It’s not often that I come across a cafe that really excites me.
Sure, there are a number of solid places around Sydney that do a decent job with the food and turn out a good coffee. However, few inspire to the point that return trips are planned to work through more of the menu. Few inspire the desire to visit with friends or family so that they too can share in your excitement.
Circa Espresso is one such place for me; an excellent value-for-money cafe that has a certain character that is unlike any you’ll find in Sydney.
Circa Espresso operates out of what was once a home garage at the end of a residential street. A combination of IKEA-like wooden stools and milk crates run along the foot path as make-shift outdoor seating, while more substantial furnishings line the driveway and interior of the cafe.
A large, coffee-inspired mural graces a feature wall by the entrance to the cafe, as does a hat stand with an eclectic assortment of headgear and a lone couch with a cow print cover. A display menu is written on a couple of sheets of what looks to be heavy-duty brown butcher’s paper attached to the wall, as well as a number of items scrawled directly onto the wall itself when there’s insufficient space on the paper to accommodate them.
The whole place feels like the result of a crossover challenge between Channel TEN reality television properties The Renovators and Masterchef Australia; an episode where teams from each show join forces to outfit and operate a cafe out of a home garage, using only whatever items they could find within to decorate the space.
From a shoe cleaning kit hanging from the wall to a bust of a faux-deer trophy, the decor of the cafe is simultaneously tacky, ingenious, tasteless, humourous, gaudy and fun. Whilst I’m not too clear on the source of inspiration for their unique look, I get sense that Circa Espresso is trying to make some sort of statement.
It could be an act of rebellion against the conventional style in which most cafes present themselves; choosing function over form in spite of, or intentionally because of, the hodgepodge character it gives. Perhaps a sense of social conscience and sustainability by recycling used items that some may consider to be rubbish. Maybe it’s just their quirky sense of creativity and humour.
In stark contrast to the liberal use of tongue-in-cheek or intentional irony of the cafe’s decor, the coffee and food are treated in a serious manner.
The modest menu is devoid of gimmicks, creative names, and poorly executed puns and portmanteaus that one may otherwise expect given the cafe’s quirks. There’s your typical cafe fare on the menu – muesli, omelettes, poached eggs, & toast with a variety of spreads. However, there are also some distinctly ethnic influences, such as baked eggs with sujuk, French toast with labne, & a salad with Sardinian fregola; small, ball-shaped grains of semolina pasta similar to Israeli couscous. It’s also ridiculously cheap, with the most luxuriously lavish item on the menu costing a paltry sum of $9 (it’s a poached chicken salad).
Portobello mushrooms stuffed with ricotta, walnut, basil served on toast with rocket ($7) – While it may not necessarily look it, this is an absolutely fantastic dish. The generous serve of ricotta stuffing is fresh, creamy, a little tangy and intensely flavourful. The mushroom (singular, despite what the menu description may suggest) is cooked to perfection. The toast, smeared with a pesto-like spread of what seems to be just basil and walnut, along with the rocket adds another layer of flavour & texture.
The coffee here is good too. A light-medium roast with chocolate and caramel overtones and a citrus overnote (according to the menu), which is sourced from The Little Marionette boutique coffee roasters.
The barista was working pretty much non-stop while we were there. Whilst a good sign for their coffee trade, if you happen to be seated opposite the coffee station like I was, the intermittent whirr of the coffee grinder and the squeaky clacking sound as the coffee grounds are dispensed can get very annoying very quickly. Best to sit outside rather than in if such things bother you.
I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to visit the cafe. Having reopened today after a brief hiatus for renovations, I’m curious to see what inspired changes they’ve made to place. I might even spoil myself rotten and drop a niner for that poached chicken salad.
Update: Post renovations, a lot has changed. The decor now has more of an antique store vibe rather than the original quirky op-shop one described in the post above. Also, the menu has changed somewhat. Check out the menu on their website to see the new offerings on hand.
21 Wentworth Street, Parramatta
0414 477 812