Pimp My Plate #21 – Parramatta CBD, NSW

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PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘Winter consolation in a mug and a bowl…’

CIRCA ESPRESSO Café 

The busy area around Parramatta Station feels consumed by the cavernous Westfield shopping centre, so it’s easy to miss this little café tucked around the corner in Wentworth Street.

But if you walk down Wentworth Street, you can’t miss CIRCA’s trademark mural of a giant pug dog wearing gold bling and sunglasses.

In the higgledy-piggledy garden out front, foliage growing out of vintage suitcases catches your eye. And the aroma of coffee beans draws you inside.

I’ve made a quick coffee-stop at this café before, but today’s visit is to try their lunch menu.

Everyone asks to sit in the narrow, dimly lit space inside, where the walls feature a quirky design feast of mirrors, frames, and frescoes.

There’s outdoor dining on the pavement, and on the terrace balcony, but indoors is more atmospheric – and closer to the barista station.

Sydney’s cold snap just hit, and the air felt like holding a bag of frozen peas to your face. Perfect weather for hot chocolate!

The African Red Chocolate ($5.50) is rich and sweet. It has a fruity chocolate taste that comes from the robust, earthy flavours of Forastero cocoa beans, mixed with aromatic Trinatario beans. You can almost taste the photograph I posted with your eyes.

At the tables around me, the most popular lunch order was pan-fried Barramundi fillet ($20) with charred cauliflower florets, pine nuts, sesame seeds, glazed carrots, and it looked as delightful as its description.

At $19, CIRCA’s Chicken Salad with chermoula dressing did match PMP’s budget, but Lamb Shanks are a warming winter meal and I needed to pimp my body heat as well as my budget.

I ordered the Baharat Lamb Shank ($20), cooked in an ‘aromatic tomato and chickpea broth with yoghurt and zaatar crisps’.

Zaatar is a Lebanese spice mixture made with thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds.

Eating zaatar is supposed to ‘give strength and clear the mind.’ Did I mention it was cold? Seated outdoors without a coat, I felt I needed both.

My lamb shank arrived, resting in a puddle of reddish-brown broth with plump chickpeas. The zaatar crisps sat on a dollop of thick deliciously sour yoghurt.

I peeled off my woollen gloves to be able to navigate my cutlery.

The zaatar crisps have the crunch and texture of pappadums – a nice contrast to the tender fall-off-the-bone meat. A good broth is winter’s consolation in a bowl, and these flavours were an antidote to the cold.

CIRCA is really popular – people queue to eat in or takeout coffee, or seemingly just to ponder Life itself, so when a table became available indoors, I moved inside.

The drinks menu at CIRCA offers craft teas and tisanes, spiced latte, masala chai, and seriously good coffee. My coffee today was 10/10. There’s a daily selection of cakes on display, and I spied several glossy brown croissants of rubenesque proportions. Or better described as torture on a tray.

As I sipped my coffee I people-watched, and re-read the menu. Breakfast at CIRCA sounds rather good – Brown Rice Coconut Porridge; Winter bowls of pumpkin and veg; Ottoman Eggs; the decadent Croque Monsieur; or perhaps French Toast with banana brûlée and caramelized passionfruit. I’m intrigued by the caramelized passionfruit, so a return visit is a must. Or maybe I’ll order one of those croissants, or both – it’s truly a dilemma of the best possible kind.

With its quirky character and good food CIRCA offers diners a welcome alternative to eating in the busy retail arcades around the corner.

At CIRCA the baristas are serious, the food is pretty and pretty delicious. Warm up with their winter comfort food – or as I call it, winter consolation food. And on chilly days, don’t forget to ask for a blanket.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 5/5  VIBE: Quirky meets quality
CIRCA ESPRESSO – 21 Wentworth St, Parramatta,  NSW

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Pimp My Plate #20 – Parramatta, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $19 or less.

‘It’s not all about the food’

 Anjappar Chettinad Indian Restaurant

 

Walking along Church Street, I noticed the word Chettinad on the façade of Anjappar Indian restaurant across the street.

Chettinad is the name of a region, not a curry, of the Sivaganga district of southern Tamil Nadu state, in India.

