Category Archives: Work lunch

W.S.P. @ Circa Espresso

WSP is a subset of SP: Western Suburban Pride. There’s a big difference between simply having SP and having WSP. I know people who would happily eat Chinese in Chatswood and Korean in Eastwood (have SP), but are too scared to venture to Auburn for Turkish or Granville for Lebanese chicken (do not have WSP).

One cafe that is waving the WSP banner high is Circa Espresso. At the time I visited, it was only open on weekdays but I somehow managed to sneak in a lunch there (ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies…) – but hip hip hooray because it is now open on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm and will soon open Sundays too!

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The entrance to Circa is tiny but you can’t miss it – just look for the big brick wall covered in wildly coloured graffiti and western suburb hipsters sitting on op-shop furniture.

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In the tight space the shelves are stacked with all things coffee: bags and bags of beans, cups and saucers, grinders, pourers and cold drip coffee makers (which are like the ‘IT’ accessory to have in your cafe these days – if you don’t have one you may as well be McCafe). The message is clear: WE REALLY LOVE COFFEE AND WE TAKE IT VERY SERIOUSLY!

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A box of records – looks good, but do they actually get played? We’ll find out later in this episode.

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The menu and a curious logo that first looks like an octopus but is actually a hand with a coffee bean tied to each finger with string – an ancient tradition practised by Ethiopian tribes who believed that doing so would bring good fortune and a plentiful harvest.

Jokes – I just made that up. The lack of meaningful results for my “coffee beans tied to fingers” Google search indicate that this logo is simply a product of someone’s coffee-obsessed imagination.

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The decor becomes a bit less coffee-specific as you move to the back of the cafe – my favourite were the 4 Mr. Potato Heads and their Russian grandmother.

The bookcases are also filled with volumes of hard cover encyclopaedias which take you back the good ol’ days when you actually had to open up a book to research a school assignment. Nice to know that Britannica and World Book are serving a purpose other than adding to landfill these days.

And now moving on to the beverages…

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Not being a coffee fan – Matt ordered an iced tea. I don’t remember exactly what type (I should really start taking notes…) but it was exotic and floral and quite lovely.

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I ordered the drip coffee of the day over ice. As cool as it is to have a coffee menu as detailed as the food menu, honestly my unsophisticated coffee palate can’t tell the difference between a Colombian single origin and a commercial blend. So as beautiful as this may have tasted to someone who really understands coffee – it was wasted on me. I’ve only JUST reached the point where I can tolerate black coffee – but I still love my foamy capuccinos and I only ever choose the black option when I’m at a cafe like this where adding milk is so sacreligious the barista will probably spit in it.

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While waiting for our food, we opened up a tin of dominoes and played a round. I wanted to stand and topple them, but realised this might get us kicked out of the cafe.

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The day was steaming hot so I ordered a salad – in-house smoked trout salad with poached egg, blood orange, crispy pancetta, shaved fennel, pearl barley, zucchini ribbons & walnuts ($16).

Salad is a science. I think it really takes a lot of creativity, skill and a great understanding of flavours to construct a good salad because it’s all about balance. We want salads to taste healthy, but not to the point where we feel like we’re eating rabbit food – we still want something tasty and substantial. So you add some protein, carbs and dressing – but you can’t overdo this or else you end up with a salad with more calories and fat and less fibre than a burger, which defeats the whole purpose of a salad. You want a variety of textures and flavours – but these need to marry together and not just be a random mix of sweet/sour/savoury/crunchy/soft. You want it to be easy to eat –  all components fitting on one forkful so you can taste everything together. 

Overall, it just needs to be delicious in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being punished for making the ‘healthy choice’ and sends you through a Maccas drive through after lunch.

I say all this, because this salad was the first salad I’ve had in a long time that I actually LOVED and made me wish that more places made salads like this. I rarely order salads because the health and nutrition benefits never outweigh the compromises I need to make in terms of flavour and enjoyment. But the kitchen at Circa proved to me that you can make a lunch-worthy salad that doesn’t make any compromises. It helped that it included some of my favourite ingredients – smoked trout, a poached egg and crispy shards of pancetta. Another thing I thought was really smart was that all the vegetables were shaved into ribbons, which makes them a lot more palatable. It’s the kind of thing you would do to make your kid each more veggies – but it totally works on adults too!

