96 Kepos Street Redfern, New South Wales 2016
|Opening hours||B L Tues-Sun; D Wed-Sat|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, BYO, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9319 3919|
Kepos Street Kitchen caters for Sydney summer, almost as part of its restaurant DNA. The white walls and decor have a cooling effect. The home-made drinks are great. The airconditioning is set to cool, not stun, and the food is pretty darn good, too.
Chef Michael Rantissi opened this Redfern cafe in November. Despite his classical French training, the former Bathers' Pavilion sous chef wanted his first Australian venture to reflect the food of his childhood in Israel. The menu has classic dishes such as shakshouka, tweaked to suit the Australian palate - less cumin and ground coriander, he says. But he also says the food at Kepos Street has broader Mediterranean influences.
Homely touches are everywhere. Potted herbs sit on every table, home-made preserves are for sale and baked treats sit on the counter as though placed there to cool straight from the oven. Some pastries are made in-house, others come from Brasserie Bread.
The front room of this corner cafe is light and bright, with large glass windows and an open front door. Out the back is a different story. It is still bright but diners are cocooned away in a white oasis of calm. Perhaps it's the lack of windows - the ceiling is transparent and partially covered with blinds - shutting out all external stimuli. Cars may be racing past only metres away, but the only things on our minds are which delicious-sounding mocktails to order and which section of the newspaper to read. The only drawback is the tight confines - the tables are close together, and a little small if you're sharing a few dishes.
The drinks come in jugs, packed full of ice to keep them cool. The homemade lemonade is sweet and tart with a boost from lime slices and fresh mint leaves. A sweet, luscious strawberry and rose-water fizz is pretty to look at and refreshing to drink. With large chunks of strawberries, it is almost like dessert in a glass. Coffee beans, supplied by The Grounds of Alexandria, are treated well. My flat white is so smooth it almost disappears in two gulps.
The lunch menu has staples including risotto, a fish dish, a wagyu beef burger and a steak sandwich, but often spruced up with flavour-packed spice blends of harissa or chermoula. Vegetarians can go for Rantissi's Middle Eastern dishes, classics made with extra flair.
The tabbouleh salad is a lovely mix of flavours and textures. Pieces of rich, oily eggplant contrast with the fresh salad elements and crushed wheat, and pomegranate seeds add a sweet flavour burst. Felafels come five to a plate, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with a green tahini sauce. They are super fresh, crusty on the outside and soft inside.
The shakshouka arrives with two just-set eggs nestled in a thick, rich sauce of tomatoes, capsicums and spices. Though Rantissi has dialled it back, cumin is a dominant flavour. It comes with a big slice of bread for dunking and scooping, plus a coriander tahini sauce.
The service is friendly and welcoming, with staff quick to redress any problems or to explain a dish.
Rantissi's blend of cultures hits the spot. Here's a place you could easily adopt as a summer kitchen away from home.
Home-made lemonade, rose-water and strawberry fizz, shakshouka, felafel, tabbouleh.
4 stars (out of five)