★★★★★ Circus – New Vegan Tasting Menu
A new vegan tasting menu lured us back to the spectacular dining experience that is Circus!
We’re certainly no Circus virgins, partial as we are both to super tasty, contemporary Pan-Asian cooking and eye-popping, sexy cabaret. But with the arrival of a new Vegan Tasting Menu, Circus now has even more to tempt us in, even if it’s still very much a ‘special occasions only’ pounding on the old wallet for all but the luckiest of us!
For those not yet acquainted with the Circus concept, imagine a swanky cabaret bar fused with a high-end, see-and-be-seen dining spot. A feature table doubles as a stage but, unless you’re with a big group, you’ll be sat at a safer distance from the performers, who trot out every twenty minutes or so to distract you from the super-tasty food with sensual, daring and often jaw-dropping acts.
You’ll have heard of places like this, you might even have been to some. The danger, often, is that neither the food nor the entertainment is quite up to scratch. At Circus, however, great effort is made to ensure that this is no jack-of-all-trades experiment failing to meet expectations. So the food is absolutely top-drawer – tasty, imaginative flavour combinations pepper a menu which covers all the bases, and pretty much any combination of dishes is sure to leave you feeling fully sated.
The Vegan Tasting Menu is a recent addition – £65 per person for a smorgasbord of sexy flavours across four courses. Kick things off with a Prosecco (included in the price), or do as we did and go off-piste, choosing from the list of appealing cocktails. Just watch out – Willy Wonka’s Secret, while excellent, is a sweet pudding of a cocktail (unsurprising really: Johnnie Walker Black, cherry liqueur, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, Circus chocolate cream, vanilla syrup and a pinch of sea salt, served with a marshmallow!) which probably wasn’t the best choice to sip with the first course of Nori Poppadums, Edamame Beans (served on ice) and Banh Trang Rolls. The latter, filled with avocado, cucumber, carrot, mint, coriander and vermicelli noodles, are delightfully refreshing, real palette cleansers and best enjoyed after dipping a few poppadums in their accompanying piquant chilli garlic & plum sauces.
It’s a gentle start quantity-wise, but remember – this is just the first of, essentially, two starter courses. Next up came three plates bursting with flavour and easy on the eye to boot! Crispy cauliflower florets arrive nestled on a salad of mange tout, green beans, runner beans, edamame, cherry tomato & red nahm jin, while the sweet & sticky Date & Water Chestnut Gyoza are set off nicely by a sweet vinegar sauce. Perhaps the best surprise, though, was the fairly innocuous-looking Truffle & Mushroom Spinach Parcel, which packed one heck of a flavour punch – consider our taste buds tantalised!
And so to the main course, and the stand-out star: a Chilli Crusted Tofu, quiveringly light and perfectly accompanied by a bean sprout, mint & coriander salad. The Quinoa & Pomegranate San Choy Bau – think a lettuce leaf filled with the tastiest quinoa you ever did eat, spruced to the maximum with cashew nuts, cauliflower, lemon grass & ginger – can’t quite match the tofu, but it’s a refreshing take on the cliched veggie/vegan staple of a stuffed vegetable and surprisingly filling. Having learned that one of us is a pescatarian, the friendly maître d’ also tempted us with a very-much-not-vegan addition: a stunning dish of Miso Black Cod which will wow any fish-eaters!
Oh, and the sides – easy to overlook as you’re tucking into the main event, but really worthy of attention in their own right – plates of perfectly cooked Grilled Asparagus and Smoked Aubergine (the latter with white miso, palm sugar
& chipotle chilli to devastatingly brilliant effect). Simply stunning.
And then the pud – and what a pud! Resist the gentle protestations from your stomach that enough his enough, and behold a Mango Sorbet Eaton Mess of honey comb, strawberry, raspberry, aquafaba meringue & Thai basil syrup. A dessert of dreams, a brain-cleansing, revitalising sugar-rush of sweet, sticky, fruity vibrancy that finishes your meal with a bang.
Speaking of bangs, throughout the meal come performance after performance on the stage table – aerial artistry on hoop and straps, cheeky burlesque, fire-breathing, saucy, seductive dancing and a thrilling, eye-popping finale. The cabaret is a match for the quality of the food, and perhaps Circus’ greatest achievement is that neither outshines the other. Oh, and a special mention is due for the fabulously talented Laura London, whose close-up magic wows every table in turn – a staggering talent of sleight-of-hand wizardry who has you in the palm of your hand from the second she saunters up to your table.
All of this comes at a price of course – there’s no expense spared in giving you a night to remember, so don’t expect a cheap night out. That said, Circus definitely meets our criteria of value for money – you get what you pay for here, and what you pay for is a top-notch, memorable dining experience that’s perfect for celebrations, showing off, making a splash and generally casting off the shackles for a night of unadulterated splendour.