A lot of people who I talk to about Circa don’t seem to have a very high opinion of the food here, but I really hope the salad is still on the menu so you can try it – it is beautiful and it is genius.

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Matt ordered the HCAT (Barossa Valley double smoked free-range ham, avocado mash, vine ripened tomato, gouda cheese, house relish & rocket) which was one MAN-SIZED sandwich. So big I feel like they would need custom-baked bread to make this. It was actually quite simple, like a lunchbox sandwich your mum would make you, but on steroids. Even Matt couldn’t finish it!

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I love that Westies who are also coffee snobs, tea snobs, or brunch snobs have an option like Circa right in our backyard – and I hope this is only the first of many word-class cafes to pop up in the ‘hood. WSP 5eva!

Oh, and about the records…

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… they’re for display only. Elvis sings from the modern day gramophone – an iPhone dock.

Circa Espresso
21 Wentworth Street
Parramatta, NSW, 2150
Circa on Urbanspoon

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Mr Crackles

Have you just been through a really bad break-up, failed a subject, lost your job or experienced some equally devastating event that makes you want to eat away your sorrows with food so bad for you that it effectively constitutes self-harm??

I’ve found the perfect place for you.

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Mr Crackles is a little “Carryout” (because “takeaway” sounds lame) on Oxford Street, founded by two chefs who had a little pet pig called “Mr Crackles” but then fell on hard times and had to sacrifice Mr Crackles to their empty stomachs. But if their beloved companion was going to be turned into a roast pork, they wanted it to be greatest roast pork ever made. In a labour of love, Mr Crackles was slow braised for 10 hours and then his belly was specially roasted to create the ultimate, crispy, flavoursome crackling. In honour of the wonderful gift that Mr Crackles gave the two hungry chefs, they opened this store.

Okay none of that was true except for the two chefs bit and the cooking process. I just thought Mr Crackles was an awesome name for a pet pig (even better than “Kevin Bacon”).

I’ve wanted to check this place out ever since I started seeing photos of the pork crackling chips appear across the Sydney food blogosphere. To a former fat kid who used to make a snack from frying cheese directly on the pan, pork crackling chips sounded like a dream come true. I mean, everyone knows that pork crackling is the best part of any pork roast – but very rarely is someone shameless enough to completely set aside the meat and JUST serve the crackling. Even KFC doesn’t sell its deep fried battered chicken skin on its own.

So on a not-so-busy day at work, former fat kid friend and I jumped on a bus and went on a lunch excursion to Darlinghurst.

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The shop is tiny and pretty unassuming amongst the many takeaways, restaurants and special interest stores along Oxford St. There’s very limited seating, if you don’t mind eating on the narrowest wall ledge on earth. Guys who wear plaid shirts seem to like it.

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It looks like just another humble takeaway, but look a little closer and you’ll see…

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Ooooohhhh yes. Bubbly, golden crackling.

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More crackling… with meat attached this time.

I ordered the Crackles Classic (half size), FFKF ordered the small 6″ dog and we got the chilli cheese fries and cup of crackling to share. Don’t judge. At least with didn’t order a “Manwich” (twice the meat, half the veg) WITHOUT the veg like the guy in line after us.

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Crisp skinned slow roast 5 spiced pork belly served with vietnamese salad in a roll 

This is Mr Crackles’ take on Bánh mì – replacing mystery meat with luscious pork belly and crackling bits sprinkled on top. It was as delicious as it looks – but could have used some extra kick from Maggi sauce and a bit of fresh chilli.

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FFKF’s hot dog – looks pretty dang tasty.

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Chilli Cheese Fries!! I demolished these and it was worth every single calorie, all 10,000 of them.

