Those familiar with Michael Rantissi’s flagship cafe Kepos Street Kitchen will know just how long the wait can be during peak trading hours. To be fair, the queues are well-deserved – that cafe was my favourite of 2014. How did that happen? Through a unique, Mediterranean-inspired menu, and having it perfectly-executed. But the pressure needed to be relieved, and the Kepos Street Kitchen side simply could not expand.
Enter Kepos & Co. No, it’s not a clone of Kepos Street Kitchen, but it’s not far from it either – figuratively and literally. Dang it Mike, couldn’t you have opened Kepos & Co somewhere that’s more than a stone’s throw from Kepos Street Kitchen?
I guess it’s time to become very well-acquainted with Waterloo.
Date Last Visited: 15/8/15
Address: Shop 5, Casba, 18 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney
Recommended Dish(es): warm hummus & taboonb read, sujuk & olive pide, blue eye cod burger, KSK roll
So what’s the deal with Kepos and Co? I almost think of it as an extension to Kepos Street Kitchen, with a different menu, with the provision of nighttime service. Think of Kepos and Co as a restaurant that acts as a cafe by day.
The restaurant’s decor? Whitewashed walls and warm hues from lacework lamps imbuing a distinctly Middle Eastern feel. Rantissi refers to it as an “old Jerusalem” kind of look – I can only take his word for it.
It would then make sense that the menu has a strong Middle Eastern bent as well. I can’t say I’m in any way an expert on the cuisine, but you don’t need a degree to appreciate the beauty of it – all that’s required is a willing mind and a generous stomach.
Take for example, the staple hummus.
But hummus is just a condiment. It’s just something to dip your bread into. It’s primarily just chickpeas, tahini & oil.
That may be true, but find me a hummus in Sydney that exceeds what Kepos & Co produces and I’ll eat my weight in the stuff. This is, quite literally, the best I’ve had, and I wouldn’t hesitate to nominate it for an award. Its fluid, creamy texture is unlike any before it – other renditions always have had some element of grittiness, spoiling its texture. Stripping the skins of the chickpeas could only go so far to smooth out the texture, so Rantissi is clearly a magician. Well, he probably whips & whisks it, but let’s go with magic.
In terms of taste, it’s every bit as flavourful with bread as it is by itself. Chickpeas are already delicious, hummus doubly so. The inclusion of burnt butter adds a smoky savouriness and an additional layer of silky texture which, by this point, is defining the word “excess”. That’s not even mentioning the perfectly poached egg on top, when burst open, reveals a swathe of MA15+ content.
The hummus was so good, I ended up taking it home in a box. Yup.
Of course, that’s only half the equation – I haven’t forgotten the taboon bread it was served with. Thanks to my excellent Wikipedia skills, I discovered that taboon is a Middle Eastern flatbread, baked in a brick oven called a taboon (tabun) oven. Peeking over to the kitchen, I noted that Kepos & Co legitimately have such an oven installed. No wonder the whole place smells so good.
The bread itself? Wow, this is something. Carbs are being demonised more and more with each passing day, which is a shame, because these are carbs that are worth eating. It’s soft, fluffy, but still with a peculiarly tough crust that I found very enjoyable to chew through, attributed to that evocatively smoky, charred crust. It’s not like a sourdough crust which is crunchy, but rather a paper-like crust that becomes softer as you chew it.
I usually don’t have good cause to just eat bread for the heck of it, but take taboon as good as what Kepos & Co makes, combine it with their award-quality hummus, and that’s a winter hug of a breakfast right there.
Speaking of winter hugs, mum’s favourite soup is the ultimate sickness cure given a heck of a revamp. The full-bodied broth is guaranteed to get your cold bodied and your tastebuds singing, that sweet, chicken umami crooning. There’s plenty of crunchiness from the leeks to keep the texture race going, and once more, a poached egg never goes awry.
As for those noodles, I’m told it’s a form of Israeli egg pasta, though it tasted more like a traditional Chinese lo mein noodle, with less slipperiness. To be honest, I could have enjoyed this soup without the noodles, but then it would have been incomplete.
While this dish isn’t the most exciting on Kepos & Co’s menu, it’s a crowd-pleaser – every menu needs these.
While the taboon bread already proves Kepos & Co’s breadmaking skill, it would be remiss not to give this number a try.
The sujuk & pide take flavours up to another level – robust kashkaval cheese (which could be any yellow cheese, really), spicy and juicy sujuk sausage, and sour & fiery chillies all make their mark. That olive pide? It comes out of the same taboon oven, so enough said.
In terms of improvements, I wish that there’s a bit more distribution of the cheese and sujuk along the length of the pide. As it is now, the dish is analogous to a fish – the best parts are in the middle. Further, the hot chillies need to be cut up a bit more, as there were only two on ours, and they can upset the balance of flavours somewhat due to their size and distribution.
That said, I would still order it again – it’s delicious where it counts, but be warned – it’s a fair bit spicy!
By this point, I could already finish this review and say get your butt to Kepos & Co, but I’m not done quite just yet – and I’ve still got to convince a certain group of you.
The burger lovers.
For you see, I’m in a bit of a burger phase right now (pretty much every third picture on my Instagram feed is a burger at the moment), so I couldn’t complete a Kepos & Co experience knowing that their brunch menu has three such beauties on offer!
