Review: Cafe Ish, Surry Hills, Sydney37

Posted on January 18, 2009 by ChristieRestaurants


[Native pepper pork loin on roasted pumpkin w/ housemade tomato relish]

Have you ever been yelled at by a chef and a barista for taking photos in a cafe? Well now I have. Don’t worry though, this story has a happy ending.

On Saturday I went to lunch with my friend and fellow blogger, Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella, her husband Mr NQN (apt, huh?) and my husband Dillon (there you go, The Bear’s real name is Dillon). We went to Cafe Ish in Surry Hills.

We were meant to go on a picnic to Palm Beach, but alas, mother nature had it in for us and produced the only overcast day in more than a fortnight. Lorraine had even baked a delicious rustic picnic pie which I never got to taste – cranky!

When we realised that it was indeed too windy for a picnic we started thinking of places to go out instead. Lorraine has a permanent long list of places she wants to visit so I just let her to choose.

Sushi Suma, her first option, was closed. But then she remembered an excellent review for Cafe Ish she’d seen recently on another food blog, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. It was full of praise for the owner slash head chef Josh and his business partner slash barista Ai. We decided to check it out.

As soon as Mr NQN’s (massive) cup of coffee arrived he whipped out his camera and took a quick pic. The coffee looked great. It had a perfectly textured crema and pretty heart shaped design on top.

While Mr NQN was taking the photo someone stormed up behind us and loudly shouted – I mean, Gordon-Ramsey-style-loud – ‘no pictures’. He was extremely agitated. It was Josh, the owner. To be honest, it scared the crap out of me, I’ve never encountered this before. Mostly people are happy to get free publicity from food bloggers.

The barista and co-owner, Ai, was also very upset about us taking photos so Lorraine and I approached the counter. We chatted with her for a while and handed over our business cards / blog addresses while she explained that professional reviewers always ask before taking pictures. (Point taken, we should have).

She mentioned that other bloggers had been taking photos of their coffee and comparing them with other surrounding cafes on their blogs. Apparently she doesn’t like being compared online and asked us to email her when the post goes live so she can read it.

With the drama over we settled into good conversation and the occasional request from the colourful locals for spare change or to lend a lighter. Our reply was always the same; ‘sorry, we don’t smoke’.

When the food arrived all was forgiven. I think I got the best thing on the menu followed closely by Lorraine’s choice of Japanese style omelette with soft shell crab. Actually, Cafe Ish is famous in the food blogosphere for that omelette, and although it wasn’t on the menu Josh made it for her anyway. Nice!

My dish of the native pepper pork was absolutely beautiful. The pork was juicy and flavoursome with a thick layer of crisp fat (see pic above) and the accompanying pumpkin was heavily spiced and aromatic. No complaints either about the housemade relish; sweet, spicy, sour and perfectly seasoned.

The boys had a wagyu beef burger (I didn’t taste it, but the bun was a little singed) and a Japanese curry with crocodile, apple, muntharies (native Aussie berries) and lemon myrtle flavoured rice. I haven’t eaten crocodile before and was surprised that it tasted like a cross between pork and fish with the texture similar to a firm fish like monk.

After our meal Josh headed over to our table to apologise for his outburst. We thought this was very kind and can totally understand how hot it gets in the kitchen. Couple that with some bad food blogger experiences and I’d probably shout too.

We followed him back to the kitchen (tiny!) and chatted about how on earth he makes such wonderful food in such a small space and without gas! I can’t believe it, especially when we learn that everything is made on the premises, except for the bread and the ice cream.

Josh tells us that there’s a special ice cream flavour made just for Cafe Ish; Wattleseed and Macadamia. Our eyes widen with the intriguing combination and he quickly offers us a scoop. To my delight it’s not overly sweet and the macadamias are still crunchy. Delicious.

So it’s true, something good can definitely come of something bad, sometimes. I recommend Cafe Ish for good coffee, excellent food that’s ethically sourced and passionate owners. Just ask them first before whipping out your camera.

Happy eating! Christie x

PS. For another opinion on how it all went down and lots more photos, check out Lorraine’s post at Not Quite Nigella.