AND NOW…

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PURE CRACKLING. These chips are broken off the massive display crackling and then given a quick “freshen up” in the deep fryer. This is what it is: fat fried in fat. With the first bite your brain is screaming “MORE!” and with the second bite, “Okay, that’s enough.” Not that it disappointed – it was exactly what I expected but it just takes things to such an ultra-fatty level that your body starts reacting pretty quickly. I couldn’t take more than one chip. Yeah, I’m weak sauce. I’m sure the guy who ordered the Manwich with no salad could eat this all by himself.

If you’re in any way calorie-conscious, I would avoid this place. Not that it’s not worth it, but I don’t want you to spend hours crying on the treadmill because you ingested your monthly fat+calorie intake in one sitting. However, if you’re happy to eat with abandon, if you don’t have a family history of heart disease or diabetes, or if you’re just a plain old fatty – Mr Crackles is a must visit. Even for just one crackling chip and the chilli fries. Your heart and your hips may hate you for it, but your taste buds and inner fat kid will love you.

Mr Crackles
155 Oxford St
Darlinghurst

Mr Crackles on Urbanspoon

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Me Gusta Pequeño Burritos

Literal translation: I like tiny tiny donkeys.

Actual translation: I luuuurve eating mini-burritos

Mini-burritos are the perfect lunch. While actual burritos tend to be the size of a small child and are guaranteed to lead to an intense food coma or a fun afternoon of burrito-flavoured burps, the innovative MINI burrito gets the balance just right. JUST big enough to fill you up without any post-lunch guilt, and tasty, meaty and heavy enough to satisfy your fatty boombah cravings.

My mini burrito of choice is Guzman Y Gomez’s “Mini-B” ($6.90). It’s always a good day when lunch is a Mini B.

Recently, a new section of the Suncorp building food court opened up and as a CBD worker, this kind of news excites me. I was also told by my number one food spy aka FFKF that there was a promising looking new burrito joint: “The Original California Burrito Company”.

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Everyone knows that Mexican food as we know it originated in California (What, did you think it came from Mexico? How silly of you), so the name itself drew me in.

In my head I was thinking dirty, sloppy, legit LA food truck style burritos. Not that I’ve ever eaten a burrito in LA, but you know, from like movies and stuff. Also, I was told that there was a $5.95 “Snack Burrito” on the menu which is almost a WHOLE DOLLAR cheaper than the Mini B.

I got there and there was a massive crowd, but no line for the counter. I didn’t realise until it was too late that this actually meant there was a serious burrito construction backlog and I’d be waiting 20 minutes for my lunch.

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I get that this place is new, but there were 3 people in the burrito assembly line who really should have been wearing “Hi! I’m in training so please be patient.” badges so we could have been more forgiving of them. The final guy in the line was the main bottleneck, he was folding tortillas around the  burrito filling with the level of care you would use if you were wrapping a present…. FOR THE QUEEN. Not saying I don’t appreciate a lovingly constructed burrito but DON’T TAKE THE JOKE TOO FAR.

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So I patiently waited patiently for 20 minutes and ended up with this (Post-it note included in photo for perspective).

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This is not a “mini” burrito. This is not even a “snack” burrito. This is a Mexican dumpling. *Hanger rising…*

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On first bite, it tastes pretty good – the jalapeños give it a good kick and they use Mexican tomato rice instead of plain, which adds some nice flavour. But they go overboard with the sour cream which makes the whole thing taste cold, and the chicken tastes dry and no where near saucy enough. And the worst thing, in a few more bites – it’s already gone and I’m still hungry.

So my advice is to stick with the other Mexican fast foods franchises you know and love – because this place is not worth your time. I ordered a chicken burrito, but I noticed they use ground beef  (ugh, if I want a crappy mincemeat burrito, I’ll just make one at home) and don’t even have the variety that Mad Mex and Guzmans offer (eg. pulled pork or beef steak). No me gusta.

The Original California Burrito Company
Suncorp building food court
259 George Street, Sydney 

The Original California Burrito Company on Urbanspoon

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