Chungking’s menu sits on a pedestal outside their Burwood restaurant, and while novices like us will peruse it from the outside, likely making a plan or two for what to order before going in, all bets are off once one is actually inside. The walk from the front door to the dining table often provides us with a chance to see a selection of what’s good and popular at a restaurant, and on this particular walk we saw no less than 6 tables (around half of the diners) eating the same thing.
The specialty of the house was the Charcoal Barramundi. There is a choice between frozen and live barramundi, as well as a choice between other barramundi and other fish, including Murray cod. We had a live barramundi, which meant that the dish started at around $50. There was a choice of soup base, and being spice wimps we chose a mildly spicy garlic base. We thought that this would be the end of it, until our waitress told us that we needed to select three additional items at additional cost. We chose the fried tofu, some glass-style noodles, and baby bok choy each at an additional cost of around $5.
Luckily, this dish was actually quite good. The barramundi came butterflied, a bit fried and crusted on top with salt and pepper flavouring. It was supported by a bed of noodles, tofu, and baby bok choy as specified, keeping it crisp and preventing sogginess as we ate. I would probably do this again, but with a frozen dead barramundi rather than a live and then dead barramundi.
This lamb stew hotpot (I want to say, $32?) was the other dish that we got. Looking around the room as we left we found that other tables of two diners essentially just had the charcoal fish and nothing else. That would’ve been the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do was to order this dish as well. It wasn’t even really special. Might’ve been better with some rice.
It was tricky finding a table anywhere at no notice on our first night in Melbourne, and Lover on Chapel St (the same street where I accidentally bit my partner’s finger at a hot dog restaurant, the now closed Massive Wieners, in 2017) was essentially one of our only options.
I had this meal in a par-cooked state having been awake the previous 36 hours working an intensive care night shift, travelling interstate and sleep-watching through an Aaron Chen comedy gig (my apologies to Mr Chen who, if his set is to believed, lives in the same inner-South-West suburb as me), so I can’t make any real promises about the reproducibility of my findings, and your mileage may vary depending on your level of consciousness.
These fried sweet corn ($10) riblets were great and well priced. The corn was buttery, moist, and well flavoured with lime and chilli, with the chipotle mayo was a good dip pairing. I have only good thoughts about this.
The albacore tuna skewers ($12) were less fantastic, though I think that may be due to the raw fish used rather than any fault of the restaurant itself. I found the albacore tuna to have an unfortunately starchy quality, which perhaps betrays my preference for bluefin in all uses of the fish. The sauce was however sweet and good.
These beef rump skewers ($14) were quite good. The meat was both juicy and tender with minimal charring on the outside, and the apple salad was crisp, fresh, and delicious. The red sauce that this was served alongside was very spicy and fruity, and while it was nice I would’ve been equally happy without it (this opinion may have been different if I had had more than one skewer to myself).
This is the beef crudo ($24) with cured egg yolk and masa. The beef of this beef was cut into huge chunks, which made it a bit weird as I felt like I had to work hard and chew to be rewarded with the flavour inside (which was good). The masa corn chips were very good, extremely thick and well flavoured. They had top tier structural integrity, with crispiness that lasted throughout the duration of the dish, and even though they were designed as a vessel for the meat, they clearly transcended this simple task.
This barramundi ($38) that’s since left the menu was our only main and final course of the night. This was a relatively large piece of barramundi, pan-seared in the traditional sense with a too-hard crispy skin that I thought detracted from the experience. That said, I very much enjoyed the flavour of the cream that the fish was served upon, as well as that of the fried streaks of allium with their strong umami taste and the combination of these flavours with the fish’s flesh. The leek I felt was a bit overplayed, used as a vegetable rather than a condiment, and I feel that all but the world’s greatest leek fans would feel too leaked out by the end of this dish.
This is either the Call Me Maybe ($24) or Melony ($22). I don’t know. I don’t really drink any more.
OVERALL THOUGHTS Pretty good, honestly. Some things were better than others, and by the time this is published all of the things I didn’t like have fallen off their menu and replaced by unknowns, while the things that I liked have remained. Perhaps the next iteration will be even better!
We counted three visits to Circa Espresso in the 2018-19 period, with further visits in 2021 and more to come.
