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Peckish for something different.

Josh Nicholls, the larrikin chef and his Japanese partner, Ai who co-owned Cafe Ish needs no introduction. Their little cafe at the corner of Campbell St in Surry Hills might be small, but it is the derision of Japanese and bush tucker food combo menu that makes Ish one of the most unique cafes in the area, if not in whole Sydney.

The ballsy mashup food at Ish might need some effort to convince the skeptical ones that tempura soft shell crab served on toast with hollandaise sauce for lunch actually does work. It is intense and loud, just like the relationship between Josh and Ai, this dynamite Japbogan team are hardworkers, focused and passionate, they will take no for an answer.

The cafe is packed with weekend brunchers on a Saturday afternoon but Josh manages to accommodate us at the far right corner of the table.“Josh, can we take pictures please?” Suze asks jokingly. Josh rolls his eyes at Suze’s sarcasm as his “ask for permission before taking photos in the cafe” policy only lasted few weeks before all the fangirls rolling into the cafe with big cameras and giving Ish more exposures than ever on the interweb. We asked anyway, just in case.

During my first visit to Ish, I was totally captured by their signature wattle maccacino. The coffee arrives with a perfect latte art of a fern leaf, no sugar needed, the coffee is robust and sweet with an interesting blend of wattle seeds and macadamia that brings out a unique chocolate nutty flavour.

We are here for the crabs, deep fried tempura soft shell crab to be exact. Since I have missed out on the crab last time due to the deep fryer wasn’t ready for any deep frying action, I am determined to order their infamous crab omelette to satiate my desperation.

A big appetite is essential because the crab omelette is massive! It is not prepared the way an omelette should be, more like a wrap, hunks of deep fried soft shell crab with slivers of avocado together with chopped shallots are wrapped inside a thin layer of egg pancake imbibed in a spicy hot chilli, soy and ginger dressing. Half a lime on side for the extra zing.

It’s best eaten once served as by the time we finish taking photos of the dish, the egg pancake has become a steaming chamber and the deep fried soft shell crab is already on the way to sloppyland. Nevertheless, the dish is packed with big flavour, sweetness of the crab is enhanced by the intense Asian influence chilli dressing while the creamy avocado offers some relief from the heat.

Simon’s okonomiyaki with emu prosciutto is like three meals in one. The giant japanese cabbage pancake almost makes the Sydney Olympic Stadium looks small. The inch thick pancake is packed with shredded cabbage, strips of emu prosciutto and organic tasty cheese, sauced by zig-zags of Davo plum sauce and wasabi mayo while the bonito and seaweed flakes on top are dancing like fairies.

The okonomiyaki is a very heavy dish, it is moister than usual (and I can’t believe I just said that!) and still a little wet in the center. Whilst the cabbage brings refreshing crunch, sadly the emu prosciutto is rather underwhelming as we can’t really detect any distinctive flavour and overpowered by the okonomiyaki sauce on top.

Phuoc’s bennedict ish is possibly my favourite. Without being wrapped inside an egg pancake, the soft shell crab is still crunchy on the outside, resting on a slice of toast cushioned with sauteed spinach.

Phuoc takes the honor by pricking the poached egg with a knife, the crispy crab underneath is immediately sexy-fied with a flow of runny yolk while the tangy sake hollandaise does help to cut through the richness of the dish.

As we are about to finish our meal, Josh takes a quick break from the kitchen and comes to join us at the table, purely to share and show off his bottle of rare junmai red rice sake. Josh tells us that there are only a few restaurateurs in Sydney have access to this Mukai Shuzo Inemankai sake made from red rice, Justin North at Becasse has one. The Ine Mankei is made by Mukai Kuniko, one of the first women sake makers in Japan. It is a lot sweeter than white rice sake, smooth and fruity with a hint of pomegranate. It is truly a sake by women, for women.

If you get the chance to eat at Cafe Ish, just ask Josh nicely before taking any photos. He might even let you take photos of him… naked… and that’s exactly what we did to enter Crave Sydney’s Shoot The Chef competition.

Photoshoot with Josh & Ai for Shoot The Chef

Let’s back track a bit. When I first met Josh and Ai, I instantly had a mental picture that they would be the perfect couple for a photoshoot. A very last minute decision, I quickly jumped on the opportunity and contacted Josh just a week before the closing date for Shoot The Chef and asked him and Ai to pose for me, along with this pic below I sent.

Hours later, a tweet from Josh:

@atablefortwo bring that on and yes wife says let’s get Nekid and photographed

… And the photoshoot was on.

And here is our entry for the Shoot The Chef competition:

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(click on image to enlarge if you must)

Self explanatory really, the idea of having Josh and Ai posed as John and Yoko Ono is an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. People who know me would understand that I never take things too seriously. I wanted a lighthearted entry rather than another highly staged photo of a tiresome chef that absolutely blows the budget. It is not meant to be original or serious, with artichokes added, I want people to look at this parody to find the quirks behind it and have a good laugh, that’s what this Japbogan couple really are.

Unfortunately we didn’t make the cut to the final round. If you want to check this photo out, there will be another print proudly framed and hang on the wall at Cafe Ish soon. I’m sure Josh would love you to compliment about his artichokes.

With Josh’s permission, I also get to run a friday competition with one of the outtake from the photoshoot session. All you have to do is “CAPTION THIS” picture, the funnier the better, and the best entry will win a dinner for two valued up to $80 at Cafe Ish.

Don’t be shy now, give me your best shot!

[The competition has now closed. Winner is announced here. Thank you for entering!]

Dinner for two at Cafe Ish value up to $80

Note: Entrants are opened to Sydney residents only!

Caption this image above and leave a comment on this post.

Terms & Conditions
1. Entry will be judged on creativity or entertainment value.
2. Readers may submit one entry per day before closing date.
3. The competition closes on Thu 21st Oct 2010 at 11.59pm AEST. The winners will be announced on Fri 22nd Oct 2010.
4. Winners will be notified via email. The winners will need to give me name and the date you would like to visit Cafe Ish.

[Note: If you want to know more about ATFT competitions, you can follow me on twitter, or join the ATFT fan page on facebook.]


If you are interested in ATFT Food Photography Workshops, learn a few tips and tricks how to make your photos stand out from the crowd, please join us at the workshop in Melbourne at St Ali on 27 and 28th November which including a scrumptious lunch specially designed for the workshops.

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