I work at a law firm. This means that 90% of my colleagues live either in the Eastern Suburbs or the lower North Shore. In suburbs I have only heard of or have been to once in my life. For example, Double Bay. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually been to Double Bay. But I hear it’s, like, amazing for brunch.
In this kind of environment, the suburbs get absolutely no respect. In fact, they get dissed. I was actually asked last week, by a straight-faced workmate:
“So, in all seriousness, can I ask why you live in North Rocks?”.
Um, since when did people need to justify their place of residence?! It’s bizarre and a little bit insulting.
Truthfully, and trying really hard not be defensive, I adore the suburbs. I love suburbs like Strathfield, Harris Park and Haberfield that have been taken over entirely by a one ethnic group and create the illusion that you’re in a foreign city. I love the multicultural hubs that combine 20+ different nationalities like Parramatta. And yes, I even love North Rocks. Even though our best restaurant just relocated itself to Chatswood, I love that I can get an $8 rump steak with chips at our local and a dirty kebab at any time of the night at Jimmy’s.
So whenever a suburban restaurant/cafe gets a positive write-up in mainstream media, I get pretty excited. Recently, Circa Espresso in Parramatta won best cafe in the SMH Good Cafe Guide awards which made be surge with S.P. (Suburban Pride) – but they’re annoyingly only open on weekdays so I haven’t yet had the chance to visit.
Another cafe that had been getting a lot of attention is Espresso Organica on Major’s Bay Road in Concord. It had been getting rave reviews from my friends as well, so I visited it a few weeks ago for a sunny Sunday brunch.
The first impression you get when you walk into the cafe is that it’s HUGE. This is no hipster hole-in-the-wall. Want a venue that’ll take a group booking for 12 people? No worries! You could host a wedding reception in this place, it is that big.
Near the entrance, you’ll see an impressive array of house made desserts – including this golden tray of Galactoboureko, which is semolina milk custard baked in filo pastry with lemon infused syrup. YUM.
The cafe doubles as a coffee museum – its wall shelves are filled with antique coffee pots, grinders, roasters, and percolators, amongst other random artefacts like cash registers, mandolins and bicycles.
Clearly, this place takes its coffee very seriously. So I thought it might be the kind of cafe that would have some type of ‘coffee menu’ where you could choose from a few different blends. To my surprise, the drinks menu was very standard. Just a list of flat white, latte, cappuccino, etc. How boring.
The coffee is beautiful and generous in a large round mug – but taste-wise it was pretty average. As I’ve mentioned, my coffee palate is very dull but I know an AMAZING coffee when I taste one. Like when I had Brother Baba Budan in Melbourne a few years ago. They managed to make a skinny cap taste like heaven – still the best coffee of my life so far.
The menu, like the venue, is massive. 50+ items if you include both all-day-breakfast and lunch – which is rarely a good sign. It’s nice to be spoilt for choice but you know when a menu is this extensive, they can’t possibly do every item well. It seems more like something you’d see on Kitchen Nightmares.
I ordered the eggs benedict with sourdough toast and bacon… which, thinking about it now, isn’t really eggs benedict at all.
Poached eggs on toast is a simple dish. Few things can go wrong. The worst thing that you can do is overcook the egg yolk. Happily, this was not an issue here – the yolks were perfectly soft and runny, as you can see.
The second worst thing you can do is not properly drain the poaching liquid – leading to a pool of diluted hollandaise sauce and soggy toast, as you can see here:
Unpleasant… I had to soak up the water with my napkin so my toast wouldn’t become bread pudding.
Also from the all-day breakfast menu, my friends ordered the Brekky Grande with two fried eggs, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, spicy sausage, roasted tomato and hash browns served with sourdough.
And the Baked Eggs ‘Organica’ 2 eggs baked with wood fired capsicum, cannellini beans and chorizo served with Sourdough toast. Looks a bit overdone to me.
The boys were very hungry so ordered both the Char Grilled Meats Platter (Chicken tenderloins, lamb souvlaki, spicy sausage, lamb cutlet, rib eye fillet strip served with chips, side salad, & tzatziki dip) and the Char Grilled Seafood Platter (Ocean fresh king prawns, scallops, salt & pepper calamari, mussels, soft shell crab, and wild caught barramundi filet served with lemon wedges, tartar aioli & chips).
You’ve probably already gotten this impression from the photos, but overall, the food here is pretty ordinary. I honestly don’t see anything that differentiates this place from any other generic cafe you’ll find in a shopping centre or lining Church Street in Parra. Didn’t live up to the hype.
I feel like Espresso Organica is just trying a bit too hard with its book-length menu and antiques roadshow decor. It would work so much better as just a simple coffee house that focuses on top-notch coffee and mediterranean desserts. If I ever go back, it will only be to give the coffee a second chance and try a slice of that Galactoboureko.
We were really full after lunch, so hung out a bit at Canada Bay and then headed back to Major’s Bay road for gelato at the (relatively) new Meno Diciotto. Scoping out the flavours, I couldn’t go past the lemon meringue. After the horrendously disappointing “lemon meringue pie” flavour at Messina (not enough lemon, meringue, or pie – just a slightly tangy vanilla ice-cream), I’ve been on a mission to find a good lemon meringue or pavlova flavoured gelato. Expectations were not high, since my experience at Espresso Organica had dampened my hopes around the suburban food scene generally.
The verdict? THE BEST LEMON MERINGUE GELATO IN SYDNEY.
Yeah okay I’ve only tried two but this will be hard to beat. Wonderfully tart and lemony, without turning it into a sorbet, with big generous chunks of fluffy meringue mixed through. Officially my favourite gelato flavour… on the planet. Will definitely be back for more.
And just like that, the suburbs were redeemed. Take that Surry Hills!