Cafe Ish, Surry Hills

Cafe Ish has closed as of July 2012. They have reopened under “Milk Bar by Cafe Ish” at 105 Regent St, Redfern.

Cafe what? Cafe Ish I hear you say, is it delish?

This is one of those hidden little cafes, a small Japanese/Modern Australian fusion restaurant tucked away on a slope at the junction of where Surry Hills meets Elizabeth Street. DK actually recommended Cafe Ish to me after raving about the crispy soft shell crab omelette and got us both hooked onto this delectable dish, and we finally returned together after jumping at the opportunity to buy a prepaid Spreets voucher to try an eight course banquet for only $59.

The cafe itself is cosy and quite small, with a dimly lit wooden interior and when we arrive early in the night it is already half full. Service was brisk and soon after sitting down we were presented with a variety of nibbles to start with – a bowl of fresh chopped cabbage with red miso dipping sauce, fried potato and organic feta mochi with a plum sauce and edamame (steamed green soybeans) with Murray River pink salt.

Freshly chopped cabbage with a Red Miso dipping sauce

Fried Potato and Organic Feta Mochi (Japanese potato cakes), with Davidson plum sauce

Edamame (steamed green soybeans) with Murray River pink salt

The stand out dish was the hot potato mochi with its melty cheese centre which tasted like a bite sized hash brown but softer. Neither of us were fans of the edamame which was extremely plain (where’s this alleged salt?) and after a few beans we disregarded the bowl. I’m not usually a fan of cabbage and found it a bit strange to have chopped raw cabbage as a dish on its own, particularly when it is accompanied by a dip but the crunchiness was quite addictive and the red miso sauce was tasty enough to offset the plain taste of the cabbage.

Miso Soup, with kombu (edible kelp), onions, shallots and mushroom stock

The nibbles were followed by lukewarm bowls of miso soup which were darker in colour than typical miso soups served at Japanese restaurants. The soup is based on a mushroom stock, probablycontributing to the unusual dark colour but at first sip it tasted unexpectedly bland, hinting a diluted soy sauce flavour. Thankfully it contained sliced onions and shallots which added much needed flavour.

Seared Tuna Salad, with Mizuna (a vegetable), Avocado, Soy Beans, Tomato and Lemon Myrtle dressing

California Roll with crumbed crocodile, avocado and lemon myrtle mayonnaise, with pickled rosella flowers

Just when we thought that the next dish might be the soft shell crab omelette, out comes another set of dishes; a seared tuna salad and a california roll. The salad was generous with the tuna and avocado and combined with the citrus dressing tasted fantastic! The california roll was sliced into bite sizes and also had extremely well seasoned vinegared rice. This combined with the crocodile katsu crunch and lemon myrtle mayonnaise, made it a surprisingly good fusion combination for a sushi roll. Two stand out dishes.

The voucher also included a tasting of sake and we were given a choice between dry or sweet sake. We opted for the latter but the sweetness wasn’t enough to offset the strong alcoholic aftertaste that sake usually has (like whiteboard marker) and we ended up treating the drinks like shots rather than sipping it. The light wooden cups that they were served in were cute though!

Kangaroo, Prawn and Ginger boiled Gyoza (dumplings) with White Soy and Black Vinegar

Next up were kangaroo and prawn dumplings, with vinegar dressing and shallots and fried onions on top. At first bite it tasted ok but that soon wore off, as the contrast between the tough, gamey kangaroo meat and the succulent soft skin of the dumplings got a bit strange. The fried onions added an interesting crunchy texture, but unfortunately this fusion dish seemed very confused.

Wagyu Ribs with Smoky Soy Caramel, Garlic, Chilli, Coriander and Sesame

Fried Chicken, with Vinegar, Shallot Dressing and Eschallots

Our stomaches were already at bursting point at this stage and still no hint of the crab omelette as promised in the voucher…instead we were served with yet another two mains accompanied with rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds. This included wagyu ribs, cooked with smoky soy caramel, garlic, chilli, coriander and sesame and fried chicken, with vinegar, shallot dressing and eschallots. The ribs were extremely salty and covered in a layer of fat, leaving not much meat behind after cutting it all off. It was a dish you could not eat by itself due to the over-salty sauce and thankfully the plain rice was there to offset this, or else it would have been salt overload. The crispy chicken was no better and was rather dry and bland and did not seem to have been marinated, hence the flavour imbalance. The sauce tasted like a plum sauce and was just plopped on top – it did not really compliment the chicken at all. These two meat dishes were a massive disappointment.

Karaage (deep-fried) Crab Omelette with Garlic, Chilli, Soy, Ginger Dressing, Avocado, Shallots and Lime

The final dish was the long awaited crispy soft shell crab omelette with garlic, chilli, soy, ginger dressing, avocado, shallots and lime but we were so full we could only manage to finish half of it. It was as good as we remembered from previous visits, thin omelette wrapped delicately around crispy soft shell crab and the accompaniments adding to the packed umami flavour and crunch. The only criticism I had with this dish was that the lime wedge was cut in a really strange shape, it made it near impossible to squeeze any lime juice out. Which left me no choice but to rub the wedge onto the crab (insert strange imagery).

Towards the end of our night, we noticed the staff had begun to stare at our table looking rather angry. A waitress came over and kindly asked us to not take photos with flash and when I tried to explain that the light she was seeing was in fact the red light which is used to focus (which does not even illuminate the restaurant) and not the flash, the other staff continued to stare at us as if we had created a huge drama in the restaurant. They kept staring throughout the night with warning looks whenever our camera was out which made us feel extremely uncomfortable. So a heed of warning to future patrons, they’re really OCD about cameras and any light which may come up, even if it is not a flash.

Overall the food was quite disappointing with the negatives outweighing the positives by far. Having been to Cafe Ish before, it does a good breakfast and lunch menu but otherwise I will not be coming back for dinner anytime soon. A lot of the ‘fusion’ combination flavours just did not work with some cooked terribly (emphasis on the ribs and chicken). Thankfully we had this voucher which made it affordable, but otherwise their food was below par by far and I would have rather gone elsewhere in a heartbeat.

Not that delish. Unimpressed-ish.

Cafe Ish
Shop 1, 82 Campbell St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Open Mon-Tue 7am-4pm; Wed-Sat 6pm-10pm; Sun 9am-3pm

Cafe Ish on Urbanspoon


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