Cafe Ish (currently no website)
82 Campbell Street
Surry hills, corner foster and campbell
Ph: +61 2 9281 1312

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  • http://www.notquitenigella.com Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella

    Great report Christie and lovely having lunch darling :) Let’s do it again soon sometime!

  • http://www.figandcherry.com Christie

    @Lorraine – Thank you! We loved lunching with you! Another date is a must!

    BTW – Lorraine’s post will be up tomorrow morning. Be sure to check her blog then!

  • http://www.eatshowandtell.com/2008/08/22/cafe-ish-surry-hills/ Howard

    I love this place, Josh and Ai are such a nice couple and her coffee is amazing. I think for my next visit I will take your advice and ask for permission before whipping out my camera. On our first visit and review/post they didn’t seem to mind, but I can understand their concerns! I joined their Facebook group and posted the review for them to read and also a lovely photo of Ai and the waitress.

    Ah the soft shell crab omelette brings back good memories. Also try their ‘Big ish’ breakfast, bloody amazing and is sure to cover anyone for brekky and lunch.

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    what an interesting story….I can see it from both perspectives. I know this is “naughty” but I just tell the owners it’s my b’day and I want to remember everything I did and ate…so I snap away. Sounds like a good place to visit and being of Greek descent I understand passion! …LOL

    • Jason

      You have a massive hide and an out of control Ego to believe you can brush off ‘snapping away’ with a lie of ‘it’s my birthday’ to make it all better to blog away without the permission of the owner of an establishment.
      They’ve worked their butts off for years just to start up the business so you can pass judgement as a ‘foodie’. Mass market gourmet is what you’ve all become. You think because you can spell ‘Macaron’ the correct way that your some kind of expert.

      Where does it end?
      I write a blog on peoples pooh.
      I’m going to just barge in on you whilst you go to the toilet and ‘snap away’.
      What’s that?
      you would of liked permission asked first?
      Who cares!
      it’s my birthday.
      And anyway; most people love being blogged about, why should I ask your permission.
      That’s just selfish of you.

      Do you even understand why many people find your behaviour repulsive?

      I also believe that this comment will be ‘moderated’ out of existence by the site. You all have the ability to pass blogger judgement on Chefs and baristas but never, ever, are you brave enough to publish critical comment.

      Prove me wrong?

      Kind Regards, Jason.

      • http://www.figandcherry.com Christie

        Hi Jason,

        Thanks for dropping by my blog. I’m not quite sure why I have been targeted with your rage rant as my post didn’t mention anything about my birthday. Perhaps this is a comment you have cut and paste here about another blog post you have read?

        With regards to comments, I always publish them, whether they are positive or negative, and yours has been published completely un-edited.

        If you do end up starting a blog about poo and public toilets, then feel free to come back and leave a link.

        Cheers
        Christie

  • http://www.gourmetworrier.com/ MsGourmet

    LOL- all that song and dance about NQN’s pie and you ended up at Surry Hills!

  • http://noblepig.com noble pig

    Wow. Christie, you must be a very levelheaded person because if that happened to me, I would have walked out. I mean, they could have with so much more finesse asked what your intentions were. I know so many people who on vacation take pics of their meals and do not blog!

    I mean if they can’t handle a “not so favorable” review on the net and being compared…well, I think the saying is. “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”.

    Like I said, you must be a sweetheart and they chose their victim wisely.

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  • Helen

    I’ve got to agree, I would have walked out too. The owner said they don’t like being compared online but, it’s not up to them! What a silly thing to say. You are giving them free publicity! Every paying customer has the right to disseminate their opinion of the food in whatever way they choose. They got lucky with you!

  • http://janespice.com Ursula

    Sounds delicious. I’ll be coming home to Sydney to visit in March, so will add this on the list of new places to try.

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  • Ju’eta Amir

    I’ve been there and love it!

  • http://www.hogletk.wordpress.com Arwen from Hoglet K

    Goodness that sounds really terrifying. I’m glad the food was nice, that icecream sounds beautiful.

  • http://www.eatshowandtell.com Linda

    Glad you’ve finally made it to one of our favourite cafe in Sydney. We’ve been there a couple of times, each time Josh and Ai were very pleasant and more than happy to discuss with us their creations. It’s a shame to hear that your first time was not so great, as you mentioned, he must have been really busy and therefore abit frustrated. Not a great excuse I know. Anyway, I’m glad the food more than made up for it.

