushrooms, rissoles and potato were dry, dry, dry). In short, apart from the rissoles (which had no particular flavour) it’s something even I could have slapped together in 10 minutes at home, and made a whole lot tastier with perhaps some tasty tomato-based sauce.
The prices? While not quite what you would pay on Ponsonby Rd, they certainly weren’t any cheaper than a standard café anywhere else in NZ.

The big breakfast was tasteless and desperately needed saucing up.

The café – on one of Tauranga’s busiest streets in one of the town’s less salubrious suburbs, Greerton (I must admit to having referred to it as Drearyton on occasion) – isn’t exactly brimming with atmosphere. But that’s something that can easily be overcome with great food.
It may just be that on the times I’ve visited the Food Garden Vegetarian Café that I’ve struck a dud cook or a random dud menu item, but I reckon they need to take a good, hard look at what they’re serving.
At the end of our meal, I made a remark about the herb dressing to the café owner, who I’m convinced uttered something about how tasty it was with veal. Perhaps I misheard, but it does somewhat suggest that vegetarianism isn’t really the passion that’s behind this café. I think if it was, they would be more dedicated to looking at the nutritional content of their meals, as well as the tastiness. My impression is that they saw a gap in the market, and have attempted to fill it.
Or perhaps I’m wrong, and this café/caterer is dedicated to vegetarian cuisine, and working its way to introducing bolder tastes to a clientele that is maybe incredibly cautious when it comes to experiencing non-carcass cuisine.
Either way, I reckon they could raise their game. GARY STEEL

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6 thoughts on “Food Garden Vegetarian Cafe REVIEW

  • Ashley Kramer

    I’ve eaten here on two or three occasions and it’s been okay each time, but never “wow”. Given that the wonderful food of Devonport Road’s Sushi Takeaways is less than ten minutes away, I tend to head to the CBD instead of Greerton every time.

  • Gary Steel Post author

    They also need to learn about sauces. That meal was just so dry! I hope they’ve read the review and taken the opportunity to up their game, but sadly, too few venues in NZ seem wiling to take the advice of customers.

  • Carol Garden

    Oh dear, we did disappoint you! I will happily take on board your suggestion that we add some of our tasty home-made relish to the big breakfast, and I can assure you we do not pour the beans out of a can. They are cooked from scratch in a pressure cooker, and we add corn, red and green capsicum and tomatoes, along with jalapeno chillies. We make our own bread, and we already have a kick-ass recipe for vegan aioli, along with our vegan hummus, pesto and cashew cheese.
    And yes, you did mishear me – having been a vegetarian for several years, I can assure you I didn’t suggest anything about veal.
    Despite what you think, we ARE passionate about vegetarian and vegan cooking, but Tauranga is a conservative place and Greerton has a particular demographic that includes lots of elderly, so we are treading carefully and slowly. It is a struggle, and I’m happy to hear helpful suggestions. The photos you have published certainly suggest we need to improve our presentation. Fortunately not all the reviews we receive are scathing. We have many happy regular customers and we’ve also received some wonderful compliments. If you are prepared to identify yourself on your next visit, I’d be happy to give you a free lunch.

  • Gary Steel Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Carol.
    I’ve actually been back to your cafe several times since I wrote this review last September, and I have noticed small improvements.
    And one thing I think I forgot to say: I do like the fact that it’s homely and unpretentious and most of the time, the staff are friendly. That’s not a given in many cafes.
    It’s certainly great to hear that so much is ‘home’ made/prepared on the premises, and I appreciate that you are passionate about what you do.