If extravagance had an alter ego it would be XS Espresso. No doubt it has earned excess Insta-highlight for its food. The Bondi Beach offshoot of XS is rather plain, creamy walled with sparse ornamentation in the form of hanging plants, milky light fixtures and stark white furnitures, but together these represent an ivory canvas to highlight the vividly arranged display units around the counter and over the top artistry in the presentation of food.
On the Sunday, that we had chosen to check the cafe out, an incessant downpour dampened our spirits and had discouraged the weekend crowd from venturing out. Therefore, at first sight, the pallid interior of the Bondi joint further bored me. But one look at the picture-worthy drinks and dishes being served and the size of the dining crowd in that dank weather reset our dwindling social-media-boosted confidence. An almost full cafe fueled our curiosity!
We were requested to locate ourselves wherever we pleased. Our girlish waitress brought us three separate menu cards, one with breakfast and lunch choices, the other two for desserts and drinks respectively. Among the drinks were the XS shakes - speciality shakes of XS Expresso heaped with doughnuts, ice cream, cookies, chocolates and what not. The waitress recommended cold pressed juices as the loaded XS shakes with main course dishes would have meant overworking our stomachs. So we went for a mixed berries, watermelon & orange (Berry Blast) juice, and another with watermelon, mango & passionfruit.
Spread widely at the front and extending backwards in a more streamlined way, the cafe is designed to accommodate a sizable crowd but the narrow shape makes it quite congested (a lot of "excuse me"s were exchanged as the passage was blocked every time customers were at the counter and waiters had to squeeze past between them and the diners).
Once our drinks were served, we placed our lunch order. The juices were as invigorating as they should have been. But what fascinated me was the slice of orange. Instead of being tucked at the rim, the slice had been placed like a cap on the tumbler and a straw inserted through it. For quality, quantity and that simple idea of a fruit cap the juices get a 5/5.
Just halfway through the drinks, our lunch was served - two beautifully decorated mounds of Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon on a grey and the Nonna's Pasta on a blotchy pink plate. Yellow and orange-hued they looked like fresh blossoms of marigold. But the oddity was, neither cutleries nor serviettes were provided with the food so my husband had to grab two sets of forks and knives from the counter and unfortunately he didn't find any tissue papers.
Irresistible as they looked we tucked into our dishes irrespective of our disappointment with lack of usual service etiquettes. The fish dish was a chili and garlic dressed stack of dressed sweet potato mash, stir-fried chickpea, kale, tomatoes, corn, and crunchy sweet potato strips on a crispy skinned salmon fillet. The variation in texture, soft fillet paired with crunchy fresh vegetables and fried sweet potato, made the dish a big winner. As for the pasta, it had been prepared with a delicate hand. Tossed carefully in a delightful Napolitana sauce so that each strand had a perfect coating of it, the tang of the sauce had been evened out by a good proportion of mushrooms, basil and the natural saltine taste of prawns. So taste and tenderness won Nonna's Pasta full marks too.
Last on our order list were a Mocha and the Belgium Soufflé. My husband gave a merry thumbs up to the creamy and chocolatey Mocha. But what made us both go weak in the knees was the dessert. The very sight of that sweet celebration of colours made us happy to the stomach. Seeing the elaborate presentation made it clear as to why the desserts were priced as much as the main items in the menu ($13 - $18). A dollop of velvety vanilla ice cream, slices of fresh banana and strawberries, rich chocolate sauce and a dense yet spongy dark chocolate soufflé, all arranged on the plate in an abstract artwork made me think twice before disintegrating it. Immaterial of all noble thoughts, the whole arrangement ferociously fanned my love for all things sweet, so the rest was history.
The dishes deserved so much credit that all else paled before them. Lacuna in service and layout was overridden by the fastidious presentation and innovative combination of food. Therefore, excess points to XS for the edible bonanza!
(N.B.:Planning to get to XS Espresso, Bondi Beach, don't be bothered by parking concerns, for the area has 1-2 hrs of paid parking and if looking for unpaid street parking, there are ample of those too but will take a bit of driving around. Else you can always travel by public transport, get down at the beach and walk the 600mts to the cafe).