At last. A health food cafe serving food that isn’t about self-mortification
Tree Natural Cafe
Tree Natural Concept Wellness Centre & Yoga Studio
21 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga
031 561 1169
I must admit when my friend Megan Harker suggested we lunch at the Tree Natural Cafe (weird name, or not?) I was dubious. I’ve eaten at enough health eateries – including Neal’s Yard in London – to know I was more than likely to end up with indigestion and a sore jaw after chewing my way though a pile of raw, grated veggies like carrot and cabbage. And, anyway, I’m kind of over lentils and chickpeas and butternut and definitely courgettes. Worthy, rather than delicious foods.
It’s not that I’m against healthy eating. It’s how I have eaten my whole adult life. I was a vegetarian for 10 years and once, for three months, ate only raw food – which nearly did my head in. It’s just that I don’t like loads of raw food that have been assembled entirely for health rather than flavour reasons.
But Tree Natural Cafe, from now on called TNC, was a very pleasant surprise. Someone in the kitchen understands the concept of contrasting textures and flavours and that healthy doesn’t preclude indulgence.
TNC’s menu is divided in to all-day breakfasts; tree top eggs; salad bowls which can be converted into wraps and wraps. Also a good selection of yummy soundings smoothies, cold-pressed juices. Also coffees.
I must admit I was worried when my eyes settled on the Nutty Thai; chicken mixed with peppers, carrots, cabbage, celery, cucumber, spring onions, mango, coriander, nuts, lemongrass and chilli with peanut dressing. No, no, no said my body.
Then I spotted the Kale and Cranberry salad, with crispy kale, cranberries, cashew nuts, avocado, feta and croutons drizzled with a lemon-thyme dressing, R83. I chose to have it in a wrap with chicken, another R28. From the first bite I was delighted. It was crunchy, smooth, sweet and savoury. Yum. I love contrasts i food. And the wrap, wholewheat I think, was soft not chewy. A winning and filling dish.
I could have opted for the the Zesty Cauli-rice, which would be enough to gladden any Banter’s heart, but I’m not a Banter. If you are, it’s cauli-rice topped with cabbage, celery, hemp and pumpkin seeds, sprouts and lemon-theme dressing. They also have a Pesto Zucchini with broccoli, olives, walnuts, pumpkins seed and pea shoots. And a Super-Grain Curry with quinoa, buckwheat, cabbage, celery, macadamia, cucumber, coriander and mint with a curry coconut dressing for R90. Chicken is R28 extra. There’s also the Mexican Superfood with beans and chickpeas, salsa and mashed avocado with a cashew-soy dressing, which sounds interesting, R79. The dressing that is.
Megan opted for a meal from the wraps section, Omega. This is smoked trout, poached eggs, avocado, cream cheese and sesame seeds with a lemon-tyme dressing, R115. She was totally, totally smitten with it.
The breakfast section is interesting; activated coconut chia (whatever that is) with berry coulis and a nutty seed cream; frozen yoghurt, cacao, banana, coconut, goji berries and a milk toffee sauce.
How decadent does this sound? An almond waffle with frozen yoghurt, banana, almonds, vanilla and honey. Or this? Three crepes with almond butter, cinnamon, natural sweeter/Nutella/banana.
For dessert we opted for a Salted Caramel Delight smoothie with almond butter, almond milk, dates, banana, cinnamon, vanilla and walnuts, R50 for 350ml. This was so rich and so thick it was like having an entire meal in a cup. Delicious though, but perhaps not sensible after a hearty meal.
As befitting a health and wellness centre, TNC uses only free range eggs and chicken and unfined sugar. They offer gluten, dairy and sugar-free options along with Paleo meals. Their ingredients are very, very fresh and meals are prettily presented. Food is pricey, though. Our meal, one wrap and smoothie each, came to R326. But these kind of quality ingredients don’t come cheap.
The eating area is on an enclosed courtyard and, despite being on a busy road, it’s surprisingly peaceful. Ambiance is a mix of sophisticated and natural. Only jarring note was service. Despite the open plan kitchen being literally thronged with staff, we had to place our order at the counter, which we had to work out for ourselves. Which we did. Eventually. – Ingrid Shevlin, September 2016