All-you-can-eat ribs. It’s such a beautiful concept that it almost makes me tear up at the thought.
Tender, succulent crescents of meat that slips effortlessly off the bone. The finger licking goodness of the slightly sticky sweetness of the flavourful sauce. As much as your stomach will allow, and then a little more.
It’s odd to have a craving for such a thing in a country that is known for its depth and breadth of excellent food, but I did. So once a Sydney food blogger outing was organised by Richard, there was no question that I would jump at the chance.
I was the first of our party of ten food bloggers to arrive at their Campbell St restaurant. Having been directed to our table, I sat down and waited with eager anticipation for the rest of the party to arrive, as well as what lay ahead.
Cafe Ish is not only an embodiment of their owner/operator couple of Ai & Josh, but there’s a certain element of yin and yang that seems apparent to me. Not so much in polar opposites exactly but with regards to contrasting elements in union, often in harmony with each other.
For instance, Ai and Josh are of Japanese and Australian heritage respectively. Their food incorporates elements from the rugged Australian outback with the refined cuisine of the Japanese, and vice versa. Though their individual character are as distinct as night and day, their service is complementary.
The rest of the party arrive and we commence with pre-dinner drinks.
Oz Geisha is an elegant looking cocktail that’s an original recipe of Ai’s.
Summer Time Ale, a wonderful beer selected by Josh, is served in the bottle with a stubby holder. I imagine this was his idea as well.
A stubby holder, for those that are unaware, is an insulating sheath (often neoprene) that keeps the beer from exchanging heat with hands or the surrounding environment.
You could almost be forgiven for passing on the side dishes and going straight for the all you can eat ribs. There are certain rules of thumb of making the most out of your all you can eat dining experience (one of which is to skip the filler, especially if it costs you extra) which exists for a reason.
However, were you to do so, you’d be missing out on some rather nice starters and accompaniments. Take for instance the Cabbage ($5), served with a wattleseed miso mayo.
Yeah, that’s right. Cabbage. If you’ve just cocked an eyebrow, I know. I thought the same thing when I’d heard a few people from our dining party speak so highly of it. However, once you try it out for yourself, you’ll understand.
Firstly, it works as a stand-alone dish. The fresh, crisp leaves of cabbage works so well with the umami packed flavour & saltiness of the miso mayo. It also serves as a textural contrast, as well as something of a palate cleanser, to help balance out the rich sweetness of the ribs.
Other sides such as the Chili Edamame Beans ($6), and Fries ($6) served with wasabi mayo, are worth due consideration as they’re both great as well.
The commendable warm up act takes its leave and slide towards the wings as they make way for the main act to takes centre stage.
There are two sets of ribs on offer, both of which are prepared in the same fashion. Blue gum smoked, braised in a marinade of soy, sake, mirin & ginger, & finished with a garnish of fresh coriander, chilis, sesame seeds & shallots.
The Pork Ribs are really good, with the sweetness of the meat really coming through. They’re up there with some of the best I’ve had in Sydney. However, they pale in comparison to the beef ribs.
The Beef Ribs are for me, and will likely be for many others, the reason that you not only come for the all-you-can-eat-ribs the first time around, but the reason you keep coming back for more.
These ribs are incredible! To say that the beef ribs are moreish is something of an understatement. They almost demand gluttony. Why?
A high degree of meat-bone-ratio so there’s more meat for less effort. The flavour, though made in the same way as the pork ribs, is more savoury and has more apparent flavour to it, as if it absorbed more of the braising marinade.
While on flavour, the beef ribs remind me very much of the Korean dish jang-jorim, beef braised in a flavourful soy-based broth. As such, I very much felt the need for a bowl of white rice and miss its presence from the menu.
I’m not the only one, as a number of people on the table felt the same way. Though to be fair, they, like I, were all Asian.
As much as I wax lyrical about these ribs in the key of gluttony, a measure of judgement should be exercised. Not only to save yourself from eating your way to nausea or perhaps worse, but for those that are fiscally sensitive, there is a charge of $50/Kg for excessive waste if your demand far exceeds your capacity.
We take a little breather after our rib rampage to allow our stomachs to settle enough to fit in a bite or two of dessert. Unfortunately, I’d not noted prices so apologies for that. A web presence with a menu would have helped though *hint* *hint*.
Lemon Delicious, served with a scoop of ice cream, is the embodiment of truth in advertising as it is, as its name implies, both lemony and delicious.
The soft, pudding-like consistency with its slightly sour taste and delightful citrus aroma is so moreish that you can’t help but keep coming back for more.
The Chocolate Gateau, served with a scoop of wattleseed ice cream and a smear of umeboshi, a salty sour preserved plum of Japanese origin is nice. Ai presented the dish with some pride, and it’s something she should be proud of.
The umeboshi smear on the other hand I could have done without. I’m appreciative that it was presented separate to the cake as it would have lessened the experience for me otherwise. Never been a fan of umeboshi.
The Wattleseed Creme Brulee, served with anko sweet red beans on the side, is almost a fantastic dessert.
The creme brulee is an excellent execution of this dish. The burned sugar crust actually has some substance to it, shattering into shards when its surface is breached. The wattleseed custard beneath is barely set and is somewhat like silken tofu. I much prefer it this way over firmer interpretations of this dish.
However, the red beans on the side feel to me as either a lack of confidence in its acceptance by not incorporating it into the creme brulee itself, or something of an afterthought.
I would have much preferred it either be added as a paste/sauce at the bottom of the creme brulee or left off the dish entirely. It otherwise detracts from the greatness of the creme brulee, which is able to stand on its own merits.
All in all, a fantastic dinner and one of the best all-you-can-eat experiences I’ve had in quite a while.
All you can eat ribs are $35 per person, available only on Wednesday evenings. There is a time limit of 90 mins from when the first bowl of ribs hits the table. A charge of $50/Kg applies for excessive waste of ribs. All drinks, side dishes and desserts are charged separately. They are neither all-you-can-eat, nor inclusive of the $35 charge.
82 Campbell St, Surry Hills.
(02) 9281 1688
Note: Cafe Ish is no longer located on Albion St, Surry Hills.