Local Enthusiasms: A Taste of Citrus
By Ikumi Cooray
Picture this: it’s been a long day. You’ve been working from home and haven’t left your desk for 6 hours – yet somehow, you’ve missed a delivery and a text arrives telling you to go pick it up. You get to Fitzroy North Post Office and the line is out the door. After a patient 20-minute wait soundtracked by Jimmy’s thoughts on the most cost-effective postage methods, the package is finally in your hands.
You leave the post office and suddenly you’re famished. You’re standing on the corner of Brunswick and Scotchmer Street, spoiled for choice with various dining options in every direction. But you needn’t go anywhere – on that very street corner, a glowing neon sign and the fragrant smell of South Asian spices capture your attention.
Since it opened in January 2019, the family-run Sri Lankan restaurant Citrus has become a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. As the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants whose parents live well beyond the 5-kilometre radius of Fitzroy North, it has become a welcome addition to my life. I spoke to Citrus’ manager, Ravi, about the family finding their feet in the inner north culinary market, their ever-changing menu and how they’re surviving the pandemic.
No strangers to the neighbourhood, Ravi and his dad spent several years working at the café previously occupying this corner – a relationship that eventually led to them taking over the space. Momentum was slow in the first six months as the team trialled and tested different menus and offerings. While initially serving a Western/Eastern hybrid menu of burgers and fries alongside rice and curry, they quickly switched to solely Sri Lankan food after noticing it was
what customers kept coming back for.
The vibe at Citrus is homely and unpretentious. The atmosphere is relaxed, the food is affordable and most importantly, it is supremely delicious. On a pre-pandemic weekend it wasn’t uncommon to see people lining up outside, patiently waiting to get a taste of the buffet-style dining service.
As modest as Citrus is, it’s also very popular – having been mentioned in outlets like The Age and SBS, with Broadsheet singing its praises as one of Melbourne’s ”favourite buffet restaurants”. And now, of course, coverage in Fitzroy North’s most prestigious community newspaper.
Ravi’s mum sits at the helm in the kitchen and coordinates the daily menu, with a rotating line up of different types of rice, vegetable curries, meat curries and condiments. Ordering a takeaway ‘rice and curry deal’ usually won’t land you the exact same meal twice. The menu is also accommodating to any dietary requirements with plenty of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options available.
I have loved every element of every meal I’ve ever had at Citrus, but I do have a few honourable mentions: the tender and flavoursome chicken curry, the classic Sri Lankan staple dahl and of course pineapple chutney, the perfect slightly sweet, slightly sour condiment to round out a spicy plate.
“Every meal tastes like it was made especially for you by a loving parent.”
I feel I must give a standalone shoutout to my favourite dish, a meal I adore and that I come back to time and time again. Kotthu to me is an amalgamation of everything that is good about Sri Lankan cuisine. It’s essentially a combination of meat curry, roti, egg and vegetables, which are skilfully chopped, mixed and stir-fried on a hot cast-iron griddle. It’s spicy and hearty, it’ll fill you up, the flavour and texture combo are faultless, and it’s patently evident that the chefs at Citrus have it down to a fine art.
Like most of hospitality, Citrus has been hit hard by the pandemic. Ravi mentions they’ve lost much of their large and loyal customer base from Sri Lankan-populated outer suburbs like Dandenong, Epping and Bundoora. He attributes staying afloat to the love and support of the local community – conscious consumers who aren’t just motivated by a tasty and affordable meal, but who also want to help and uplift small businesses.
There are very few things in life that I feel compelled to write in a local newspaper about, but I’m not exaggerating when I say the team at Citrus are doing God’s work. At a time when international travel has been as out of reach as a trip to the outer south east suburbs, Citrus has been a source of comfort, warmth and familiarity. At Citrus, every meal tastes home cooked – like it was made especially for you by a loving parent.