Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Konnichi-Wow! (aka, Cafe Ish, Surry Hills)...

Japanese Story, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, told the potent tale, in the unrelenting ochre of the Australian outback, of the awkward (and then intense relationship) that formed between Sandy, played brilliantly by Toni Collette, and Hiromitsu, played with equal effect by Gotaro Tsunashima. As the plot arcs over you there is an immersion with the desolation of both the landscape and the characters, and the silence between them. In all of this charged emptiness, you hurtle unknowingly, but inevitably, towards an ending as sudden as it is rending of heart. The movie is replete with words not said, with ideas unformed, full of so many unspoken lessons, the most obvious of which is: mix Japanese with the Australian outback, and somebody's probably gonna get hurt, big time, mate...

That's Josh, who, along with lovely partner and co-culinary houdini, Ai, owns the Albion Alimentary Astounder: Cafe Ish, which is where Sydney's more knowing taste buds go to play some tantalising twister. We're all friends, so let's be honest, here: Josh looks like many wondrous things, but the bloke doesn't really have the kind of mug that would lead one to conjecture that he's an alacritous advocate of existentially haunting motion picture, so perhaps he missed out on Japanese Story and never got the warning that Jap + Bush = tragic results, and thank the bloody Flavour Gods for that! Cafe Ish is a love story all of its own. It is Josh and Ai's story, it is JapBogan, and, Bloody Oath, is it delicious. Make no mistake, this is a foodies cafe, it is where cafe owners and fuss pots, people who want good food they can't make, come back, time and tubby time again for a menu that is as unique as it is impeccable. This kitchen is not only rocking out amazing food, it is featuring dishes, ingredients and flavours you won't find any where else but Ish. So, my covetous little CakeKnifeAroos, are you ready for an Intrusion of Fusion That Will Leave No Confusion? Do you want me to show you, to tell you, to tease you with just how sublimely divine a thing it is, To Ish?

Shall we Advance Australia Flair and go, just a little bit... bush? Hai!

Mmm-mmm. Order the bunya pancakes, and you might think you're dreamtiming. Jesus Christ. Bunya pancakes with roast apple, muntahries, caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream, to be precise, are an Ayers Rock of Ravishing delight. This is a kaleidoscopic extravaganza of toffeed torture. Sticky, luscious, rich, gooey, glistening, dripping thick-sink-cut-lick-moan. Madness. These are the most perfect pancakes I have ever laid lips on. I started to levitate above my chair just eyeing them breathlessly off. The gluten free bunya flour comes from a tree that is more Australian than getting drunk at the cricket. It is a lovely, moist flour that makes the actual pancakes themselves dense, luscious and agonizingly textured. These are not dry, desultory pancakes hiding beneath or relying on an over sugared topping to distract you, these are the real, golden, rich, chewy, moist, spongy, buttery pan fried deal. The pancake is sublime, it absorbs stickiness, moisture and flavour and releases it so readily with the slightest bite.

The roast apples are toffeed treasures, not at all candy sweet, but beautifully old school, drunk and rich with a golden subtle-sweet-treat flavour and the perfect balance between gently poached yieldingness, and just enough restraint and form that you still need to bite into them. Nullifying. The muntahries are bush berries that Josh says taste just like soft, roast apple to bite into, and by george, they do! And all of this absolutely drowning in a delicate, thickened haze of incandescent caramel and finished off with a shimmering halo of organic CreamDream Lobotomy-via-Mouth Gundowring pure vanilla bean ice cream. Channel a Zen monk and try to exhibit some restraint for a few moments, and let the ice cream, Be. It's not against the interests of crazed gluttony that I beseech of you to do this, but rather in them. You see, if you leave that ambrosial little ball of bacchian bliss for just the littlest of earthly whiles, all crammed and cosy in there, snug in the fine company of some podgy appled friends, and atop the bunya-pancakey warmth, something will happen. It will be gradual at first, but then, it will be relentless...