I’m not usually one to go for vegetarian dishes, but Circa’s Ottoman Eggs ($22) are in a league of their own. The eggs themselves are perfectly poached, served on a mattress of fried, crumbed eggplant, itself lying on a cloud of garlic labneh. The interplay of textures – the runny egg yolk, the crispy eggplant, the creamy labneh, and the housemade bread – is superb, as is the combination of tangy, spicy, and umami flavours. A really good dish that is a must-try.
The humpty doo saltwater barramundi en papillote ($26) was the most expensive thing on the menu, and also quite bad. The barramundi was very overcooked, with the skin soft and wilted rather than crispy. The salad of parsley and cucumber was hard and difficult to eat, and as such wasn’t really able to be eaten in conjunction with the fish. The flavours were overall mild and bland, and after the huge success of the Ottoman eggs these parcel baked fish bits were quite disappointing.
The wild ferment whole wheat pancake ($22) was a beautiful sweet dish. The thick but light wheat pancake was glazed in maple syrup, producing a hard, crispy skin and two separate textures per bite. The fresh, tangy peach provided a good foil to the sweet maple syrup glaze and the white chocolate creme fraiche, and the crunchy cocoa nibs and pistachios added a third texture to the meal. I don’t normally go for sweet dishes, but I could absolutely see myself ordering this again.
This lamb cutlet focaccia sandwich ($15)from the specials menu of Monday the 15th of March 2021 was really good. The meat was delicious, the bread was delicious, and the kaleslaw was fresh and crunchy.
An extra normal iced chocolate ($7). I could not stop my partner from ordering what was essentially chocolate milk with ice cubes.
Sujuk ($7) was served with a small amount of bread. Again quite expensive.
The dressed avocado ($18) is an interesting name for a dish where avocado is equal firsts in precedence with a number of other ingredients. The avocado headliner was in fact not more special than any other cut in half and pitted avocado, while its colleagues the cherry tomatoes were delightfully and unexpectedly bright and full of flavour. The avocado-cup of oil and aged balsamic vinegar and bed of soft white bean hummus added a depth of umami to balance the otherwise extreme freshness of this meal. A perfect low carb option, it’s just a shame that I had to ruin it with a deep fried eggplant.
The side of crumbed eggplant ($6?) was ordered as I wanted only the best part of the Ottoman Eggs while not committing to the full deal. Whilst the eggplant was as good as I remembered, it didn’t quite go with the freshness of the avocado dish, and having it alone really just highlighted how well the Ottoman Eggs works as a cohesive dish.
Another year at the largest healthcare campus in the Southern Hemisphere, another year of post-nights breakfast at local legend Circa. Though I’ve never been a mad shakshuka fan, I decided to step out of my comfort zone for these baked eggs with beef sujuk ($26), spending Valentine’s day breakfast with my colleagues rather than my partner. Though I easily could’ve ordered the old, trustworthy Ottoman eggs, I was inspired by my junior colleague TJB to try something new. These baked eggs turned out to be extraordinary, with a richness of flavour not easily matched elsewhere. The roma tomatoes, harissa gravy, and chilli flakes really brought out a rare depth of flavour, and paired with the runny eggs and feta made for the perfect topping and dip for Circa’s top tier focaccia.
A further visit in a further month gave me the opportunity to try this zaatar chicken salad ($26), an extremely healthful bowl which was a mixture of quinoa, seed mix, sumac, broccolini, pickled radish, cabbage, and (cold temperature) smoked chicken over a bed of baba ganoush. Though the flavour wasn’t amazing compared to all of the other delicious foods featured above, it was obviously very healthy and there is a value to that too.
$5.50 for a cold brew coffee with a giant ice cube is too much.
Another season, another menu, and more foods to review. The cuttlefish & chorizo salad ($28) was the first thing I tried on Circa’s Winter 2022 menu, and if I’m being honest it was quite a disappointment. Many of the components of this warm salad were fantastic – the roasted greens, the sourdough crumb (great texturally), the chickpea and roasted garlic hummus, but the combination of these, together with the extremely salty cuttlefish and chorizo made a bowl that I could not finish. Though I am a big Circa Stan and like most of the things they put out, the saltiness of this particular salad just didn’t do it for me.
I didn’t drink this shrub ($7 or something) but I do love the crockery. My colleague CSPH enjoyed it. It did come with a shrub.
