Before you roll your eyes and think ‘another café in Surry Hills? What’s new?’, I’ll tell you what’s new: a Japanese fusion café by the name of Café Kentaro.
Situated on the lush, quiet street of Bourke Street in Surry Hills, Café Kentaro blends in perfectly with the friendly and warm atmosphere of the area. The sun’s rays peer around the corner as Bourke Street begins to wake up to a new day. The café’s rustic décor is clean and minimal, reflecting the Japanese philosophy of simplicity through restraint.
You don’t often encounter Japanese cuisine in Sydney’s café scene, but Café Kentaro has fused the two together to create a café menu laced with classic Japanese dishes. These dishes include omurice, doria and yakisoba (in a hotdog) to name a few. The café’s Japanese influence is not surprising when you consider that the owner is Kenny Takayama, the previous head chef of Bills in Darlinghurst. Kenny also owns Café Oratnek (Kentaro spelt backwards, it’s a tongue twister) in Redfern. Cafe Kentaro is the sister café of Café Oratnek which has a similar menu but it still upholds the shared philosophy of ‘make it fresh today, make it fresh tomorrow’.
Café Kentaro’s coffee is made from the café’s own coffee beans. Our Flat Whites ($3.80 each) were smooth and creamy, the perfect remedy to chase away chilly winter mornings. Cafe Kentaro also offers interesting drinks that you won’t find in your average cafe such as the classic matcha latte ($4.20), hojicha latte ($4.20) and hot yuzu lemonade ($5.50).
Café Kentaro still carries on signature dishes from its sister café in their menu such as the Signature Katsu Sandwich ($15). As newbies to this chain of Japanese fusion cafes, we felt obliged to try their signature dish. When it arrived at our table, the dish looked quite minimal but don’t be fooled by its simplistic appearance. The juicy, succulent pork katsu was fried in a light, crispy batter that was surprisingly not greasy considering its crispiness. The pork katsu came in a generous size (200 grams of pork fillet) that won’t leave you unsatisfied. The saltiness of the pork katsu is balanced out by the fresh, crisp cabbage. The sweet, tanginess of the Japanese BBQ Sauce and the spice of the mustard complimented the katsu which added extra depth and elevated the overall flavours of the sandwich. The Signature Katsu Sandwich was served in a classic Japanese style, with crust-less white, fluffy bread. Sometimes the good things in life can be found through the simplest of things.
The dish that caught my eye the most was the Squid Ink Doria ($22) which is part of their winter special menu. Café Kentaro whips up a new menu every season to reflect the seasonal ingredients at the time. That means the menu changes four times a year, leaving you spoilt with variety with almost every visit.
Whilst I was in Japan last year, I tried a doria (a Japanese version of a French Gratin) for the first time and I was hooked. The creaminess of the béchamel sauce and the stringiness of the cheese mixed with the fresh, hot rice was the perfect comfort food during the snowy weather in Japan. But I did not expect to find this dish here in Sydney.
The Squid Ink Doria chased away the Sydney morning chills as well as bringing back fond memories of all the Western-inspired Japanese meals I had back in Japan. The Squid Ink Doria was made up of glutinous Japanese rice coated in squid ink, a layer of green spinach, freshly cooked, juicy squid speckled throughout the dish and creamy white béchamel sauce topped with gooey triple cheese. To finish it all up, the Doria had a crispy, caramelised crust that was baked to perfection.
To satisfy our sweet tooth, we had a Matcha Cream Puff ($7). I have a rule when it comes to eating at places with a specific theme, I stick with the theme up until the very last course (except I failed as soon as I ordered a flat white, which happened to be the first thing I ordered… ok drinks may or may not count in this rule). The Matcha Cream Puff was a nod to the Japanese cream puffs sold at street food stalls in Japan. As you walk past one of these stalls, the sweet scent of freshly baked, buttery choux pastry bewitches you and the next thing you know, you’re ordering five cream puffs. The light and crispy cream puffs you find in Japan are filled with a thick, creamy custard. Even though the cream puffs you find in Japan are different to the ones in Café Kentaro, the cafe provides a good introduction to Western-style Japanese desserts that exist on the streets of Japan. The layer of matcha ganache slathered on the bottom half the puff pastry had a good balance of matcha intenseness and sweetness which will satisfy those who love the intense bitterness of matcha and those who prefer their matcha sweeter. On top of the matcha ganache sits a mountain of whipped cream that would make your inner child proud. The whipped cream is then dusted with match powder and topped with the lid of the pastry. The choux pastry in cream puffs are meant to be slightly dry as they are always served with copious amounts of cream. The White Chocolate & Matcha Brownie ($6.5) on the menu also looked tempting, but I will save that for my next visit.
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of another winter special dish as it exited the café’s open kitchen, the Baked Eggplant Dengaku ($17). Dengaku is a sweet and savoury Japanese miso sauce that is often used as a glaze on tofu, eggplant, daikon (radish) and konnyaku. The Baked Eggplant Dengaku is a salad that is served with whole eggplants, bullhorn chilli, kale, nuts and seeds. I wish I had a bottomless stomach so I could devour all these photogenic dishes in this little photogenic cafe.
Café Kentaro is only seven months old, but it has a promising future with its friendly staff and evolving, innovative menu. I’m not usually a fan of infants, but I’m excited to watch this one grow.
616 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9699 2665