Circa Restaurant in The Prince of Wales Hotel, St Kilda is a longtime Melbourne institution. Many great Melbourne chefs including Andrew Mc Connell, Matt Wilkinson and dessert queen Philippa Sibley cut their teeth here before moving on with their own successful ventures.
The restaurant underwent a much needed facelift in mid 2009 and the menu was reinvented with a rustic, garden to kitchen aesthetic and a distinct emphasis on organic, locally sourced, seasonal produce. The end result is a refreshingly modern space, lots of timber, luxurious fabric and a nifty glassed in courtyard dining area. The vibe is less formal, the food is friendly and accessible but the service and experience remains at a two hat standard.
So it was my turn to choose a dinner venue for our wedding anniversary. We wanted to go somewhere 'nice' but not too nice and where the food wouldn't be *too* weird. The idea of spending a romantic night out navigating our way through sea urchin or pig's trotter wasn't particularly appealing.
After a stickybeak at the menu online, Circa seemed to fit the bill. Classy but not exorbitantly expensive with focus on simple yet clever food. Perfect.
The hustle and bustle of busy Fitzroy St was quickly left behind the instant we stepped into the foyer. Subdued lighting, chilled grooves playing on the soundsystem and the dull hum of conversation. Effortless sophistication. It was hard to believe only moments ago we had walked past a raucous bunch of punters, drinking in the Prince Bandroom who waiting for Imelda May to start.
We were seated in a private little pocket off the main dining room which was ideal for our romantic evening, however it was a bit dark so I missed out on taking photos of our meals.
We bypassed the wine list, hubby opted for a locally brewed Mountain Goat Steam Ale and I had a Bellini ($16). It included a dollop of peach sorbet which was a satisfying update to the classic cocktail. The menus are printed on thick paper and the wait staff wear well tailored outfits in earthy tones all keeping in with the modern and casual theme.
Being a lover of all things meaty I couldn't go past the Charcuterie board ($28) for entree. I was treated to Wagyu bresaola, a salty hit of jamon serrano, smooth and creamy duck liver parfait, an excellent pork and pistachio terrine and slices of almost bacony tasting char grilled ox tongue. The board was accompanied with an olive jam, quince romesco and grilled bread. Heart attack on a timber board but completely delicious. My other half chose the Rabbit Raviolo with Jerusalem artichoke and milk sauce ($25). Neither of us had tried rabbit before and we were pleasantly surprised at how tasty it is. Soft pasta, smoky rabbit, creamy artichoke and a smattering of microherbs which cut through the richness of the dish. This was definitely the stand out of our night.
Along with the tidy list of mains, Circa also offers a number of 'To Share' choices designed for two people. Since it was our anniversary and all we chose the Char-grilled, dry aged strip loin on the bone ($90) from the sharing menu. With it came an amazing caramelised onion tart, horseradish cream and a rich meaty jus all on a funky wooden board (naturally). We chose sides of chat potatoes roasted in duck fat with rosemary and garlic and char-grilled zucchini with flat beans and air dried tomatoes. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the steak, it was a tad underdone and had that unappealing smell of raw meat. I guess this could have a lot to do with the aging process which perhaps simply didn't suit our tastes. It was ok, but not fantastic. All the accompanying dishes were great though, especially the moreish jus and onion tart which I have since successfully recreated at home. It was a wholesome dish with a few restaurant twists, the kind that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
The desert menu didn't grab us so after another beer (Coopers this time) and Bellini (yum!) we ended our night at Circa. Overall our experience was quite enjoyable. The service was slick and attentive but not overbearing, although I found one female staffer to be a little cold. I would certainly consider coming back in the future, the Sunday Lunch menu looks quite appealing.
Circa, The Prince of Wales Hotel
2 Acland St, St Kilda