Michael Rantissi has so many great ideas that he’s basically had to create a sequel to his much-loved Kepos Street Kitchen. Kepos & Co in Waterloo is his new spin-off: it recently opened footsteps away from the chef’s other restaurant. Both venues have flavour-vibrant menus evoking Mediterranean coastlines, but Kepos & Co takes a “more classical” route than its contemporary-minded predecessor.
Rantissi’s new restaurant also offers the most delicious way to eat hummus I’ve ever come across. For weekend brunch, you can order a dish that sounds like an ordinary breakfast dipping plate – Warm Hummus, Burnt Butter, Poached Egg and Taboon Bread ($16) – but actually is the next-level version of that. The bread is made in a taboon (traditional wood-fired oven) and comes topped with burnt herbs and a serious work-your-muscles knife. Everything else is layered in a copper pot – the poached egg is parked on an island of dip, which is magnificently submerged in a burnt-gold bath of dark, sweet butter. Slice the bread and bank it through the pot’s geography – each scoop of hummus gets richly coated in the caramel punch of burnt butter. Man, it’s damn good. In fact, it’s so awesomely indulgent that you may need to order a salad to avoid OD’ing on it all. Try the the fresh-cut flavours of the Shirazi Chopped Salad with House-Smoked Feta and Herbs ($15) or the straight-up and simple Baby Cos Salad with Herbs and Grape Vinegar ($10).
At all times, you can try the Potato Tortellini with Goat’s Curd, Za’atar, Asparagus ($24), where your lifeguard mission is to rescue the big, stuffed curls of pasta from the vividly spiced and zingy oil spill they’re dropped into. Enjoy the lively shocks of classic Middle Eastern flavours after you’ve dragged the tortellini through this multi-ingredient slick. It’s delicious.
And even though you can get it across the road, Kepos & Co could not resist importing the popular Kepos Street Kitchen Classic Egg Bacon Brioche Roll with Chilli Jam, Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach ($15) to its new venue.
For all services, you can order the Turkish Spinach, Haloumi, Salsa Pide ($17); it’s a wonderfully crusty plank of pastry sealing in shreds of greens and cheese, generously shrouded with diced tomato and herbs. In fact, the salsa is banked so high that eating this is more of a delicious clean-up operation than straight-up dining experience. Everything is going to jumble everywhere and you’ll end up chasing stray ingredients with your cutlery and maneouvring everything back into position – but it’s worth it.
Only available for lunch and dinner is the excellent Baby Cauliflower ($18), which is roasted whole. It’s magnificently charred and served with a grainy coat of raw tahini and the savoury crackle of salt flakes and cumin seeds. Make sure you thoroughly mix everything for the full blast of flavours. It may not dethrone Ester’s cauliflower (which is so legendary that it got name-checked in Terry Durack’s intro when announcing Ester’s Best New Restaurant honour at Good Food Awards last year), but it’s a pretty good attempt at the crown.
And while I’m giving a shout-out to things you should try, do get the Baked Kataifi Banana ($17), which is encased in this protective wiring of crispy pastry (like that’s any defence between you getting to this booty of caramel-sweet fruit!) and paired with nuts, mascarpone and a warm spillage of Turkish mocha ganache. It’s a brunch-only order, so ask for it if you happen to visit during that time zone.
As you may have figured, Kepos & Co has three different services – weekday lunch, weekend brunch and dinner – each containing distinct menus with some overlap. For instance, the Roasted Eggplant with Almonds, Burrata and Chervil only spans lunch and dinner; the Beef Tartare with Burnt Eggplant and Kohlrabi is on for dinner only; and turn up for weekend brunch, and you’ll notice a counter full of Lamb Kefta Burger with Harissa Relish and Kohlrabi Slaw ($17), ready to hit many tables. It may be a way to draw nerds with a weird timetable fetish, or mainly it’s a clever strategy to lure you out for all three services – especially when dinner has desserts such as Labneh Cheesecake ($15) and Pistachio Cannoli with Strawberry and Pomegranate ($15).
A key thing that Michael Rantissi wanted to highlight with his menu was iced tea, as has been reported in Broadsheet. He’s trying to distance it from the sugar dump that the beverage can be and offers a vivid variety such as Lavender & Persimmon Iced Tea with Honey, Iron Goddess Iced Tea with Plums, Mint and Lemon Leaves and Golden Peony & Pear Iced Tea with Vanilla ($7.50 each). Despite their ingredient-heavy descriptions, they’re quite subtle drinks. But if you’re used to the overly sweet concoctions, these might seem a little under-flavoured to you.
I’ve been to Kepos & Co three times this week and been equally charmed on every visit. The waiters are really friendly and seemed to have all done a Masters in How To Be Nice To People. If I had to warn you about anything about this place, I’d basically channel your parents and tell you to Put On A Jumper before you go. Or wear the biggest movement-restricting coat you can find, because it can get really cold here (especially if you get one of the outside tables that’s so out of the orbit of an industrial heater that the chill really hits). I’d describe myself as a paranoid over-dresser, but even I found myself suffering goose bumps and leg shakes as we ate brunch in 11-degree weather.
And it might be totally cheeseball to say this, but if there was some kind of technology that could channel the generosity and friendliness of Michael Rantissi into physical warmth, then you wouldn’t need to worry about freezing at all. I don’t know him at all, but I was struck by how open and hospitable to the diners he came across. It made me think of the time I interviewed Andrew Bowden (aka Hartsyard’s @andybowdy) who told me about working with Michael very early on at Pink Salt (and even though Andy was a newcomer who ruined crème brûlée by turning it into scrambled eggs, Michael really took the time to be “a really good guy to me” and nurtured him).
Such good-guy (and gal) vibe runs pretty warmly through Kepos & Co – but bring your jumper all the same, this place gets cold. On a more serious note, though, this venue’s greatness is pretty season-proof, so enjoy it whenever you go.
Kepos & Co, Shop 5, Casba, 18 Danks Street, Waterloo NSW (02) 9690 0931, keposstreetkitchen.com.au/keposandco/now-open.