When I think of Ashfield, first thoughts are of the eternally congested Liverpool Road, and also mighty fine Shanghai cuisine. For the last decade I have navigated the crazy traffic for some of the best Xiao Long Bao in Australia. Excelsior Jones is now a beacon for sensational coffee and cafe fare that have Gen Ys clamouring to instagram. Prior to Excelsior Jones, Ashfield, which is just 10 minutes from the centre of Sydney CBD had no coffee of note and cafes were restricted to the first wave cafe vendors and the ubiquitous franchises serving mediocre offerings. The Excelsior Jones team have brought their knowledge from working in Surry Hills to the inner west. The cafe commands a spot on the corner of Queen Street and Armstrong street, and is nicely ensconced in a suburban setting, away from the hustle and bustle of Liverpool and Parramatta Roads. When it first opened, seating was limited to indoors, but the owners fought hard with the council, and we the customers are the winners with seating outside for an extra 24 people along with seating for about 30 inside. On a Saturday at 1:30 we were able to get a seat without a wait, which would have been unheard of just a year or 18 months ago.
The barista team works like a well oiled machine churning out amazing coffees so quickly. Even my filter coffee which is a more involved process arrives speedily!
I am really loving filter coffees of late and love to see how Sydney baristas are sampling and working various single origin beans, each of which have their own characteristics. The one here at Excelsior Jones has earthy berry flavours which give way to tropical fruits and finishes off with a gentle treacle flavour. A great filter coffee with a clean finish. Ceramic cups which are all the rage at the moment is a nice touch too.
While the wife ducks in to check out the cakes on display, I sneak a couple sips of her iced coffee. The coffee is served in a tall glass and topped with a dollop of ice cream. Each sip is filled with a combination strong coffee laced with the luxurious ice cream. It’s a bit naughty, but mighty tasty. From an unadulterated filter coffee to an iced coffee, the quality never wanes.
Food at Excelsior Jones shares equal billing with the great coffee. The menu is split between a breakfast, which runs until 12pm with 9 options and for lunch there’s 11 choices. We have been here around 6 times now, and on each occasion the one constant on each visit has been the house cured salmon hash and today is no different, it’s my choice. If there’s one dish that defines Excelsior Jones, I think it’s this one. The salmon is perfectly cooked and is elevated by the smoky flavours which permeates through every element in the bowl. The fried buckwheat is an inspired inclusion, adding a crunchy texture. The knobs of potatoes are beautifully crisped and charred on the outside yet so soft in the centre and is countered by the softest and the sweetest caramelised pearl shallots. A poached egg that oozes and coats the rest of the dish is superb. Will I have it on my 7th, 8th and 9th visit? You bet!
Mavis orders the cheese burger and since I had been on an 80km ride that morning, I was allowed a couple bites of her burger. Sydney has been invaded by gourmet burgers but what constitutes a good burger can be very subjective. For example, we adore Mary’s in Newtown. I had encouraged a couple of friends to go try and they were not so forthcoming with a positive impression. For me a good burger is about executing well on the basics. The patty is the core element and needs to be constructed well and cooked perfectly. A nice soft bun is key but a bun with texture is important too. Great cheese is a bonus and for me the most important component is a good sauce which binds all ingredients together.
Excelsior Jones’ cheeseburger definitely makes it on to my list of top burgers in Sydney. The burger patty holds together really well and does not fall apart easily as you eat it. Extra points for grass fed Angus beef and great respect is shown to the patty as it’s moist all the way through. The gruyere cheese is gooey and like yellow lava, coating the patty perfectly. Pickles and onions cut through the richness of the cheese and patty. The good sauce is a smoky tomato aioli which is just divine. If you need more carbs, beautiful golden spuds like those served with the salmon hash, is just top notch.
After all that savoury goodness, we need a little sweetness to even the ledger. The cakes are sourced from Little Secret Bakehouse and I think you will agree with me, that this lychee and rosewater cake is visually spectacular. Excelsior Jones stocks most of their flavours but you will need to get in early as the counter does empty quite quickly. It is a single serve, circle-shaped, fresh lychee flavoured cake garnished with 3 circles of rose scented cream icing, sprinklings of crushed pistachios, dried flowers and little green rose gel cubes.
The lychee flavours gives the cake a sweet fruity fragrance while the rose scented cream, pistachio and dried flowers transports me to the middle east. If you are wondering how the cake maintains it moistness without drying out, I was advised that it is due to the sugar syrup coating the side of the cake. You’re most probably thinking uh-oh, too sweet, but let me tell you it’s not. It’s a beautifully balanced cake filled with a myriad of flavours. I need to now plan another visit to try the other Little Secret Bakehouse treats.
Can you tell, I love this place? So we linger a little longer and I order a cappuccino. The cappuccino is on point, with strong flavours that do not overwhelm the palate, yet cut through the rich and creamy textured milk. As a gentle breeze blows through the suburb, each sip is warming. The perfect way to close out an experience at Excelsior Jones.
Here’s hoping more young food heroes roll the dice and venture past the cool suburbs and into where most of Sydney lives and delivers the quality that Excelsior Jones does.