Oh, C+K'ers, there will be melting! There will be maddening melting, vanilla bean infused angels-may-weep melting. The ice cream will loosen, it will liquify in the warmth, from the fibers of its luscious being and seep succulently out, all in mesmerizing motion, dreamily onto and through, deep, deep inside, all the way into the bunya pancakey heart. It will mix and swirl and sway in coils of curious, caramelled abandon... and when you pick up a trembling fork, and bring it to a mouth that knowns nothing but desire: oh, you will fall. There will be no stopping and you will fall. Like Carthage, you will fall! Jesus Christ. PancakesIsh. So, so, so Great. Mouth-To Heart-To-Butter-A-Flutter.

From pancake dyspepsia, to boab root fritters, as you do, mate. Boab is a tree that grows only in the Kimberley, and Josh imports the root when he can (it's up for grabs for 3 months of the year, which means Josh doesn't get to root as often as he'd like, but then again, who does). But all year round Josh has it pickled or in jams, it's delicious, it traverses the divide between sweet and savory, effortlessly. Boab is reminiscent of the sharp and delectable daikon root, and therefore translates very easily into Japanese methods of cooking. However, my favourite Japanesque menu special occurs when a Barramundi fillet finds itself, suddenly and deliciously, trapped inside a steaming, fluffy omelette...

Bloody Hell. Tats warned me this was a mouth bomb, and indeed, it goes down as the most original and delicious savory brekkie I have ever had. A tender fillet of barramundi, rich and light and not at all dried out from overcooking, is encapsulated within a perfect cocoon of gentle, eggy omelette. Avocado salsa, chilli, soy and ginger all bang it out, and, along with a hemisphere of livid lime to squirt and cut the richness, you have got yourself a fabulous fished egg salt-burn-sting song.

This is divine, so perfectly poised between richness and saltiness. The gentle flavour of the fresh barramundi leaks beautifully into the omelette wrapping. The thick and potent chilli gives it a zing that mixes without haste into the sharp soy and tangy ginger, a familiar Asian line up, happening all over an entirely original dish. Not always on the menu, this is a special, if you (tragically) miss out when you happen to Ish, the standard Kara age crab version is always available. Why would you sunny side up, when you can have yourself a flame flickered roll of egg wrapped Barra with soy and ginger and lime. This one just eats itself. If This Ish is more fish than you wish, why not omelette with spinach/WildThymeMushrooms and tomato relish? There's also fine omeletting to be had with soboro pork minced pumpkin, spinach + rice and deep, deep mayo. Holy Cow, hens would never believe they're doing this with eggs!

When it comes to salt, you have to choose between four, so there was no way the menu was going to be meagre. There's a Toast-Ish section, with little muffins and bits of egg and salsa and native jams, there's Sweet-Ish, with a lush breakfast trifle in a native fruit compote and house made muesli, or why not vanilla risotto with ume stewed apricots, prunes, riberries and brown sugared yoghurt? Croc sausages can be had (think of it as Aussie Outback Revenge), as well as house made, free range pork hock, braised steak, free range eggs and even the beautiful Bennedict Ish with crisp soft shell crab. SandwIsh? Chicken with green tea and aniseed myrtle? Gyu Don? Saus Ish Sizzle? Katsu Sando? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Amazing bonsoyed coffee? Rich and smooth and deep, every cup as faultless as the last, all under Ai's methodic precision. And the signature Wattleseed coffee: so luscious and nutty and smooth, it keeps shapeshifting inside your mouth, serpentine coils of flavour and warmth, the balance is so pure that it's only in flickering sips that you can discern a bit of coffee with a bit of nuttiness with the wattleseed singing through. Ai is working on some new signatures, I am sure she will find new ways to make us fall. Muffins, caramel slices that look sharp and wicked and boutique teas and interesting jams and phoenix soft drinks as pure as NZ. And...

home made wagon wheels? Struth. Are you kidding me? Ish is unbelievable, a genuinely exciting menu that teaches you, in case you forgot (and sometimes I really, really do) that food, and breakfast especially, need not be the same old standard round up. Impeccable food, clean, beautifully sourced ingredients, thoughtfully and winningly put together. They wanted to do something different, and they have, and it's worked! Spunk and verve. I love this place. In case you were still in doubt, they also have the cutest pepper grinder in Sydney...

