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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Island Dreams Cafe, Lakemba

I'd known about Island Dreams Cafe in Lakemba in Sydney's south west for years, but never got around to eating there until last year. Island Dreams specialises in food from Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and it wasn't until I visited that I realised the local cuisine offers a unique take on many Malaysian dishes.

Island Dreams Cafe, Lakemba

A café serving Christmas Island and Cocos Islands cuisine. Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are both territories of Australia, with populations of 1,400 and 600 respectively. Located halfway between Perth and Sri Lanka, the cuisine is broadly Malaysian-based, with influences from Indonesia, India and China.

Aquamarine walls, seashells and paintings of frangipani will settle you into island-time at this relaxed and cosy café in the middle of Lakemba. A bain-marie of hot foods provide fast food for locals, or you can order from the menu. You’ll find families and couples at lunchtime, but by night it’s a popular spot for Somali locals who congregate over tea in-between prayers.

Roti $2 each

Homemade roti ($2 each) is mandatory - it's a crisp and buttery flatbread that is cooked fresh and best savoured with scoops of curry sauce. Martabak ($7.50) is the filled version, flaky roti wrapped around a mixture of egg, shallots, grated onion and bean sprouts, that is a meal in itself.

Martabak $7.50

Island lemon chilli chicken

Island lemon chilli chicken ($9.50) or ayam panggang, is another house specialty: bone-in chicken doused with a complex sauce made from a secret blend of spices that includes ground coriander seeds, cumin seeds and whole chillii. It's a family recipe from owner Alimah Mohd’s grandmother.

Island lemon chilli chicken

Nasi lemak $8.50 (only on weekends)

Regular Malaysian dishes  include mee goreng fried noodles, mee rebus curry noodles, beef rendang and homemade curry puffs.

Sambal udang chilli prawns $15

Chilli fiends will revel in sambal udang ($15), fiery prawns cooked with fresh tomato, onion, chilli, tamarind and lemon.

Somalian tea $3.50

Skip the teh tarik ($3.50), a tea-bag version of what should be a strong sweet Malaysian frothy tea, and order the Somalian tea ($3.50) instead. It's a strong brew topped with foamed milk, flavoured with cinnamon.

Uncooked dried fish crackers

Takeaway bags of colourful fish crackers by the cash register are also worth investigating, the crackers made from scratch by Alima’s family in Port Hedland, Western Australia. It’s a labour-intensive, week-long process involving fresh mackerel scraped by hand, ground and mixed with tapioca, boiled, refrigerated, sliced and then dried in the sun. The fish crackers are a revelation of flavour, and a small bag will set you back a mere $2.

Fish crackers ready to eat $2

Tamar date biscuits

Tamar date biscuit

View Larger Map
Island Dreams Cafe on Urbanspoon

Island Dreams Cafe
47 Haldon Street, Lakemba, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9740 9909

Opening hours:
Sunday to Thursday 8.30am-9.30pm 
Friday and Saturday 8.30am-12.00am

This article appears in the January 2011 issue of Time Out Sydney in the Food & Drink section. Read online.

Time Out Sydney reviews:
ATL Marantha, Kensington (Indonesian fried chicken with edible bones)
Balkan Oven, Rockdale (Macedonian burek)
Durban Dish, Baulkham Hills (South African bunny chow)
Hijazi's Falafel, Arncliffe (Lebanese breakfast)
La Paula, Fairfield (Chilean empanadas, lomitos and sweets)
Sea Sweet, Parramatta (Lebanese sweet kashta cheese burger)
Sizzling Fillo, Lidcombe (Filipino pork hock crackling)
Tehran, Granville (Persian cuisine)
Tuong Lai, Cabramatta (Vietnamese sugar cane prawns)
31 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/20/2011 01:44:00 am


  • At 1/20/2011 2:30 am, Anonymous eatmarvin said…

    Hi Helen! I'd probably go for a big bowl of Island Lemon Chili Chicken, heaps of rice and a bag of Dried Fish Crackers to much on my way to work. Yum!

  • At 1/20/2011 7:40 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Cool find! Love the blue walls and the unusual food from Christmas and Coco Islands.

    The lemon chilli chicken looks so good; was it very spicy?

    And the fish crackers look interesting; why are they such pretty colours??

  • At 1/20/2011 8:23 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Ahh... A place that I often look over as I head to Jasmin. Christmas and Coco Island cuisine looks much like Malaysian cuisine.

    The fish crackers look like candy. Bet it'd be one hell of a surprise eating one if you weren't expecting fish :)

  • At 1/20/2011 8:39 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    What a cool find! Who would have thought that christmas and coco island cuisine would be similar to malaysian? Love the look of the place, it's like going away on a beach escape holiday. Those fish crackers look do funky, I though they were cookies initially

  • At 1/20/2011 9:39 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Another great find for Time Out. I love those colourful fish crackers.

  • At 1/20/2011 10:45 am, Blogger Mel said…

    I would've thought the food from this area would've been more Polynesian. Shows how much I know about food! The Roti looks good and oh! the Martabak! I'd love to try this place out.