  • http://www.worldfoodieguide.com Helen Yuet Ling Pang

    It sounds like the meal made up for being shouted at. I’ve been told ‘no photos’ but never been shouted at. That would have made the meal far less palatable for me (and rather embarrassing). But you handled the situation really well! The pork loin photo is gorgeous…

  • http://www.sugarbar.org diva

    haha it sounds like a great eventful meal! and cafe ish is such a cool name. i like it already, even if i’m a world away! gorgeous photo – it’s making my mouth water very badly. haven’t visited for quite a while, i hope u’re well christie! x

  • http://www.realepicurean.com Scott at Realepicurean

    It sounds delicious and looks even more so!

  • http://www.figandcherry.com Christie

    @Howard – They were very nice after the incident. Looking forward to going back and checking out their new menu in a few weeks…
    @Peter G – Haha! My Middle Eastern background understands passion (read: temper) too! That’s probably why I could handle the outburst :)
    @MsGourmet – I know! You can’t help the weather!
    @Noble Pig – LOL, I know! I’ve rad some of your encounters… Hahaha!
    @Helen – That’s why you’re a professional reviewer and I just wanted a nice lunch with my friend! :)
    @Ursula – Great, I hope you try it out!
    @Ju’eta – I didn’t know that! Not with me… :(
    @Arwen – The food was delicious! Luckily!
    @Linda – Like I said, it’s hot in the kitchen and totally understandable sometimes. It was so nice of him to come back later and chat to us.
    @Helen – You’re right. The food more than made up for it! Sorry you had the opposite though. What a bummer.
    @Diva – Hello again! It is a cool name and in a cool part of town too.
    @Scott – Thanks! It was really yummy ;)

  • http://www.norecipes.com Marc @ NoRecipes

    Wow that pork loin almost looks like pork belly!

  • Helen

    Well I don’t tolerated being shouted at in any situation, be it professional or just having lunch with a friend…

  • http://www.CosmeticTattooist.com Cosmetic Tattooist – Melbourne

    Looks good I must try it when next in the area

  • josh nicholls

    Not shouted…told..
    theres a big difference.
    I am always obliging when asked for something, ie can i take a photo please.
    but they made for good headlines….
    nice review thanks, and now I know how come i gotta put that bloody crab omlette on my next menu
    Josh
    Yelling, screaming, grumpy, protective, CHEF

  • http://www.figandcherry.com Christie

    Hey Josh, Thanks for dropping by. Yes, being a copywriter it’s imperative that I put the most ‘news worthy’ info at the beginning of the article :)

    Cheers, Christie

  • F

    I love their food but they are rude. Josh near enough knocked my elderly aunt over because wanted to get past her waiting at the counter to pay.

  • sw2000

    They’ve just opened up at the old Cafe Saks place (corner Foster & Campbell)- and open for dinner. Really great place for relaxed interesting food. As for grumpy chef – well it was nice to actually meet person who cooked for me. Passions. That’s what it’s about

  • Josh Nicholls

    Yes we have opened at the old Saks site.
    Nights wed-sat
    days 7 of them
    organic and bi dynamic wines
    organic, handcrafted and native beers
    sake and more sake
    izakaya style night menu

  • Mona

    Hi Christie, I across your blog when I was looking for Cafe Ish new address. I went there once when it was still in Albion street. Indeed it’s very delicious food there … I should go this weekend :) I like visiting new cafe/different places and wanted to have a food blog as well but lazy lazy lazy :) So sometimes I just posted the pictures in my facebook. Anyway, have a great day!

  • Carol T

    did you know that Josh from cafe ish called a woman a bitch on her own blog, this man is not worthy of any publicity and attention and your money. he cooks in a kitchen just enough to fit 2 ppl and a seating place smaller than a studio apartment and he acts like he’s Gordon Ramsay. he’s smaller than the kid who prepares your maccas cheeseburger!

  • http://aficionado-x.blogspot.com/ cathy x.

