• The Japanese breakfast comes with grilled miso-glazed trout, pickles, miso soup, rice and optional onsen egg (Albert Chandra)Source: Albert Chandra
At Ima Project Cafe, there’s more than meets the eye when you order the avo on toast, the onigiri or the prawn katsu burger.
Audrey Bourget

6 Mar 2019 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 6 Mar 2019 - 3:18 PM

When you enter Ima Project Cafe in Carlton, there’s no doubt you’re in Melbourne. The fit-out is beautiful: there’s a counter made from local pine, big windows letting the sunlight in and ceramics by local artists. But if you look a bit more carefully, you’ll see that this is not just your usual cafe.

“It’s an Aussie cafe with a Japanese twist. We also wanted to touch on sustainability, ethical produce and waste management.”

Owners Asako Miura and James Spinks have been together for about 15 years. She has a background in interior design, while he’s a chef (Quay, Supernormal, Sake). “We’d been talking about this business for six years or so before we finally opened six months ago. We talked about it for so long that I think people didn’t think it would happen,” Miura tells SBS Food. “It’s an Aussie cafe with a Japanese twist. We also wanted to touch on sustainability, ethical produce and waste management.”

Ima Project Cafe owners Asako Miura, who has a background in interior design, and chef James Spinks.

On the menu, you’ll find dishes like baked eggs with red miso sugo and a rice bowl with onsen egg and pickles, to which you can add fish, kara-age or grilled eggplant.

“As a Japanese person, I always love the Japanese breakfast: rice, a beautiful miso soup, fish, pickles and side dishes. Because it’s simple, we have to get everything right,” says Miura. They chose trout instead of the usual salmon because it’s more sustainable. The kombu and bonito flakes used to make the dashi in the miso soup are recycled into other dishes. The kombu goes into the filling for the onigiri, and the bonito flakes, once rehydrated, end up in furikake for the avo on toast.

“The avocado toast, it’s a very typical Melbourne cafe food, but ours is different. We use nori paste, a seaweed paste that we make that looks like Vegemite. We spread it on the toast, then we put avocado and furikake on top,” says Miura.

The very Aussie avo on toast gets a Japanese twist at Ima Project Cafe, with nori paste and furikake.

The prawn katsu burger is one of their most popular specials. “We serve it with the crispy prawn heads on the side to show that they’re also edible and that they are the tastiest part of the prawn. We want to show there’s no waste and you can use all the parts,” she says.

A great side-dish menu means that for a few extra dollars, you can add things like green beans with sesame dressing, grilled trout, miso soup or tamagoyaki to your meal.

An ongoing process

If they didn’t mention it, you would never know that Miura and Spinks get their lemons, apples, and carrots from an “ugly produce” supplier, saving them from landfill. They also blend fruit and vegetable offcuts into their juices and use vinegar instead of harsh cleaning products.

Miura and Spinks get their lemons, apples and carrots from an “ugly produce” supplier, saving them from landfill.

When it comes to waste management, Ima Project Cafe has a system in place so that their soft plastics can be collected for recycling and their coffee waste repurposed as fertiliser for community gardens.

There’s more they want to do, like composting and using line-caught fish, but it’s too costly for now. “It’s an ongoing process. We’re not happy with where we are yet, but at least it’s a start,” says Miura. “Opening a restaurant, you’re always going to create waste, but I wanted to make people aware that you can actually do something about the waste and try to minimise it.”

Ima Project Cafe

169 Elgin Street, Carlton
Mon 7 am – 4 pm
Wed – Fri 7 am – 4 pm
Sat – Sun 8 am – 3:30 pm

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