I spent 3 months away from Western Sydney working on the South Coast, but came back in time to enjoy this crispy confit duck ($27) on their Spring 2022 menu. I shamelessly tucked into this very lunchy breakfast whilst four of my five other colleagues had their reliably good Ottoman eggs. Their all-day menu is, after all, part of why we keep coming back time and time again. I loved the colour and the crispiness of the duck, with its skin and fat and tender meat. The vegetables and lentils were mild but still delicious, with quite a tangy taste from the red current jus. I can recommend this dish, and it was truly much better than the similar confit poultry at Melbourne’s Hardware Société.
Two fortnights in a row is too frequently to visit Circa, in my opinion, but it gave me the opportunity to give this crab fettucine ($28) a go. I had misremembered, while ordering this, the somewhat disappointing Squid Thai Pasta from Lil Miss Collins next door as a Circa creation, and was quite glad when this crab fettucine came that it was much different, and much better. The noodles, house made, were quite al dente but not overly so, with a strong sense of egginess. The chilli marinated crab wasn’t particularly plentiful, but present enough to not warrant a complaint, and the herbed sourdough crumbs did add a nice bit of texture to the meal. Though this wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten at Circa, it was still on a good spectrum of nood. Sorry to the expert platers on Wentworth St for cropping out the large plate surrounding the reasonably sized food. One day I’ll have the Ottoman Eggs again.
VERDICT Eggs good. Many other things quite good. Some other things not good, quite expensive. My favourite café in Parramatta.
Incepted by Goldthread’s YouTube videos on xiao long bao and claypot rice, my partner and I made our way to Eastwood’s Mr Stonepot with a view of having both. While we found out tonight that stonepot is not quite the same as claypot, we still had quite a nice time trying out somewhat novel and not quite traditional items on their menu. Service was rapid, and we were able to experience the full spectrum of having our number shouted out at the front door as well as completely silent service from our waiter – two extremes that would probably displease most Australian diners but were probably part of the restaurant’s focus on hyper-efficiency.
The pork ribs in blueberry sauce ($8.80) sounded quite fancy and promising, but ended up just being sweet and sour pork served in a tiny bowl on a much larger plate, dusted with icing sugar. The blueberry flavour was not readily apparent, and really only noticed when the dish had cooled to room temperature. Non-special.
The xiao long bao (8 for $9.80) at Mr. Stonepot are both cheap and good, though after watching the above-linked video on xiao long bao perhaps they were a bit overdoughed on the superior aspect. Nonetheless, the taste was really clear and porky, earning my partner’s prized rating of “probably the best [she’s] had recently”.
The apple flavour smoked cumin lamb ribs with rosemary and chilli and onion ($19.80), true to its name, featured all of those flavours and ingredients. The lamb ribs were actually extremely tender and well cooked, falling off the bone and consisting also of a delicious, molten layer of fat and skin surrounding the meat. Whilst the rosemary was on full display, the chilli, apple, smoke, and onion elements were only accessible through the detritus at the bottom of the dish – easily missed if one were to eat just the ribs themselves. These were quite exemplary ribs, even if the smoke flavour was a bit irritating.
The Singapore style barramundi ($19.80) was an entire barramundi cooked in the Singaporean sweet chilli style and served in a sizzling stone pot. Whilst this photo probably fails to capture it, I was very impressed by the sheer size of this dish, having paid more for single fillets of barramundi numerous times at Sydney’s cafes. Though an extremely generous serving for price, I can’t say that I was a big fan of the Singaporean sweet chilli flavour in this particular dish, and wish it were offered with a different sauce or base.
The abalone black truffle rice with abalone sauce ($7.80) was one of only two stonepot items that featured rice, ordered in a vain attempt to fulfill our desire for claypot rice. The unfortunate difference between claypot and stonepot, as we were quite to realise upon gleaming the menu, is that claypots are inherently porous, helping to add the crispy outer layer to rice. This rice, cooked in a stonepot, did not have such a crispy exterior layer. Only two pieces of abalone were present in this rice bowl, suitable for the price paid though disappointing to the mouth. The black truffle, second item of note in the dish’s title, was nowhere to be found, with only very standard mushroom slices and a whiff of what was probably truffle oil over real truffle itself identified. Despite these misgivings, this is a perfectly adequate fried rice style bowl for $8.
OTHER NOTES The couple to our right had received a bug in their order of jellyfish, and on informing their waiter received an apology and a promise that they would take the dish back to the kitchen and remove the bug. Said couple was not pleased.
