When chef Josh Nicholls tweeted that Cafe Ish in Surry Hills was closing for good, I was not the only one to lament the loss of his divine kara age soft shell crab omelette. Then Josh announced he and wife Ai were opening a milk bar in Redfern in mid-July. With a fleeting visit to Sydney on the cards in early August, it was at the top of my To Eat list. I arrived in Sydney at 11.50am, went straight to my hotel and dumped my luggage, then jumped on the train to Redfern to grab lunch at The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish.
The staples of The Milk Bar’s menu are burgers and milkshakes. The meat is free range and pasture-fed from Urban Food Market. Josh bakes the burger buns fresh every day and makes all burgers to order. The basic cheeseburger is AU$5, and you can get a double or triple cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, double or triple bacon cheeseburger, a fried tofu burger with miso sauce or a Hawaiian chicken burger with pineapple and avocado.
There’s also an international range of burger toppings: classic (lettuce and tomato, AU$3), Japanese (pickled daikon, carrot, cabbage and wasabi mayo, AU$3), Italian (rocket, tomato, aioli, balsamic and parmesan, AU$3) or Aussie (roasted beetroot, free range egg, free range bacon, lettuce and tomato, AU$5). Please note: the menu changes on Wednesdays, so there may be different options when you’re there.
The milkshakes are inventive and unusual, made with jersey milk from Udder Farm in the Hunter Valley. Sure, there are ‘regular’ flavours – Very Vanilla (vanilla ice cream and housemade vanilla syrup) and Super Choc (chocolate ice cream, Lindt chocolate sauce and Milo), but the more adventurous concoctions include the tantalisingly named Red Racer (vanilla ice cream, raspberry, rosella, strawberry syrup and rosewater syrup), the PBJ (salted peanut butter ice cream, crunchy peanut butter, raspberry and blueberry jelly) and a Cafe Ish Japanese twist with the Orient Express (green tea ice cream, sake infused green tea, white chocolate syrup and stewed adzuki beans). I choose the Miso Caramel milkshake, made with vanilla ice cream, miso and caramel.
If you’re a fan of sweet-salty combos (bacon with maple syrup, dipping fries in your sundae – yes, I do that), this is the ultimate milkshake to rock your world. Just about every patissier is pumping out salted caramel macarons these days but the miso caramel milkshake is extraordinarily moreish, taking salty caramel to a whole new level of delicious. You get ALL the milkshake, served in a tall glass with the rest in the icy cold stainless steel milkshake cup.
I’m tempted to get a crab omelette but keen to try the new Milk Bar fare, so I order a burger and fries. It’s a difficult decision but I finally settle on the Hawaiian burger (AU$6), grilled chicken breast and pineapple with avocado and sweet chilli sauce. I prefer thigh to breast but every mouthful is juicy and flavoursome and as soon as I’ve taken one bite, I’m already craving the next one. The fries are crisp and come with wasabi mayo. The burger itself is not very big but it’s easily the most satisfying burger, fries and milkshake combo I’ve had in a long time.
By the way, a couple of Cafe Ish favourites made the move to Redfern too – you can get Ai’s Freaking Awesome Fried Chicken (now as wings) and the kara age soft shell crab omelette. It will be hard to go past the burgers and milkshakes, but the kara age soft shell crab omelette is a dish seriously worth travelling for. The fried chicken wings can be ordered with hot sauce, vinegar and shallot sauce (as they were served at Cafe Ish) or crab sauce – the same garlic, chilli, soy and ginger sauce that comes with the soft shell crab omelette.
It’s a fun place that will no doubt bring back memories of the milk bars where we grabbed drinks, snacks and lollies before or after school (we say “deli” rather than “milk bar” here in Western Australia).
There’s a CD jukebox and lolly jars with plenty of old favourites (AU$2.50 per 100g). When I was in primary school, Warheads were all the rage. What were your favourite milk bar/deli lollies?
The display case is full of sweet treats made by Josh, including big slabs of caramel slice, various mini tarts and the eye-catching Malteser pie.
The milk bar experience wouldn’t be complete without the atmospheric sounds of frantic button mashing – there’s a tabletop arcade machine featuring Galaga, Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong and other games, with a weekly arcade challenge for those who fancy themselves as a video game champion.
I’m already hanging out for my next visit. Chef Josh was surprised to see me rock up unannounced that day (“TFP! Don’t you live in Perth?” “Yep, but I’m here just for today!”). He looks like Grizzly Adams but he’s my Pied Piper – I’ll be back to Redfern next chance I get and wherever he sets up his kitchen after that, I will be there.
The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish is easy to get to – catch the train to Redfern, and as you exit the station it’s a few minutes walk away, across the road, past the police station, next to Bannerama.
The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish
105 Regent St
Redfern NSW 2016
No website yet, but follow The Milkbar by Cafe Ish on Twitter for Josh’s candid updates.
You can even get a Chiko Roll at The Milk Bar: “The original. We didn’t f#*k with it”.