    A friend of mine recently went to Cafe Ish for the first and probably the last time. The chef (who, after reading this post I’m going to assume was Josh) yelled out: “SMILE!”, whipped out his camera phone and began pointing and taking photos of her. Putting a sign up or requesting politely that customers do not take photos for whatever reason is acceptable. Mocking the people who go to his hole-in-the-wall cafe and sustain his livelihood will get him nothing but bad press, whether by blog, facebook, twitter or good old-fashioned word of mouth. He sounds like a twit to be completely honest. I don’t know what his food tastes like but after hearing about other peoples’ bad experiences I really don’t care to find out and will most likely attempt to discourage others should they express any interest. Unacceptable and completely unprofessional behaviour. Working in a hot kitchen for long hours does not excuse reacting towards customers like a drugged up maniac. For the record I’m a qualified chef and not a ‘wannabe gourmet’ blogger.

    • Cindy

      What a shame for Cafe Ish, I got one of those group deal via email today and I was curious about what the food is like, regardless what the food looks like, the environment sounds very poisonous and unpleasant.. guess what, I’m not going.

      Food blog likes yours gives me an idea of what the food is going to be like and provides free advertising for restaurants and cafes. They should be paying you for this!

      Thanks!

  • Hannah

    I had possibly one of the absolute worst experiences of my life at Cafe Ish and I didn’t even get to eat the food!

    I won’t go into the minutia of our ordeal, save the following key points:
    1. We booked via a website promoting a discount on the bill, but the discount was an added bonus rather than the motivator for booking this restaurant.
    2. A group of 4 of us were booked in for a 7pm dinner for which 2 of us were on time and 2 of us were late.
    3. The disagreement began when the owner stormed over to our table to announce that he would not be giving us the discount as the table was running late. I’d already had my heart set on going to Café Ish, discount or not, so I would’ve had no problem with it if he hadn’t been SO ABSOLUTELY RUDE about it!
    4. It ended with him shouting at us (and I quote here): “Get the f*ck out!” and threatening my male companions plus the arrival of the police.

    I’m genuinely upset that our visit to Café Ish ended this way as I was extremely eager to try what is apparently some amazing food, and now I’ve completely lost the opportunity as I’ll NEVER return here.

    I feel for Lorraine@Not Quite Nigella as it seems she’s had a similarly harrowing experience and I would’ve posted this there except (understandably) the comments section has been closed.

    • http://www.figandcherry.com Christie

      I’m so sorry to hear that Hannah. Thanks for sharing your experience here. Christie

  • http://chopinandmysaucepan.com Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan

    Hi Christie

    We were about to try out this place but I have just read your review and also NQN’s review and find it quite unfortunate with the chain of events. Firstly, I think it is the legal right of a customer to take photos in a restaurant and no permission is required unless it is a explicit condition of the restaurant that no photos are allowed. In this latter case, such condition should then be clearly displayed either by signage, on the menu and/or website.

    This express notice of condition will give customers the option to either accept the condition that photos are prohibited as part of their dining experience or not dine at all. This will save the management from having to convey the message of “no photos allowed” and hence avoid misunderstanding with customers. Had I been told after I had sat down that no photos are allowed, I would have got up and walked out straight away. Unless flash cameras are interfering with the enjoyment of other patrons, taking photos is just as normal as writing notes about the food or coffee or playing games on my iPad.

  • David

    I have had a similar experience, as have several other friends. Josh’s vile behaviour is totally unacceptable. Like a spoiled child having a tantrum. He really needs to grow up. No food is that good to put up behaviour from a small person who has no self control.

  • Sam

    Yeha, I too have had a similarly unpleasant experience with Josh the Chef at Cafe Ish, he not too subtly flirted with my girlfriend(Just so happens she’s also Japanese) and then openly mocked me in front of her. I didn’t say anything but have recommended all our friends that despite the food and coffee are okay(some of the food was salty as hell and some bread was blatantly burnt) to stay away.

    I too am a professional chef and love talking to customers, I’m happy that people can enjoy my food so much that they are willing to pay for it and again he’s working a tiny kitchen with electric stoves(whaaaat????) and acting like he’s taking up the kitchen at Lespinasse after Gray Kunz left.

    Dude’s got serious self esteem issues.

  • Jay

    I know this review was posted a long time ago, but I felt very comforted as I could relate to all these posts. Recently went to Milk Bar by Cafe Ish and had the worst experience. Josh is incredibly rude, full of uneccessary attitute. I won’t get into the fine details – but I warn people not to visit.

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