Lentil As Anything – The Radiohead of Restaurants

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Photo by Donna Killeen

Photo by Donna Killeen

By Mantis Kane

The systems of trade are in constant flux. Once the bartering of pig’s trotters for a basket of turnips was part of the banking practice. Then came coins – then notes – then coins again (Bitcoins). Now the transaction world is a shifting paradigm, a new zeitgeist of pay-what-you think is emerging. Miserable maestros Radiohead pioneered the music industries voluntary based payment arrangement for their ‘In Rainbows’ album back in 2007. Fans paid what they could, or wanted – as little or as much as they deemed necessary.

Adopting such a policy is always a risky tactic. I’m sure if Billy Ray Cyrus had implemented an honesty box he’d be bankrupt. But Radiohead fans are typically socially conscious, introspective, environmental zealots. Billy Ray Cyrus’ isn’t. You could imagine a Radiohead fan earnestly deliberating over ’the right contribution’; an algebraic means-testing moral conundrum, spreadsheets strewn across the organic allotment, a chin stroking ethical quandary.

Some restaurants have gone down this route with varying degrees of success. The honesty box arrangement is open for abuse; hungry charlatans jumping at the free lunch. But the statistics are heartening. Just as Radiohead ‘In Rainbow’s’ became their most profitable LP (partly due to being untethered to a major label) some restaurants have also prospered. Lentil As Anything opened in 2000 and still exists, 16 years later, with a growing number of venues. If you’re not up to speed with their philosophy, it runs deeper than just the financial model. It’s a not-for-profit vegetarian/vegan organisation, staffed by community volunteers, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds from abroad.

The multicultural ethos emanates through the hospitality, vibe and food. Far from being a jumped up soup kitchen, Lentil As Anything has ambitious and revolving menus. If you need any more confirmation that good food needn’t be expensive and meat riddled, Lentil As Anything provides the magic of economy fusion.

And not everything is lentil based. South Indian curries collide with Middle Eastern tagines and spicy oriental dishes; Thai, Japanese and Malaysian were all authentically represented. The burgers are infamous – many a meathead has surrendered to these blood red bean patties and zucchini fries. The desserts vary from light coconut rice pudding to heavy weight treacle sponge door stops.

The atmosphere is unique. The demographic orbits a wide stratosphere of people; fair trade hipsters, artisan hippies, earthy history teachers, Kibbutz bound gap year students, St Kilda bohemians and a very small contingent of Billy Ray Cyrus fans.

Having a food joint not strictly operating under the standard capitalistic principles is a wholesome novelty. This reciprocal deal of good food for a fair contribution is a leap of faith, but Lentil As Anything has demonstrated that human nature hasn’t been sucked dry just yet.

Photo by Donna Killeen

Photo by Donna Killeen

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