Growing up Asian in Western Sydney and visiting only the highly-Asian establishments around the place I never really understood Ashfield as an “Inner-West” suburb. I think as the West has extended westward so has the inner-West, and places like Ashfield have transformed from a suburb of Asian grocery stores and Beijing roast duck restaurants to a suburb of cute little cafes with their own seasonal merch collection.
This pastrami sandwich ($16) was unusually priced but ultimately pretty good, I guess. The collection of flavours and textures with the overnight-cured pastrami, the crispy toasted and seeded bread, the mild Swiss cheese and the crisp sauerkraut was quite pleasant in the mouth, though not in the wallet. I feel like this would’ve been right on the money at $12, but $16 is a stretch.
A more substantial bowl at $22-ish, the roasted eggplant with halloumi was an oily mix of eggplant, walnut feta, and pomegranate, served with ciabatta. Though my partner did not like this uncharacteristically vegetarian choice, I found the mixture of flavours and textures (thanks, walnut) sufficient to maintain interest throughout the course of the meal. Pomegranate brightens up even the most eggplant everything.
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.
VERDICT Eggs good. Many other things quite good. Some other things not good, quite expensive. My favourite café in Parramatta.
A non-systematic review of the available literature was performed using non-structured keywords. Further opinions from a lay audience were subsequently gathered by means of an online forum. An interactive social media feature of this online forum, that is positive votes signifying consensus concordance with recommendations was used to determine the location of the first Peking duck meal I’ve had since childhood.
The number one rated suggestion on this online forum was “Beverly Hills” with no additional descriptors. A quick internet search led us to Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant, though it was only on arriving in Beverly Hills that there were no less than three or four restaurants on the same strip of road serving Peking duck.
This Pig Ear in Soy Sauce ($12.80) was pretty good. A small hint of spiciness, but generally quite refreshing with its cool temperature and cool cucumbers. The texture of the pig ear was absolutely standard, and though it didn’t stand out it was what was expected of a staple.
Contrastingly, this Sliced Jellyfish ($15.80) was not what was expected. A second cold dish, the jellyfish came mixed with garlic and cucumber, which was appropriate. What was completely unexpected was the large and absolute chunkiness of the “slices” of jellyfish. While I guess what I had pictured in my mind would have been better described as “shredded” jellyfish, I hadn’t even processed that a cold plate of jellyfish in a Chinese restaurant could come in such large bitey chunks. This was not enjoyed by any member of our party.
The Eggplants in Chilli Sauce ($18.80) were extremely and unexpectedly good. Unlike your classic eggplant dish which is diced into small pieces, these eggplants were cut into larger chunks, covered in a thin batter, and then stir fried. The result was a nice crispness on the outside with a warm moistness on the inside. The sauce was more of variation on a sweet and sour sauce rather than a chilli sauce, but the dish was great nonetheless. A really surprising hit.
Next we come to the restaurant’s namesake dish and the reason for our little adventure. The Ordinary Roast Duck Set ($68) featured one whole duck cooked in two ways – served sliced in the classic pancake format alongside small shreds of shallot and wedges of cucumber, as well as in a soup.
The duck was carved by a man in a chef’s hat not at the tableside, but tableside-adjacent in a little alcove. This was really a missed opportunity in terms of the theatrics normally associated with freshly carved duck, as ultimately what we got to see was merely the man’s back, until the two plates of duck were delivered to our table. The duck itself was really OK. with a crispy skin but not as crispy as I had remembered or anticipated. There was plenty of meat to share between four people along with the other dishes ordered, which was nice as it provided something to chew on. One common complaint I’ve read about this restaurant is that the duck tends to lose its temperature quite quickly, and I agree that this is a problem. Some sort of heating device might be good to keep it warm throughout the course of the long meal.
While I did enjoy the Peking Duck, ultimately I don’t really know if it was much different to your average Cantonese/Hong Kong style roast duck. The skin was certainly a bit crispier than my local Cantonese BBQ restaurant, but not really to the level that I’d expect of a subcutaneously emphysematised duck, as is classic in Beijing cooking. The flavours and vibe were different however, and I will pay them that.
The Fried Duck Frame with Cumin ($8.80) was a reasonable amount of meat on a large amount of bone, quite nice, well flavoured without being too flavoured. I think however it was a victim of its own messiness, as eating it required hands with some dexterity, as well as a victim of our fullness by the time it arrived. Not much of it was eaten. I also didn’t realise, whilst ordering it, that getting the duck frame fried with cumin would mean that the duck frame could not be used for soup. Of course it all makes sense in retrospect.