The word immediately triggers a food memory for me – Rick Stein’s recipe for Chicken Chettinad in his INDIA cookbook. It’s a favourite recipe and I’ve cooked it often. I haven’t seen it on a menu before, so it felt like fate – or fateful.

‘Is the kitchen still serving lunch?’ I asked, as it was approximately 2.35pm in the afternoon.
‘Yes,’ replied the waitress.
‘Great!’

I took a seat, was handed a menu, and I flicked it open.

A minute later, the waitress came back and asked me to hurry up with my order as the kitchen closed at 3pm. OK, fair enough. But at the time I didn’t realise that the kitchen closing time meant everyone – myself and one other diner – were expected to exit the restaurant.

On her way back to the kitchen the waitress locked the front door of the restaurant.

I speed-read the menu and made my choices: an entrée of Nethily Fry ($11.99) – described as ‘fresh anchovies marinated in special masala and deep fried’; and a main course of Chettinad Chicken Masala ($15.99) – chicken fried with shallots and spices. I’m not a fan of fresh anchovies but these sounded interesting and delicious.

The entrée plate of Nethily Fry arrived without a dipping sauce, or cutlery. I asked if the anchovies came with a sauce, and was told it didn’t have a sauce. OK, fair enough. The anchovies are chewy and delicious, and as munch-worthy as popping potato fries into your mouth, and having no cutlery except a spoon, that’s how I ate them.

So when my chicken arrived, I asked for cutlery.

The Chettinad Chicken Masala has a rich and delicious sauce, with more depth of spice and flavour than I usually expect from a $16 meal. There were no vegetables in the sauce, which is always disappointing, but not unusual.

Aware that the clock was ticking away towards closing time, I asked for my entrée to be packed as a takeaway. I thought this might save a few precious moments for both of us, until the waitress came back with a plastic bag and a foil bag, sat them on the table, and walked away. Well that’s a first – being expected to D.I.Y. my own takeaway!

The diner next to me paid his bill and left. Now I was alone in the restaurant, and the pressure was on…

After eating a few more mouthfuls of my masala, the waitress decided to stand vigil near my table. Obviously it was her strategy to hurry me out the door.

Tick, tock, tick, tick.

I tried to ignore this behaviour to avoid indigestion from speed-eating.

I ate another mouthful, and then she came over and asked if I could hurry up as “the restaurant closes at 3.30pm”.

I glanced at my phone …. I had 7 minutes to closing time.

I’d had enough of her, and I had eaten enough. I slid the remaining anchovies into the foil bag provided, sealed the top, and dutifully popped it into the plastic carry bag.

‘Oh I didn’t mean to rush you,’ said the waitress. Hell, no!

‘Next time I suggest you just tell people the restaurant is closed,’ I suggested, knowing there would never be a ‘next time’ for me.

I paid the bill and as I stood waiting for the waitress to unlock the front door, I picked up one of their takeaway menus. With a smirk I noticed the words HIGH CLASS restaurant on the front of the brochure.

On the back of the brochure, and on the back pages of the menu, they advertise that Anjappar restaurant in Parramatta is one of a worldwide franchise that includes restaurants in Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia, Canada, Singapore, USA, and several other countries. I imagine the hospitality offered is more generous in the other locations.

To be fair, I did arrive near end of lunchtime trading – they reopen to serve dinner – however if you can’t deliver service to paying customers then you shouldn’t seat them, and instead, say the restaurant is closed.

Later I had a look at online reviews for this restaurant and found other diners have experienced a similar lack of hospitality.

The basic principle of hospitality is that good service is more important than good food if you want to engage customers and create repeat customers.

If you manage a café or restaurant you are cooking and serving in a commercial enterprise, so there are both industry and customer expectations that you’re offering food and service at a professional level.

At home, a few hours later, I munched through my deep fried anchovies and scrolled through more online reviews of Anjappar in Parramatta. I nodded as I read the one that recommended, ‘Only do take away from here,’ and dipped my hand into the foil bag for another handful of anchovies.

RATED: Just do takeout    FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 3/5   ATMOS: 0/5   VIBE: Hospitality-free zone
ANJAPPAR – 108, 106/108 Church St, Parramatta

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