Monday, 8 April 2013
Circus, Covent Garden
Is there really ever any need to have a bouncer at the door of a restaurant? What kind of trouble are Circus expecting from the Covent Garden post-theatre crowd? Are they worried gangs of day-trippers, passions roused by the matinee performance of Top Hat, will suddenly turn up en-masse and demand the opportunity to spend £20 on a crab curry?
Or maybe the burly security, the ostentatiously discreet entrance and the ranks of coolly-glamorous staff are all part of the performance of eating at Circus, and without them they'd be just another faintly disappointing pan-Asian joint in the heart of Tourist London.
There's the "cabaret" too, I suppose. They've probably allowed themselves a bit of a markup for that, although I can't help feeling if you wanted to see a good cabaret you could find better in Soho for less, and certainly if you were in the mood for a bit of sashimi and a cocktail then there are better places for that, too. In the end, what we have is somewhere that does both of these things, to a degree of competence certainly, but not really to the level the prices demand.
Take the beef & foie gras gyoza for example. £8 gets you four soggy bags of sickly sweet, vaguely beefy mixture with no discernible foie gras flavour, and with only a hint of the crust that should exist on properly prepared gyoza. They werent inedible, just inelegant and overpriced, and not something you'd rush to eat again. Happily, yellow tail sashimi was a lot more pleasant; £15 is clearly far too much for 8 small slices of fish, but the pickled beetroot and jalapeno dressing, while not about to win any prizes for authenticity, worked surprisingly well.
Next, encased in a pale, damp batter were half a dozen scampi - sorry, langoustine - so utterly devoid of flavour they may as well have deep-fried as many balls of cotton wool. Any high-street chip shop in the country could have done better, and you'd have had enough money left over to treat your friends too for the £15 this sad little pile cost.
Fortunately (not to mention bizarrely), a £30 Canadian lobster was cooked incredibly well, the tail meat succulent and the claws sweet and moist. Again, and at the risk of labouring the point, it's a lot of money for not a great deal of food but I've had enough dry, plasticky lobsters in my time to appreciate a good example when it shows up.
Dessert, called "Doughnuts & Magnums" was a mixed bag. The little cubes of white chocolate-covered ice cream on sticks were pleasant, as was a little pot of what I can only describe as the filling from a Mr Kipling apple pie (this is not a bad thing). But mini doughnuts were cardboardy and chewy, and "jasmine ice cream" was completely flavourless and quite unpleasant.
I know, I know, it's not about the food. It was a full house in Circus on Friday night, all very happily spending a small fortune on dinner with odd little five minute periods where the lights go down and someone wearing not very many clothes spins on a hoop from the ceiling. It's undeniably popular, so perhaps I'm just not their target audience. Maybe I just need to lighten up and stop moaning about soggy scampi. It's not the end of the world.
But as eyes adjusted to the light as the evening wore on, and the stage smoke cleared after yet another oddly underwhelming bit of hoop-spinning, the wobbly furnishings and stains on the white walls spoke of a place whose heyday, such as it ever was, was behind it. Circus is, all said and done, a theme restaurant for tourists and office parties, and though the food on the whole may be better than the dross served at Hard Rock or the Rainforest Café, its inspiration comes from a similar place - huge markups, with enough distractions going on elsewhere to make you not care too much. If superficiality rocks your boat, you may find something to enjoy. If you like fairly-priced food and a warm welcome, try elsewhere.
I was invited to review Circus. Apologies, as ever, for the terrible photos. It started off quite dark, and got darker.