In 2013, the modern day bible (Good Food Guide) awarded Best Cafe in Sydney to little-known Excelsior Jones in Ashfield. The experts were baffled:
– who is Excelsior; and
– where is Ashfield?
After much research, I can confirm (i) Excelsior is not King Arthur’s sword and (ii) Ashfield is the train stop after Summer Hill where $8 fetches 16 hot steaming pork dumplings.
Three years later, EJ maintains monopoly-status on poached eggs, breakfast cheeseburgers and palatable coffee. It’s a cafe plucked straight from Surry Hills and deposited in a quiet suburbia, presumably due to lower rents.
Owners did their homework – croissants and cronuts are on display. These are baked the same day, unlike nearby Vietnamese bakeries and 750 Coles stores nationally. Sadly the Melting Moments look lifeless, like a corpse inside a glass coffin.
The missus and I carefully peruse the dozen-odd options to ensure our stomachs will only be lined with the best this kitchen as to offer. Meanwhile, the daughter tastes the menu (literally).
Salmon Hash is a repeat offender on Instagram, LHS below. We have also just returned from Malaysia, which is a cuisine totally devoid of (i) artisan bread, and (ii) fresh vegetables. RHS fills that void.
Smoked salmon hash with fried buckwheat, eschalots, poached egg and herbs – $16
Today’s learning is ‘eschalot‘ is a fancy French term for onion. At a bistro, you may order BBQ salmon, jacket potato and caramelised onion for $35. EJ charges less than half and crumbles the salmon making this folk-friendly. Salmon is house-smoked and boy do I love it.
Each mouth yields saltiness and warmth to the point where I steal the dish from the missus (who ordered it first). Profile is subsequently enhanced by the poached egg. At that point, the wife is banished from the table. Victory.
Imagine the dismay where I discover it is impossible to douse each salmon-and-potato chunk in yolk. It should be illegal to serve a single poached egg.
The dish is still a winner – full marks for flavour, less a point for lack of egg #2. For reference, The Cove (Abbotsford) serves a very similar dish for 50% more ($24), shown below.
Roasted cauliflower & broccoli with chermoula, kale, pumpkin hummus on soy & linseed with avocado – $16 + $4.50
Up there with best salad-on-toast experiences in 2016. To be clear, that’s not a huge accomplishment. I have three conflicting emotions:
– hummus is silky smooth but too mild;
– roasting strategy adds flavour but detracts from freshness; and
– brilliant injection of life via avocado, but the chef’s slicing job is poor.
For what is essentially vegetables on toast with a lemon wedge for over $20, I’m unable to recommend this order.
Onto scoring, which reflects a good but not great brunch:
– Food (♦♦♦♦) – no game changing flavours, yet still above DIY quality.
– Value (♦♦♦♦) – mid-teens per dish is fair in Sydney, expensive in Ashfield.
– Other (♦♦♦) – bare bone streetscape and a low staff-to-patron ratio.
– Overall (♦♦♦♦) – enough technique to warrant celebrity status in Ashfield.
Quality and atmosphere compares with the likes of West Juliette (Marrickville), Revolver (Annandale) and Pig & Pastry (Petersham). Worth visiting if you are stuck in Ashfield and sick of dumplings.
Will I be returning?
Only if they reinvigorate the menu in the new season.