In Short: Café Kentaro takes contemporary classics, like poutine and tacos, and injects it with a Japanese touch. Extensive menu with great coffee and delightful drinks in leafy Surry Hills.
Kenny Takayama’s first foray into Sydney’s café scene with Café Oratnek challenged the breakfast norms with an infusion of Japanese flavours and techniques. His second offering Café Kentaro (which cheekily is Oratnek spelt backwards!) is a step up in refinement, but also branches out reinventing non-Japanese classics, like tacos and poutine, as well as bringing a classic across from their Redfern cafe.
Café Kentaro sits on Bourke Street just a few metres down from Bourke Street Bakery. We dined on Saturday afternoon, and with deciduous trees shedding their leaves and the sun filtering through the new gaps between the branches, we could have been in London or Paris. I love the fit-out of Cafe Kentaro, which is industrial, yet with big windows that open up to allow the afternoon light to bathe the cafe. You can, like us, opt to sit outside and it’s just as comfortable, with the aromas wafting through from the coffee machine just a step or two away.
There was little need for arm twisting to get the whole team together to sample Cafe Kentaro’s menu, as we’re all big fans of Japanese flavours. Coco and Viner Sonia, being the resident chai expert, was delighted with her baked chai latte. It’s nicely balanced, and not too sweet with a nice punch of cinnamon and and cardamon coming through the milk. As will become evident with many of our choices, although chai lattes aren’t a mainstay of Japanese menus, the Kentaro team presents instead a latte that stays true to its subcontinent heritage.
Feeling the rumbles in the tummy, I was glad to see the Japanese poutine placed in front of me. Now, this isn’t the normal Canadian-inspired dish that you would tuck into while in Montreal. Rather, Café Kentaro’s take on poutine is filled with extra goodness, starting off with tender pulled beef that had a sweet, stewed flavour from the injection of miso. The goats cheese is light and tangy, and melds well with the beef. Crispy chips makes the poutine complete. It’s a bowl full of hearty, homely flavours and with dash of Asian flavour, it keeps everyone at the table coming back for just one more.
To wash down the poutine is a matcha shake. It’s a creamy shake with a bubbly head and a nice viscosity; not too thick that your cheeks suffer, nor too watery, that it disappears in a second. A subtle matcha flavour with a characteristic mellow sweetness. It’s a refreshing drink that is cutely presented in a thin cylindrical bottle.
My choice from Kentaro’s all day lunch menu is the Kentaro style omurice. It definitely is a Kentaro take, as traditional omurice typically arrives draped in an omelette. Their version has chunks of egg running through it as a nod to the omurice recipe. The red rice gets its colour from the tomato. I enjoyed that the rice is not sweet, nor acidic, from the tomatoes but that it instead comes from the chunks of mushroom, which is just delicious. Cheese adds a layer of richness and depth; the peas and bacon add texture, and the hit of pork flavour never goes astray.
A good cold drip might be all gone by the time an afternoon rolls around, but I am fortunate that there was a bottle in reserve. Presented in a cute little bottle with a glass of ice, I loved the aromas of the coffee. A sip reveals a smoky flavour. As a cold drip should be, the texture is smooth and goes down easy. I loved the pronounced berry flavour, yet it’s a sweeter flavour rather than tart. It was an easy drinking coffee, that was refreshing to boot.
As I glanced over at Sonia, I see her cheeks are a tiny bit flushed as she attacks the karage sambo. The reason is, Kentaro’s version of a karage sandwich includes a kimchi salad which ramps up the heat. I sampled the kimchi, and it reveals its characteristic flavour of the pickled cabbage, enhanced with chilli goodness. The chicken has a crispy batter, yet the morsels of chicken remain moist. There’s a nice char to the bread. If all sandwiches were this good which just a few quality ingredients, the whole world would be happy!
If you are a mushroom lover, you definitely can’t go past Café Kentaro’s umami mushroom toast. A generous serve of sautéed, mixed wild mushrooms, miso butter, goat’s cheese and herbs sits on top of a piece of toasted sourdough. The nutty and earthy flavours, and textures of the different types of mushrooms, is nicely combined with the salty hit from the miso butter. Goats cheese provides a contrasting tangy flavour and the addition of the poached eggs, which run over the mushrooms, is a heavenly dressing. Definitely not your ordinary mushrooms on toast!
Ben the barista makes me up a flat white. It’s a perfect cup using a blend from Aroma. Perfectly rounded flavours of berry and caramel dance in unison with a nice temperature. It’s silky smooth. The acidity is very well balanced, and generally is a brighter profiled blend.
For a sweet ending, there’s no going past the matcha lamington. Biting into it is reminiscent of biting into the best CWA lamington. It was a soft, fluffy, and moist sponge. The matcha flavour is present, yet doesn’t overpower and I still got the taste of the coconut. I like that I was not overcome by the sweetness of this treat, and it is so light that it can quite easily disappear, even after a big breakfast or lunch.
With a calorie surplus, it was time then to take a walk and kick the football around and enjoy the last warmth of the day. Café Kentaro delivered quality in every dish we tasted, and has to be commended for really pushing the boat out by injecting each dish with a Japanese touch. The drinks menu has something for everyone, and service was warm and attentive. Café Kentaro is definitely a welcome addition to Surry Hills.