COMMENTS As this is my first Peking Duck meal in a very long time, I have little to judge it by. I enjoyed most of the dishes here (apart from the Jellyfish) but will have to continue my adventures to compare this duck to the other ducks in the area. Price wise the meal represented good value, with large servings of everything. Stay tuned for further duck analyses.
Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant Beverly Hills 493 King Georges Rd, Beverly Hills NSW 2209 (02) 9570 5131
Parramatta’s much-loved Circa has popped out a new baby, and it’s a boy. Located at Parramatta Park’s George St gatehouse, this pop up of indeterminate longevity serves Circa coffee along with a completely unique menu of mostly quick eats made from familiar Circa ingredients, served in takeaway containers.
On my first visit to Georgie Boy I had the Barramundi Quesadilla ($15). These quesadilla were quite good, with the tortilla crispy and almost layered, with a roti-like quality. The filling of chilli marinated barramundi was cheesy and tangy and spicy, but not so much that the flavour of the fish was drowned out. Indeed the flavour of the barramundi was very clear, and brought me back instantly to the last time I had barramundi at Circa (which was not actually good, but this time it was good). The freshness and generosity of smashed avocado as well as the rest of the salad and garlic labne was a welcome foil to the slightly oily slightly rich quesadilla. Ultimately a good dish.
On a subsequent visit, I found that the Eggplant Wrap ($14) with an added egg ($3) is certainly no replacement for Circa’s famous Ottoman Eggs. It was actually quite disappointing, especially after the high expectations set by the quesadilla.
COMMENTS It’s too early to write a verdict, and I plan on bringing my partner back once she’s back from her interstate locum.
Banh Xeo Bar in Rosebery is a mixed-race family affair. Helmed by Benjamin Sinfield and Tanio Ho, the restaurant serves up Vietnamese inspired dishes with a dash of Western flare. This sense of co-operation is also seen in the staffing at the restaurant – with front of house being run by Caucasians and the kitchen run by Asians.
We were initially skeptical about this hip looking bar with a clientele of mostly Eastern Suburbs types (although we ourselves are technically Eastern Suburb locals at this point) and $15 banh mis, but quickly settled in to an authentic and tasty meal.
The Vietnamese iced coffee ($5.50) was really good! It was not too sweet.
We started with the crispy pork trotter in salt and vinegar butter ($12.50). This dish consisted of two deep fried pork trotters in a butter sauce with a slice of lemon. The pork was very deep friend and crispy, and the internal fats were nice and rendered. The meat itself was very oily, and I thought that the lemon was absolutely necessary to cut through the fat a bit. The butter was a bit of a superfluous addon to such an already heavy and oily dish. Overall a recommendation.
Our first main was the Banh Xeo with roast berkshire pork ($26.50). This was the first time I’ve ever had Banh Xeo, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. The egg pancake was fried to a very good warm and cripsy level. The filling inside, with pork and bean sprouts, had varying textures that amused the tongue, with a good umami flavour. The banh xeo was served with lettuce wraps and BXB’s marinated carrots and pickles, which when eaten together were able to provide multiple levels and types of crunch, crispiness, umami, and cut through the fat. This was an absolutely delicious dish.
The Combination Special Bun Bo Hue – beef flank, beef tongue, and pig head nugget noodle soup ($22.50) was a delight. We optioned it with 2 additional eggplant croquetas (on the plate in the photo), to be described separately.. I really like all the different types of meat in this soup – and also that despite being in the Eastern suburbs they didn’t shy away from serving things like beef tongue and pig head. I loved the varied textures of the meat, and also the high meat and vegetable content of the soup – there was never really a boring spoonful. A special mention goes out to the pig head nuggets, which were just delicious parcels of meatiness and fatiness that added a whole different dimension to the beef tongue and flank. The soup itself unfortunately doesn’t make it into my top soups, as my personal feeling was that it had too strong a soy flavour for my liking, but I recognise that this probably just a personal preference – I enjoyed the The Combination Special Bun Bo Hue more with the supplied lemon squeezed in. The lemongrass and chilli condiment, allegedly made by Ho’s mum, was good however didn’t find much use in this dish.
The eggplant croquetas (2 for $5) were enjoyed by my partner but not me. They were very smooth inside, and the form is made purely by the fried exterior, which I guess is a technical achievement. I think I’m a little bit allergic to eggplant.
Overall I can really recommend Banh Xeo Bar in Rosbery. It manages to straddle the line between authentic Asian cuisine and the rice paper rolls and banh mi that are more easily palatable to the South East Sydney populace. There really is something for everyone, to post gym yoga mums to two hardened deep-Asian diners.