Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (5)

It’s been a long time between drinks on the NOT side of the scale.

So I guess the laws of probability meant that it was about time for me to a hit a NOT. I just hadn’t expected it to be Admiral Cheng-Ho.

Admiral Cheng-Ho is the new northside outpost for south-of-the-river favourite Monk Bodhi Dharma and it gets an emphatic HOT. The setting is unique (random brick building in Woolworths carpark), the food is healthful, interesting and lovingly prepared. And for my coffee-loving friends it’s one of the best places for coffee in the Balaclava area.

Unfortunately, Admiral Cheng-Ho did not meet up to my (high) expectations.

Firstly, the food was really, really slow. I can give them a bit of leeway – it was Monday 11am, the place was newly opened and obviously word had already gotten out as it was almost full. The kitchen was small and the staff looked slightly disorganised. However, we waited over 45 minutes for our lunch. Admittedly we had ordered two dishes that needed to be cooked – but still it would have been quicker if we’d whipped up a plate of zucchini fritters and mushrooms on toast ourselves. Also I noticed that others who ordered very easy to prepare dishes like muesli and avocado were waiting inordinately long periods for their food.

So, Admiral Cheng-Ho has been slammed since it opened and maybe they’re ill-prepared. But to run out of one of your menu items by lunchtime Monday? The cafe missed out on the $14.50 I was going to hand over for that sold-out banoffee pie.

Which leads me onto my second criticism – the prices. Our dishes, which sounded delicious on paper, cost $18.50 each, and a tall mug of chai cost $6. A house-made ice tea was $7.50. Coconut water, even if it did come from a fresh coconut and not from a bottle, was $7. Etc Etc. This from a menu of vegetarian food.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (6)

OK, OK. So I can swallow steep prices for vegetarian food if it is spectacular. And in this case not only were our dishes slow and expensive, they did not taste very good. The zucchini fritters were bland, gelatinous masses with a minimal amount of zucchini inside. Not a hint of fluffiness, crispiness or lightness in the stodgy patties. The best thing about this dish was the basil cashew cream, which helped make palatable, but didn’t alleviate, the gluey texture of the tasteless, stretchy fritters.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (1)

On our second dish the mix of mushrooms was quite satisfying in its earthiness and the creaminess of the goats cheese was a perfect touch, but the home made sundried tomato polenta bread turned out to be two dry, crumbly crispy cakes which left an unpleasant mealy texture in my mouth. Given that they also serve bread from Rustica Sourdough I would have much preferred that they used a couple of slices of that excellent bread instead.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (2)

What is impressive is their commitment to coffee – the counter holds six simultaneous grinders filled with different single-origin beans. To go with your $20 dish you can even buy a $20 coffee!

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (4)


And I liked the fitout, the epitome of recycled urban chic. The light fittings made from wire baskets, the glossy metal stools and the oversized Citizen wall clock.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (3)

But is that enough to recommend Admiral Cheng-Ho to you? There’s been a bit of breathless hype about its opening and I wanted and expected to love it…but my answer is NO(T).

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (03) 9534 7250

Mon to Fri 7am–4pm 
Sat & Sun 8am–5pm