The couple on our left arrived 3 minutes before the kitchen closed at 8:30PM, was told strictly that they had 3 minutes to make their choices, following which the maitre d’ returned and ripped the order form and menu out of their hands. This didn’t seem to bother them, though, as the wife of the party had come in actively eating a grocery store brought ice cream, and then continued to eat lollies as she waited and a full prepacked salad once her food came, tell her husband “I’m trying to lose weight, I have to eat salad with each meal.”
VERDICT If you are into loud environments without much social distancing, abrupt service, pretty good Chinese food, and a strict adherence to the kitchen’s last order time you will love Mr Stonepot.
We had a weekday dinner at By Sang, a relatively new Japanese restaurant with some Korean influence sitting on the old Sanpo site in Rosebery, opting for the $70 per person 6 course degustation and the addition of the futomaki. Though not everything lived up to expectations, certain elements of our meal were actually quite good.
We started with the WA Scallop Tataki with salmon roe, and finger lime. The scallops used in this dish were plump and sweet, and matched well with the tangy flavours of the yuzu dressing and finger lime. I wasn’t sure if the greenery was meant to be eaten, and ultimately it remained untouched as we consumed the seafood. I thought this entree was definitely not bad, though my partner wasn’t a huge fan. I think this dish usually comes with some creme fraiche, but ours did not.
The sashimi dish consisted of slices of atlantic salmon, Ora king salmon, red emperor, cuttlefish, kingfish, and tuna (akami). The choice of using both regular salmon and king salmon (also known as chinook salmon) was an interesting one that I would not have made, though I guess perhaps it was a way to introduce novice salmon eaters to the higher quality of king salmon by way of direct comparison. The sashimi course was as fine as most sashimi generally is, though I did feel that the kingfish tasted a bit unusual.
The futomaki (?$35 supplement) of akami, toro, tamago, takuan, scallop, uni, and ikura was an unfortunate weak point. Though enticed by the inclusion of premium elements like uni and toro in this roll, we found that the mish mash of multiple seafoods and flavours per bite-sized piece made it exceedingly difficult to appreciate any individual element. While the overall flavour was good and certainly not bad, we just found ourselves disappointed that this is where we were steered towards when we asked our very enthusiastic waiter about the toro nigiri special. We probably should’ve ordered that instead.
The NSW wagyu tartare with ssamjang, garlic ponzu, wasabi aioli, parsley, and potato crisps was up next. This menu item should’ve been a slam dunk given our recent fondness for steak tartare and my partner’s general love of all things potato, but was again unfortunately a bit of a let down. My main criticisms here would be that the meat itself had a bit of an unfortunate chewiness to the texture, whilst the flavouring was too heavy of sesame oil and salt to my liking. op/;.This really was a Korean fusion take on the classic French dish, and whilst I love my Asian fusion cuisine in general, not all attempts at innovating on a classic are going to be successful. In comparison, the Korean fusion beef tartare at Soul Dining in Surry Hills is a master-stroke, and should be considered first port of call before the one at By Sang.
The NSW sand whiting tempura with papaya salad and white ponzu was a turning point in the meal. While I couldn’t identify any papaya, the moistness of the fish deep fried in a light tempura batter as well as the grated salad and citrus dressing were all very pleasant.
The second consecutive cooked fish dish of the night, the NT Humpty Doo barramundi with grilled wombok and Japanese butter curry was also very good. The fish was grilled to perfection, with a nice crispy skin and moist flesh. The butter curry sauce was particularly good, with a light flavour that tasted a level or two more complex than your average grocery store Japanese curry.
Our first choice of dessert was the Hitachinobeer ice-cream, which came impaled by a bit of crispy biscuit and resting on a bed of crumbs. The ice cream was really special, with a pleasant sweetness intermingled with a distinct but unoffensive beer taste. Though our waiter told us that they don’t make their ice cream in house, I can’t actually find anywhere else online to buy this – and believe me I tried.
Our second choice of dessert was the Peanut Brittle Miso Caramel Sando, which while looking like a giant macaron was more of an ice cream sandwich. Also quite good.
THOUGHTS There were a few hits and a few misses at our first visit to By Sang, though our experience got markedly better once the cooked food and desserts started rolling out. If I could do it all again I would skip the tasting menu, skip the futomaki and tartare, and go straight to the a la carte menu. I also expect that as the restaurant matures some of their kinks will be worked out and menu optimised. I do hope they keep on their current staff though, who were very attentive but not to the point of being overbearing. Whatever they do, I really hope they keep the beer ice cream on the menu.
By Sang 304/1-9 Rothschild Ave, Rosebery NSW 2018 (02) 7251 9251