Given that Kepos Street Kitchen has an excellent track record of producing delicious burgs, I fully expected Kepos & Co to be equally burgasmic. I was not led astray.
The blue eye cod burger is one of those rare burgers that manages to pull of greatness without the assistance of cheese. That in itself is an accomplishment. The golden-brown brioche bun is one of the best you can get in Sydney (a strong nod to Kepos Street Kitchen as well here). It takes almost no effort to chew, as it’s so buttery, the bun did my jaws a favour and danced its way into my stomach.
Following the sweet, pillowy bun lie two thick pieces of lebanese zucchini. Slick and crunchy, these are greens that are most welcome. They’re heavily charred, which makes for some seriously smoky veg, with deliciously sweet & savoury results.
And then there’s the blue eye cod itself. This fish is pretty much perfect. Soft & juicy, cooked perfectly through. Its natural flavour is enhanced with the mayo at the bottom of the burger, making for a timeless combination that will work for as long as we have taste buds.
If anything, this burger isn’t dirty enough, relative to the over-sauced, over-cheesed burgs making the rounds lately. It’s fantastic to see that simpler burgers can still steal the spotlight from time to time, and Kepos & Co’s burgers most of all. A must-order if you have the stomach for it! My current pick of the burger crop that doesn’t feature a beef patty.
Speaking of stomach space, one burger is apparently not cutting it these days, so uh, we got another one. Say hello to an old-time favourite – the KSK classic bacon & egg, chilli jam roll. This is one of Kepos Street Kitchen’s signature breakfast dishes, the one that initially incited me to visit that cafe. It captured my heart instantly, as well as the Lady’s, to the point where she bought a jar of the chilli jam! I’m extremely happy that this icon dish made it over to Kepos & Co as well, and better yet – it’s available all day! The same can’t be said for over at Kepos Street Kitchen, where it’s only available until 10:30am. Boo.
This roll is all about hero-ing the breakfast burger – bacon, ham, spinach, tomato. It’s almost like presenting a classic “big breakfast” in the form of a burger, and it works beautifully. The fried eggs (yes, there’s two of them) sports the crisped edges that’s the best thing about a fried egg, the bacon is crunchy, the chilli jam possessing just enough of a spicy kick to entice the tastebuds, while sweet enough to cut through the saltiness of the mayo and bacon. The brioche bun, naturally, is of the same standard as always, making me deliriously happy whilst simultaneously constricting the size of my arteries. The one big downside? It can get really salty if you’re having it by yourself.
But shared? Worth it every time.
If you happen to eat like a lion, or just like me, then give in to your temptations and get yourself Kepos & Co’s only pizza option. The lamb & chermoula pizza is what you get when you take that glorious taboon oven, produce a pizza base out of it and place on top a rich, herby chermoula mixture, tasty & juicy lamb mince, generous globs of yoghurt and crunchy pine nuts.
This isn’t your ordinary pizza, but it should definitely be on your regular order. The only aspect I would call out is that the pizza comes out a bit oilier than I would have linked – chermoula is inherently an oily condiment, but pine nuts are lipid-rich too, and lamb isn’t the leanest meat out there. Cutting back on some of the heaviness would do good for this otherwise tasty Middle Eastern take on pizza.
You’d think I would be full at this stage. And you’re right, I was. However, I wasn’t about to be left off so easily. After all, where’s dessert?
Like any good cafe, Kepos & Co stocks a veritable array of tempting sweets and pastries for easy eating. Now, I usually avoid these in lieu of menu items, but our other dining partner Ekfairy insisted – as the Lady had never tried a carrot cake before in her life! Well then, it’s time to right a few wrongs.
The carrot & mascarpone muffin is a textural bomb of crushed nuts, praline, creamy mascarpone and fluffy carrot cake. The cake itself is a spiced carrot cake, with heavy notes of cinnamon. Fortunately, it’s not too sweet, else it would have overpowered the mascarpone’s subtlety. Quite simply a tasty dessert, though I am glad I didn’t have to eat it by itself. My sweet tooth is only so big. That’s why I was finally let off the hook…
…with a slice of earl grey tea cake. Whoops, I guess we weren’t quite done yet. Then again, it’s a tea-flavoured desserts, and we’re all crazy about that. The Lady reports that the earl grey tea flavour was quite prominent in the cake, though for me I noted the strength of the chocolate more. Unfortunately, that’s about as much as I remembered, as I didn’t take too many notes for this cake thanks to the food coma I was in at the time. Should you get it if you could only choose one pastry? Then get the carrot cake.
This is a fantastic restaurant. It’s somewhat odd that Rantissi chose to locate Kepos & Co in the foyer of an apartment block, but this is a case of “if you build it, they will come”. The food is simply that good, and indeed, the customers are queuing. To avoid disappointment, get there early – it is after all, a beautiful piece of the Middle East.
Danks Street is finally waking up, and I’m loving it.
This post is based on two independent visits to Kepos & Co
Thoughts on that insanely delicious hummus? Or their star burgers? Let me know in the comments below!
- Middle Eastern food adapted for an Australian cafe scene works a treat
- The title of “best hummus” is very swanky to have
- Many dishes are quite heavy, and should be shared
- The bill can add up for a casual cafe breakfast
- Two locations in the same suburb! Leaving out the rest of us who don’t live in Waterloo 🙁
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F8 | S4 | A2