Meet Mica. She’s a new kid around the block, only a baby having not been around for even three months. However, there are already signs that the neighbourhood’s fallen for the new girl: she’s not afraid to be different, to straddle the gap between old and new, to change it up, to up the ante, and offering Surry Hills something that hints at something familiar, but which ends up being markedly different, in a most pleasant way.
But at the same time, the new girl’s got some learning to do: she’s a little bit brash, forgets things, and messes up where she shouldn’t. She’s a work in progress, that she is. But even then, please: Meet Mica.
Date Last Visited: 9/Sep/17
Address: 492-500 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Highlight Dishes: lobster congee, matcha French toast
Price Guide (approx): $30pp plus drinks
Cafes luxing it up with fancy ingredients worthy of Sydney’s snap-happy Instagram crowd isn’t anything new. In fact, there’s enough of them out there that some are actually superior to restaurants.
Even in the cafe mecca that is Surry Hills, Meet Mica owner Mica Chen manages to carve out her own niche, in representing Asian cuisine in this trend of ever-increasing exuberance. In a year where the obsession with avocado and toast has surely hit its apogee, it’s refreshing to know recusants like Mica are daring to be different: we need the variety if Sydney is to remain relevant in the global cafe scene.
Meet Mica’s menu is headed by chef Lee Li. With a CV that includes the likes of Tetsuyas and Kensington Street Social, it would almost be a shame if all he did was pass out avo on toast. That said, the menu does include the dish (let’s not be too daring); however, the rest of the menu is strongly influenced by Lee, as well as Mica’s Cantonese heritage, plus a strong dash of Japanese flavour.
Meet Mica’s interior fit out is nice, that’s for sure. However, I couldn’t help but get a strong feeling of deja vu, as if I’ve seen this in other cafes. Of course, I know I have – it’s basically the trend these days. You can thank The Kettle Black for this, and it does mean that Meet Mica’s interior, funnily enough, isn’t all that memorable. But it works – you can’t help but take a peek in.
Where it doesn’t work, is the allotment and layout of tables. The space is small, so seats are few to begin with. Okay, that’s cool – you gotta work with what you got. But just one two-seater?
Yep, save one, all tables are four-seaters or more. As such, if you’re Meeting Mica as a twosome, prepare for the incredibly high likelihood of being asked to share a table with another dynamic duo. While you may or may not personally be comfortable with sharing, the fact that most cafe-goers come in pairs makes the decision to set up mostly four-seater tables a boggling decision.
But anyway, onto the food, and it’s good. I can believe Lee Li has worked in fine dining kitchens: there’s a lot of skill going into getting ostensibly simple, but actually difficult things right. Things like cooking a lobster perfectly, cooking a good Japanese egg omelette, and making a French toast stand out from every other cafe doing a French toast.
The coffee – supplied by Little Marionette – was also real nice. Bold and nutty, it was a smooth cup of the strong stuff. Very, very satisfying – though it did take over 15 minutes for us to receive our orders. That was a lot less satisfying.
Sandwiches get the Japanese treatment, with a triptych of sando-style pillow-soft bread encasing fillings of roasted veg, smoked salmon, and a tamagoyaki (Japanese egg omelette).
The roast veg was full of sweet, charred goodness, with the delicious pesto seasoning making its mark in a sandwich that would otherwise have been the forgotten one. As for the smoked salmon, it was akin to a really good high tea finger sandwich – an apt comparison given the ubiquity of this particular variant. I particularly relished the mustard & dill cream which paired well, adding complexity differentiating it from Every Other High Tea Sandwich you’ve had.
But the true test of skill was actually in the tamagoyaki sandwich: if Lee Li got this wrong, I would have had to question the entire cafe’s existence. Fortunately, my inner drama queen remained internal: this was a real good eggy number. The texture was robust, but remained slightly airy. There was a strong but balanced dashi flavour which completely won me over (and this technically means it’s a dashimaki tamago for you Japan nerds out there), and overall the tamago balanced extremely well with the bread.
Cafe sandwiches have never been fancier.
The dish that everyone comes for: Meet Meet Mica’s lobster congee. There’s actually not much to say: the dish was cooked almost perfectly. The congee was creamy & silky-soft, the lobster (even if I suspect it is the imported stuff from Woolies…shhhh) was slow-cooked to textural perfection, and then finished off with a smoky char that added lots of depth, and the katsuobushi provided a salty hit of umami that Japanifies the otherwise more common usage of pork floss.
Don’t think I didn’t notice the fake crab meat in the dish though – it was there 😉
There were two things I didn’t like about the congee: one – it didn’t come piping hot. I was able to cup the pot with my hands as soon as it arrived. As such, the temperature was only barely acceptable. It’s still cold some mornings you know!
Two: the dish actually needed more salt. 2-3 grinds of S+P and my enjoyment of increased immensely. Your mileage may vary!
Last but certainly not least, is a contender for a ‘top matcha desserts in Sydney’ blog post. Lee’s Matcha French lava toast is a one-two punch to KO all sweet cravings I had. There’s the quality of the toast itself – soft and fluffy in the middle, crusty and deliberately charred on the outside. It was a beautiful vehicle for the matcha sauce itself. Then, there’s what’s in the centre: see, Lee’s cleverly carved out a centre block of the toast such that when it’s cut out, an epic lava flow of matcha cream comes running out, ready for copious oohing and aahing, Instagram videos, and dipping in pieces of French toast – in that order.
This ‘cut to trigger the matcha eruption’ trick was so cool (and functional!) that I almost completely forgot about the quality of the matcha sauce itself. Not to worry: matcha lovers will be satisfied with its sugar level (not sweet), as well as its matcha level (bitter ftw!). For those who can’t take the bitterness, that’s where the condensed milk comes in.
There are little niggles here and there, but Meet Mica’s menu is already at a stage where I don’t have to say ‘I’ll give them a few months to work things out before I return’.
However, where the food is pretty much 80% there, the service is on a whole other level. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
As a Chinese-Australian who spent his childhood years in China, the concept of ‘good service’ didn’t really exist. If you had a bone to pick with restaurant owners or their wait-staff, you’d be lucky to get away with just a torrent of wordsmithed outrage; bless you if you had the courage to return. Thus, I’ve always viewed service with a contrarian lens compared to those that grew up in Western society, where poor hospitality could literally shutter a business. For me, food is always far more important.
BUT, when it took us nearly a full hour to get our Matcha French toast from the point of ordering, and nearly forty minutes for our lobster congee, I suddenly really care about service. It was shocking, and was not helped by the other foibles I noticed: waitstaff forgetting to provide us water, putting our names down on the waitlist behind another group even though we were in line well before they were, and worst of all, delivering orders to other groups that hadn’t even been seated when we put our order in.
Everything behind Meet Mica’s kitchen bench is a well-oiled machine.
Everything in front of the kitchen bench needs greased lightning.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Meet Mica
Meeting Mica definitely had its ups and downs: what are your thoughts on Surry Hills’ latest cafe opening?
- The food is very good for a newly-opened cafe: Lee Li lives up to his fine dining pedigree
- Great coffee!
- The slowest service I’ve ever experienced at a cafe
- A negligent design choice in providing only one table seating two: expect to share tables more often than not
- When people ordering far later than you get their food first
Would I return: when the service is sorted out
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.
F7.5 | S1.5 | A1