Food aside, you should come in and get to know Josh and Ai. Josh is exactly my kind of foodie, if you're polite and ask for permission to snap, he'll give you all the time and enthusiasm in the world. Blonde and cute and eager and chatty. He brought out jams and pickles to try, crushed up lemon myrtle leaf for us to smell, told us about his mum and his childhood, told us about when he met Ai. A cheeky, stout, smiling and generous spirit, who likes to make believe at being surly. Josh loves food, and you can tell, he and Ai are as delicious as their pancakes, and I am very much looking forward to our dinner plans Sunday week, where I am apparently going to get a lesson or two in the wicked ways of some wanton Sa-ke. Big thanks for all the chit chat, laughs and over the counter slagging. I have bought my boyfriend and my friends, and they all walked away with happy, heaving, glowing bellies. Friendly, fast and fabulous. A Breakfast Niche Market, all on Ish own.

Cafe Ish happens @ Shop 2, 102 Albion Street, Surry Hills. Ph: 9281 1688.

It's origami for the mouth, and it's a fucking beaut.

Ish On!

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Im bloody crying btch!!
oh yeh and for all the food alergy peeps, there si some wheat in those pancakes so please do besiege me.
Now I have to go explain all of amandas big words to the little Jap
Thanks
Josh
Cafe Ish
oh yeh you will need monday off!!

amanda said...

you're making me cry cause i cant fit into my jeans! x

eatlivetravelwrite said...

I loved that film!!

Also, can I just say that I WISH I had discovered your blog BEFORE I was leaving Australia!!!

Anonymous said...

straight roads are boring amanda
josh

Anonymous said...

Jesus had crocodile sausage and the best brûlée ever here today: green tea white chocolate w biscotti! Fuck brilliant ish x

Tickets said...

the pancakes really are that good.

Muse of Flights of Fancy said...

wow, amanda, once again you make me realise that i live at the BEST address in sydney.

thank god for josh, ai, and all the ish-ers. they feed me good :)

although i worry that the place will be overrun with out-of-towners now they're in the good food guide, and i won't be able to get a table :(

never mind, i'll come back to read your blog and make love to the food in my imagination in the privacy of my home, salivating to the way you describe my local fare.

rock on cafe ish!

tash

cafe ish said...

Hey Tash won't happen, my regulars and locals will always get spoilt.
Josh

Muse of Flights of Fancy said...

awe-sum!

*does happy dance*

:D

tash

clekitty said...

This is the first time I've stumbled onto your blog and I just love the way you write. "The gluten free bunya flour comes from a tree that is more Australian than getting drunk at the cricket.' I don't work far from Albion St so will definitely be giving this place a try. So happy I found this blog! :)

Simply Life said...

Wow, I have never seen pancakes look so amazing in my entire life! Seriously, I'm drooling over all the photos :)

amanda said...

trust me those pictures have nothing on the live pancakes!

thanks C + SL. sorry about the no posting, study killing me!

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NMOS said...

Those pancakes look awesome and delicious. I've never heard of muntahries before. I wish they had them here so I could try them. Nice blog.

frockandfork said...

I absolutely love your style ... and those pancakes!!!! OMG just simply fabulous!!!

Chow and Chatter said...

yummy food oh this is such a good movie and what a shocker, very powerful!

Trish said...

How the heck did I end up here? Oh yes...sipping awful office coffee and deciding I needed to learn how to make Zathar myself after my Lebanese Colleague gave me some his mom made! Googled and there you were...amazing! Love your photos...wonderful pictures...will have to come back and browse some more!

Sars said...

Dude, I love this blog. Not only do you recommend ace digs in Sydney, but when i get there i know exactly what to order. The Bunya pancakes at Ish are sublime. We sat in the little room adjoining the main hub and felt like we were having a party- awesome food, wattle seed coffee and a cute space.

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