Cafe Listing: Manna Lane

At Manna Lane, simplicity is king. The menu, design and philosophy are stripped back, with the intent of letting locally sourced, fresh produce shine.

Named after the group of Manna gum trees that stand at the end of cafe’s laneway, Manna Lane is located at the foothills of Mount Dandenong, just a 25-minute drive from Melbourne. The cafe was established as a joint venture between Tyla Bryden, Brendan Ruys and designer-slash-hospitality guru Sonam Sherpa, who also owns Collingwood coffee hotspot Shopfront Coffee. Opening in June 2016, it’s already developed a reputation for fresh fare in a fantastic location.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, “Where on Earth is Mooroolbark? And why would Sonam choose to open his first cafe here?” He said it came down to a family connection to the region: “I was lucky because my family has a five-acre block in Lilydale, which is only 10 minutes down the road from the cafe.” With an underlying passion for horticulture and fresh produce Mooroolbark just seemed like the logical next step.

“People walk in and they’re just like ‘oh this is exactly what this area needs’ and things like that, which is cool,” said Sonam. The locals are friendly and helpful, with many keen to supply local produce where possible. “Customers will come in and they’re like ‘hey, my next door neighbour’s a strawberry farmer, he’ll come and drop some strawberries to you’ and I’m like, Cool!” One farmer even pops in to take any food scraps left over at the end of the day.

With Manna Lane up and running, Sonam is focusing on the next phase of the business – turning the family property in Lilydale into a farm “We’re going to start a farm, more of a hobby farm but enough to supply the cafe and stuff like that, which will be awesome,” he explained.

Sonam plans for the farm to eventually supply Manna Lane with fresh milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables and herbs on a daily basis. He is interested in every aspect of planning, even joking about getting a falcon to control the rabbits!

Until that is established, the produce is being sourced from local providores – Wild Eggs look after all the cafe’s egg needs, Burnham Beeches in Sherbrooke supplies the bread and the fruit and vegetables are sourced from a weekly farmers’ market nearby. Melbourne roasters Wood&Co, who also supply Shopfront, take care of the coffee.

The produce is used in a simple and minimalistic menu, designed by Sonam and executed by a local chef. The menu, like every aspect of the venue, is about letting the produce dictate the food. This makes for simple meals like eggs on toast, big breakfasts and a variation on burgers with chips, to name a few.

The design follows in simplicity. It is “nice and easy,” said Sonam, making use of materials like recycled bluestone and Victorian Ash wood. The upholstered bench seating was made by Sonam’s mum, evoking the idea that design is about curating a space based on passion, not just about keeping with the latest trends.

Manna Lane is open seven days a week and offers the perfect pit stop for those heading into the Yarra Valley or for those simply searching for a new brunch spot.

As for Sonam, he is busy working at the cafe five days a week (the other two spent at Shopfront) and setting up the farm during his free hours. He is also working on a collaborative venture in Brunswick set to open later this year. The new venture will be called Phase One Coffee and is part of the redevelopment of Brunswick’s Jewell Station Precinct.

“I still want to design things and do things but maybe I want to use hospitality as my vehicle for design,” Sonam said. If Manna Lane is anything to go by, I certainly hope he does.

Originally published on Smudge Eats as ‘Manna Lane’.

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