Is it a garage sale? Is it a tiny art gallery? No! It’s the entrance to Parramatta’s celebrated café, Circa Espresso. For the three of you in Sydney who haven’t heard of it, this narrow space has been exemplifying café excellence since 2010. It really doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the full-page tea menu, the refined coffee program, real-deal baked goods or the go-to, destination-worthy dish of Ottoman Eggs – people here have clearly worked hard to ensure the options are all killer, no filler.
Owner Aykut Sayan is still here, front and centre – cheerfully greeting customers, running coffees out to tables, checking in with the chefs – and it feels like you’re a guest in his home. The shop’s layout places you in the middle of a narrow room amongst the (tiny) open kitchen and coffee bar. As you sit back and watch your whole order being prepared, soak in the old-timey paintings, posters, books and artefacts that line every wall. Don’t forget to clock those ornate ceiling fans above you, too. If you venture to the back of the space, you’ll find a quiet booth for a romantic date or a less romantic business meeting.
Circa’s menu is seasonal, but always steered by flavours and textures of the Middle East. We’re talking about hearty, restaurant-level dishes at around $20 a plate. Value. Yes, you’re getting extraordinary value, especially considering the effort that goes into each individual component. Halloumi and cauliflower fritters are the opposite of mushy, and come thin as a 50-cent piece and crisp as a $50 note. A crunchy nest of greens and radishes waits ready to catch a perfectly runny egg yolk, whilst poppy seeds dance with the cheese like it’s their wedding day.
Is it worth giving those much-hyped Ottoman Eggs a go? The answer is a resounding yes – the dish is definitely deserving of its legendary status. Again, it’s all about the textures here. A golden disc of eggplant acts as a freakishly crunchy stage for an award-winning ensemble of rich garlic labneh, shreds of leek and crisp sage leaves. Then, it’s drenched in beurre noisette and served with chunks of fragrant housemade focaccia. It’s a lot. You can handle it.
Circa roasts and retails its own coffee beans (house blend and single origins), so, it’s safe to say they nail it on that front. Milk coffees are rich and balanced, beautifully presented and speedy. Filter coffee is clearly a drawcard here, with several variations available on the menu. The hot brew is crystal clean with sparkling jasmine florals – the kind of thing that would convince somebody to quit the dairy.
Just like the food, drinks are seasonal, too. For cold months, that equates to something like a warming shrub of rhubarb, pear and date – a tart, strong and nourishingly sweet brew poured at your table just for you, you lucky thing. It's so comforting, it could soothe the caffeine-wary into an afternoon nap.
Ten years is way past the life expectancy of your average café. At this ripe old age, it’d be pretty understandable if the spark had died a little. But no way, Circa still roars loudly, thanks to understated elegance and mastery of flavour.