Among the larrakin culture typically found along Acland St, St Kilda, there is an unexpectedly dignified establishment: Circa at The Prince.
With over 15 years since its inception, Circa has reinvented itself in a number of incarnations over the years; but a few characteristics have remained the same in each venture – beautiful space, beautiful food, and a high pricepoint (this is not cheap-eats-on-the-go kind of fare, so be prepared!).
Now owned by the Melbourne Pub Group and with head chef Ashly Hicks at the helm since 2013, Circa has entered a new era, while remaining committed to exploration and ingenuity in the realm of food.
Haynes&Bruce chose to eat our way through the degustation because, quite frankly, the Circa menu boasts so many intriguing offerings that we couldn’t choose.
From the starter to the dessert, each dish was presented with aesthetic flair and bursts of colour reflecting the seasonal and local produce of early autumn. There were a few standouts:
The young turnips with potato and quail broth was an unexpected dish, with the turnips the hero rather than the quail (the only trace of which was the rich broth poured over the vegetables). The delicate, sweet turnips, the roasted potato and the heavenly broth were a lesson in good cuisine: you don’t have to have an abundance of meat on the plate for it to produce a memorable dish.
The king mushrooms with bay bug and perigord truffle was a flavour combination I certainly wasn’t expecting to enjoy, opting for subtler flavours with my seafood. But the rich mushroom consommé was poured gently over the bug, melting the lovely, earthy shavings of truffle on top, and the combination made for good eating. The freshness of the bug worked well with the deeper flavour of the other ingredients, and there was an added romance when our waiter explained it was the first autumn dish to hit the menu for 2015.
Pork with Josephine plum, kohlrabi and lovage was one of the best pork dishes I’d experienced in a long time. The amalgamation of unique flavours worked exceptionally well with the tender meat of the pork and most importantly, the crispy skin that shattered like glass.
The wagyu with rocket, mustard and onion juice was probably the best dish of the night and some of the finest quality meat to ever pass my lips. The sher wagyu was like meat-flavoured butter that falls apart and melts on your tongue, and the mustard and the meat and onion reduction served inside caramelized slices of onion made this dish a revelation.
The mimolette with rye, walnut and avocado was no exception to the surprising flavours and textu res introduced throughout the meal. The mimolette – a hard French cheese that is flavoured with South American annatto seeds – went very well with avocado puree and shavings of walnuts atop rye toast. The dish had a distinct umami flavour, which is no surprise given the mimolette is apparently the chef’s ode to Vegemite on toast.
Right to the very end, dishes that challenge the palate just kept on coming. The dessert of chocolate mousse with beetroot and espresso boasted salty espresso chocolate biscuit crumbs, fresh blueberries, a light, velvety valrhona chocolate mousse, beetroot gel, beetroot biscuit and confit beetroot. Interestingly, the combination of chocolate and salt prevailed over any sweetness, but it still managed to satisfy this sweet tooth.
Circa does food that pushes the limits of what a dish is “supposed to be”, taking its cues from ingenuity rather than acceptability. Combined with a relaxed atmosphere, elegant decor and knowledgeable staff, it’s definitely worth a visit.