Almost three years on and you still need to queue for brunch at Kepos Street Kitchen. The inner-city cafe by day, neighbourhood restaurant by night, took out SMH Best Cafe Guide’s Best Cafe Food in its first year and one chef’s hat the following, but it’s fickle Sydney’s enduring love fest that’s real testament to just how good it is.
Fans of Yotam Ottolenghi (and who isn’t these days, really?) will find a kindred spirit in chef Michael Rantissi, who co-owns Kepos with his partner Kristy Frawley. After years toiling in fine dining, including Bathers’ Pavilion, the Tel Aviv native embraced the food of his homeland, giving Aussie cafe classics a fresh, Middle Eastern makeover. Think bacon and egg roll, zucchini fritters and pancakes reimagined with fragrant and colourful cumin, turmeric, saffron and pistachio, among other regional herbs, spice pastes and flavours, plus picking plates of hummus, labne and warm za’atar pita, fish kefte with pomegranate, and vibrant salads – even for breakfast.
These and other Kepos Street hits make up the couple’s first cookbook, Falafel for Breakfast. True, every man and his restaurant has released a book these days, and many seem to stroke their egos, but this is fluff-free, hands-on and just plain delicious (not to mention light, bright and pretty looking like the pair’s cafe). Rantissi concedes it’s a strange title, given the diversity of the recipes, from mezze to sumptuous sweets, but there’s a point. “The book begins the way every day should: with breakfast,” writes Rantissi, who co-authored the title with Frawley. “And it reflects my mum’s incredulity that bacon-and-egg and toast-and-Vegemite-loving Aussies were coming to Kepos first thing in the morning and ordering falafel.” It also signals just how far Aussies have come with their tastes.
Cookability Anyone who’s had the fortune of eating at Kepos will attest that Rantissi’s food drips with flavour, which would have you think his recipes are complex. Far from it. Ingredient lists are short and snappy, as are most methods. Middle Eastern fare, much like Mediterranean, combines fresh flavours in smart combos for maximum effect. You could use these recipes for just about every occasion – midweek meals, impressive casual entertaining, snack time, or breakfast with a twist…
Must-cook recipe In addition to his crunchy, nutty, light, wholesome falafels (yes, they really are a cut above), Rantissi has a cult following for his colourful, textural salads. Must-tries are his delectable cauliflower and cranberry combination (see recipe, below), as well as his breakfast bestseller of flaked hot-smoked salmon with kipfler potatoes, Sicilian green olives and soft-boiled eggs.
Most surprising dish The chef is also famed for his sweet goods, cunningly displayed at the counter for full view upon walking in, including his signature brownies loaded with generous chunks of halva. The book includes this recipe, as well as an even more offbeat version… brownies laden with dates and dukkah! “It may seem an unusual pairing, but dates and dukkah create a salty and sweet taste sensation,” writes Rantissi. We’ve test-run these rich gooey brownies and can confirm. Mmmm.
Kitchen wisdom Speaking of dukkah, which Rantissi dubs “the Vegemite of Egypt” and scatters onto just about everything, from lamb cutlets (see recipe, below) to a breakfast mint and tomato salad, the chef encourages you to make your own. “Traditionally, it’s made with peanuts and is eaten with olive oil and bread for breakfast.” He subs in hazelnuts for a nuttier flavour and Rantissi twist. Essentially, get inventive!
Ideal for devotees of Kepos Street Kitchen (as well as new sister establishment Kepos & Co), Yotam Ottolenghi and Middle Eastern food, salad and fresh fare enthusiasts, plus simple and punchy recipe lovers.
Cook the book
Recipes and images from Falafel for Breakfast by Michael Rantissi and Kristy Frawley (Murdoch Books, $49.99, hbk).