Cafe Rumah on Campbell Street in Surry Hills draws on owner Riszal Nawawi’s Malaysian heritage and is neighbour to the Wild Rover and Bar H. The two-room space (previously a hairdresser) has been stripped back to simple white brick walls, light-wood finishes and concrete floors. By March it will include a fashion store on the second floor, called 15 Sheets. Nawawi and his brother-in-law are importing the idea from their store in Kuala Lumpur and will stock Pointer Footwear, Descendant of Thieves and Weekend Offender along with other premium labels. For now, though, it’s all about the tight breakfast and lunch menu in the cafe.
The Asian Cuban sandwich (fat with rich five-spice roast pork, mustard and melted Swiss cheese) always sells out, so order it immediately if you’re early. There’s a fresh take on the curried-egg sandwich – with verdant, green Thai basil, watercress and cucumber. Salads include Isaan quinoa with Thai pork sausage, fresh mint and pungent fish-sauce vinaigrette.
“The food is based on local Malaysian flavours and some of our recipes are family ones,” says Nawawi, which brings us to the kaya toast. The recipe for the thick, sweet coconut spread comes from Nawawi’s wife, Sook Yoon Yang, and it’s been handed down from her grandma. They use it in the kopitiam breakfast (buttery kaya toast with two soft onsen eggs), and the filling in baked-to-order madeleines.
Some of the recipes are adapted from their travels, too, such as that Cuban. Coffee is by Cabrito Coffee, teas by T Totaler (including coconut-lemon splice) and there are three cold-pressed juices. But the sodas are the most fun, with a choice of blackcurrant and lime; yuzu and mint; or the pink and pretty rose and milk.
“My wife and I have known each other since we were children, and we used to have a rose and milk soda after swimming,” Nawawi says laughing. Given rumah means home in Malay, it’s a sweet touch to have family stories shaping the menu.
71 Campbell Street, Surry Hills
Mon to Fri 7.30am–4pm