Thursday, January 20, 2011

Circa, The Prince

It has been a long long time since I've eaten at Circa. I distinctly remember visiting during one of the Christmas / New Year breaks for a Sunday lunch and being blown away by the value, quality and slickness of the restaurant.

And after hearing about some significant renovations last year (?), and the head chef (back then) Matt Wilkinson now at Pope Joan, in Brunswick East, it was probably time to see what had changed at Circa. The main dining space is now bathed with natural light from an opaque ceiling with a wall of garden herb which left me wondering, how do the herbs get enough sunlight because it's a pretty cool way to grow stuff.

The feeling I got at Circa was that it was not aiming for complexity. It was about the produce, the heirloom tomatoes, carrots and purees. It was the quality of the produce that mattered and that was all that mattered. We started off with crystal bay prawns, sugar cured salmon and avocado. It was quite a simple dish and it was fortuitous we were looking for a light summer dinner. We went on the Friday where we experienced torrential rain in the morning but perfect summer weather in the afternoon so the humidity was pretty debilitating.

As you would've seen from my previous post that I have been trying to grow tomatoes, it goes without saying that I had to order the heirloom tomatoes with fried buffalo mozzarella. All I have to say is, those tomatoes were brilliant. Mine doesn't taste quite like the ones we had..."insert sad face".

For mains I had the smoked duck breast, confit leg roll, with pumpkin puree and a maple sauce. The duck was excellent. It knew what it was, and it was proud. That's how the duck was. There was no confusion in the dish.  Whereas my friend Denise had the King Salmon with zucchini in orange blossom with tomato. At the time, we weren't sure what the zucchini tasted like - now I know it was orange blossom. So there, orange blossom.

It is become quite the occurrence that the side dishes are becoming the heroes of dinner. We ordered "our vegetables, tuber crisps and parmesan yoghurt" and a "cauliflower, farro, cranberries and labneh" salads. The our vegetables salad was brilliant. Purple, yellow and orange carrots. I have never seen yellow carrots before so was quite surprised by the array of textures and colours in the dish. If ever there was a dish that made you feel "healthy" without feeling cheated, this would be it (similar to the Meli Melo of Embrasse").

The dish we both thought was brilliant was the cauliflower. You all should know how much I love cauliflower by now!, but this reinforces why I believe cauliflower is versatile and can change from bland to full of flavour depending on cooking methods and seasoning. It appeared the cauliflower was roasted, as it did not look dissimilar to my pan roasted cauliflower that I prepare at home. The cranberries provided a balanced sweetness to the acidic dressing. It was really that good. Only comment was that it indicated "farro", but I could've SWORN it was quinoa because I eat quinoa all the time and they look nothing alike! But that's minor and totally irrelevant to the enjoyment of the dish.

Dessert was a honey pannacotta with poached rhubarb and a chocolate pave with a warm chocolate cigar. The honey flavoured pannacotta was strong, I'm not quite sure what type of honey they used, but if you've had something like leatherwood, you'll understand it has a very very strong flavour. However, once your expectations have been adjusted, it was quite a refreshing dish.

The chocolate pave was intense. Like most chocolate desserts, they aim to pack a punch. This sure did. I only eat dark chocolate so it was quite palatable with the exception that no matter how much you enjoy sugar and chocolate...there is such as a thing as "too much of a good thing". The chocolate cigar however, is dangerously good. DANGEROUSLY good. The type of snack that could induce diabetes on perfectly healthy people, as it had all the hallmarks of an addiction-inducing food.

Overall, Circa was pleasant. Circa to me, is about produce, about quality produce and if the vegetables are truly from their own garden, I am even more in awe. The food is clear, simple (in my opinion) yet strident. It doesn't push the boundaries too much, but it really doesn't need to. Circa works, and it works well.

Circa, The Prince,  2 Acland St, St Kilda

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