Island Dreams Cafe

Jackie McMillan
29th Jun 2024

Alimah Bilda tells the story of her culture and its cuisine beautifully on SBS On Demand’s A Taste of Island Dreams. However you can’t beat the experience of actually eating it at Island Dreams cafe in Lakemba. Painted that impossible shade of aquamarine you only seem to find on tropical islands, the small cafe dishes up the Malay cuisine with Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island influences. These lesser known offshore Australian territories sit a long way off the Western Australian coastline. 

Chicken satay ($15.50/5) come with cucumber, red onion and lontong (squares of compressed rice) plus the best homemade peanut sauce I’ve had in many years. It’s made using peanuts rather than the cheat’s method of peanut butter. The hot bar delivers a good selection of curries to build over turmeric rice ($18/2 dishes): chilli chicken and a turmeric-tinged curry chicken both impress with the heat levels amped by a dab of sambal. Cooked vegetables and split eggplants also benefit from a good smear of vibrant red sambal. 

We didn’t see the beef rendang hidden away in the second Bain-Marie, but did pick up a couple of takeaway containers with fragrant coconut rice ($15) to enjoy for lunch the next day. Completely cooked in only coconut milk and rendang spices, these super-tender slow cooked chunks of chuck steak are the real deal. There’s a lot of strange and mostly unsuccessful variations on rendang to be found around town, this one will restore your faith in this timeless classic of a dish.

We were treated to pandan rolls to celebrate the retirement of Lesley Unsworth from Taste Food Tours, staunch supporters of this (and many other) small family-run business. On regular nights you can get your sweet fix by buying a small container of pineapple tarts, makmur (round cakes made from powdered nuts, ghee, flour and icing sugar), or cornflake cookies.