Cuckoo Callay may be best known for their annual Bacon Festival Menu, but this chirpy Newtown café deserves a closer look at their ever-changing all day menu, which has recently been overhauled for the winter season. We’re not talking about one or two additional dishes either; the owners regularly experiment with massive, inventive combinations that refresh the offerings and keep things exciting. It’s also a great way for them to gauge the popularity of particular dishes and include them on the permanent menu. For example, the awesome Bacon Mac Daddy is on the menu for good now, and from what the owners tell me, it’s selling like crazy.
Bright colour palettes are obviously a big consideration, and everything here is as big and bold in look as it is in flavour. The plating is as playful as the dish names, cartoonish almost and remaining in-line with their slightly tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that has been making the cafe stick out on the scene for years now. Of course, quality is of the utmost important, and as co-owner Ibby Moubadder took me through the menu on a recent visit he reiterated that whether or not a dish is ‘Instagrammable’ means nothing if the flavours and textures aren’t completely satisfying.
An interesting tower of fresh greens make the Green Eyed Monster ($20) which takes some of the most popular (and healthier) cafe ingredients and turns them into an construction of sauteed green beans, broccolini, and kale, stacked with spicy chermoula, avocado, and lime, topped with a dukkah spiced poached egg, and balanced on two large pieces of sourdough that are covered in labneh. The mish-mash of ingredients could have easily been a disaster, but its balanced well, highly flavoursome with lively hits of sweetness and spice, magnified by that glorious runny egg that trickles down the stack.
For something entirely different, the M.A.C CosmeChips ($14) are a must. It’s a huge serving bowl of fries loaded with crispy bacon and chewy mac’n’cheese, which may just have the opposite effect of the beauty products for which it is named, turning the table into a battle field of “you gon’ have that last chip?” variety.
The Holy Grail ($20) is a bowl filled with warm corned beef brisket and potato hash hiding under layers of shredded carrot, cabbage, leek, and a 63* poached egg, splashed with bright purple beetroot hollandaise and served with two pieces of sourdough. Crunching your way through the veggies, which are sweetened by the hollandaise and the dripping egg, and then finding your way to the soft chunks of brisket and creamy potato hash is clearly going to be a winner for most of the more excitable palates around Sydney. A testament to the creativity which has gone into the menu refresh. This one pairs best with the sweetness of a nice, warm Bon Bon Hot Chocolate ($6).
For drinks, the cafe offers a bunch of cocktails, juices, coffees, and wines. For winter, they’ve also introduced a 500ml carafe of Mulled Wine ($25) for groups. The wine itself is rather plain, a faint spice from the cinnamon and only really satisfying as long as it stays hot, which isn’t for very long in weather like this. My suggestion would be to finish this off as soon as possible, but you may be better off picking from their perfectly fine list of Australian wines.
A Tribute to the Greatest Reuben ($19) was large and impressive, with house-made wagyu corned beef, rich gruyere, Russian, and watercress on sourdough, stacked up to look all high and mighty but sticking true to the main, it was just a tribute; definitely not the greatest reuben I’ve ever had, but still tasty enough to swat dreams of New York’s famous Katz away from the mind for a minute or two.
Though mostly every food item I tried hit the spot, it was easy to pick a favourite – the Magic Mushrooms ($23). It’s another ridiculously sized stack but this time with a small forest of wild mushrooms on sourdough, served with goat’s cream, spinach, roasted truss tomatoes, smoked almonds, and a crumbed egg. A poached egg may have worked just as well as the softly insulated egg but that super sweet mash of mushrooms with everything else – especially the goat’s cream – works the taste buds into a perky song and dance. Granted, those not biased to sweet savoury dishes (and rich cream) may find this is a bit too strong.
Their excellent house-made triple chocolate brownie (Something Sweet) may sound tempting, but its better to go straight for the curiously titled The Lost Cookie of Pompeii ($17) for dessert. It’s a cube shaped chocolate lava cookie with peanut butter mascarpone, banana, chocolate covered popping candy, and creme anglaise. The plating is dramatic, with the big cube cookie in the middle waiting to be cracked open so the thick chocolate lava starts dripping out. The chocolate is perhaps a bit too thick to make any rapid movements on its own but scooping the treat out of the cookie and mixing it up with the creme is the best move here. Further mix it up with the banana and peanut butter for a chewy, soul-satisfying dessert.
From having treats especially designed for the many dogs which accompany Cuckoo Callay’s regular diners to new dishes like the above which are generous in both size and taste, it’s safe to say this Newtown cafe’s deserve their spot when regularly listed among the best cafes in Sydney, constantly experimenting and reinventing to keep things fresh while still keeping a consistently playful vibe that melts right into the very ethos of Newtown-by-day.
Address: Newtown Railway station, 324A King St, Newtown
Contact: (02) 9557 7006
Hours: Mon-Fri 6am-4pm; Sat 8am-4pm; Sun 8am-3pm
All images by Chris Singh for the AU review.