  • At 1/20/2011 11:12 am, Blogger KayB said…

    Whoa be carefull with those dried fish crackers, they look like they might send you on a bad trip!

  • At 1/20/2011 11:34 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Wow - thanks for the hidden gems! The crackers look like fun, I think :)

  • At 1/20/2011 2:19 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    woah those fish crackers are psychedelic baby yeah!

  • At 1/20/2011 4:29 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    What beautiful, beautiful colours! I am, of course, referring both to the room itself and the fish crackers :)

    (Oh, and to your eyes, but that goes without saying. :P )

  • At 1/20/2011 7:14 pm, Anonymous Maria @ Scandi Foodie said…

    Such a fascinating and exotic choice of dishes!

  • At 1/20/2011 7:54 pm, Anonymous Min Ai said…

    Oh I love this cafe! I've been there several times to have tea but not actually eaten anything. They've renovated! Haven't been back for a while, but maybe I should after your fab review! ;)

  • At 1/20/2011 9:52 pm, Blogger Voracious Indeed said…

    Beautiful cafe, with unique dishes. Definitely a must try one day.

  • At 1/20/2011 10:03 pm, Anonymous msihua said…

    Wow.. you guys are so lucky up there with all these good Asian places!! Jealous!!

  • At 1/20/2011 10:17 pm, Anonymous michael said…

    Hey guys - the fish crackers need to be deep fried before eating!!! They swell up to 2 to 3 times the size. They are like the prawn crackers you sometimes get in Chinese restaurants except much much better. Trust me - I am from Christmas Island!

  • At 1/20/2011 10:24 pm, Anonymous Claire said…

    That looks awesome - we go to Jasmin's as a family quite regularly but haven't ventured further south on Haldon St.. will have to explore the area further - plus my husband is a chilli fiend, so the prawns would be a must! And I have to try those fish crackers - they look quite fantastic.

  • At 1/21/2011 3:07 am, Blogger bee said…

    Ooh the food looks splendid! I've been craving roti and nasi lemak for quite some time. I've never seen such vibrant fish crackers before. It's a pity Lakemba is such a fair distance away from me, but I think the food looks well worth the trek.

  • At 1/21/2011 9:35 am, Blogger Reb said…

    Hey Helen - GYF is still looking great. Good to see some things never fade. I've reactivated my blog too - watch the space!

  • At 1/21/2011 11:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is so interesting! The dishes are so similar to Malaysian. On my must visit list!

  • At 1/21/2011 7:31 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    I've walked past this place on my way to Jasmin, but never been inside. Grandma's chicken and the spicy tea both sound fantastic.

  • At 1/22/2011 12:32 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Christmas Islands? This is all Malaysian.

    P.S. The Golden Sichuan resto in Chinatown has printed your review of them and is displaying it proudly on their window front. Well done, Helen!

  • At 1/22/2011 2:29 pm, Anonymous Tina said…

    It is really nice to know the best place to eat if you get to visit a place... I believe that eating makes traveling even more memorable and exciting. I hope to have taste of these little foods when I get to visit. That I wouldn’t miss for sure.

  • At 1/22/2011 3:45 pm, Anonymous Yas (aboutthefood) said…

    Oh wow, this looks delicious. Especially that roti and lemon chilli chicken. I wonder if Perth has more restaurants featuring food from Christmas Island and Cocos Island considering it's closer. Surely this is one of the few (if not only) places in Sydney. Nice find!

  • At 1/23/2011 1:24 am, Anonymous foodie and the chef said…

    I'd never even contemplated food from these regions - thanks for sharing your hot spot ! I will definitely check it out, considering I have islander blood in me (not that you'd be able to tell, blonde hair and all...)

  • At 1/23/2011 6:13 pm, Anonymous Wendy @ Obesebaby said…

    Woo hoo what's with the obsession of Malaysian food lately Helen?

  • At 1/23/2011 8:51 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Oh how interesting, Christmas Island is a place that seems quite out of mind to me, never even thought of them to have their own cuisine, even if it is largely influenced by those of other places =)

  • At 1/25/2011 9:22 pm, Anonymous sara (Belly Rumbles) said…

    When I think of Christmas Island I think of a platoon of red crabs running around. Food looks really worth trying. Thanks for sharing Helen.

  • At 1/26/2011 11:32 pm, Anonymous Cynomel said…

    Food looks delicious. I'll be trying this one for sure. Thanks.

  • At 1/27/2011 10:12 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice to see a proper review of this one. I have gone in once when I was visiting Jasmin across the road, but I could only squeeze in a snack LOL!

  • At 1/28/2011 3:23 pm, Anonymous Betty said…

    Pictures are amazing! Personally, my favorite is Mamak - near the entrance to China Town. Similar prices, but prepare to wait in line for up to 30-40min - it's very popular with locals!

  • At 1/28/2011 3:45 pm, Anonymous Gladys Eley said…

    Greetings from Malaysia ! Congrats to my relative, Alimah, for appearing on this blog. I ate at her cafe back in 1998 when I visited sydney for the first time then...Being an origin from Cocos Island myself, we the cocos-Malaysian, are very proud of you Alimah. Keep up the good food and spread the taste around... :)


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