OVER the past two years, there’s been much talk from restaurateurs of “adding value” in order to entice cash-stripped punters. Great meal deals, the chance to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants without breaking the bank, free choccies at the end – that sort of thing. But recently, the value added concept has been geared up a notch. Now the food isn’t enough. There has to be performance.
Recent openings that highlight this trend include Proud Cabaret in the City, where diners are treated to singing and dancing and other entertainment as they eat. The Supperclub, of Amsterdam fame, opened a couple of months ago in west London and, while supping a three course dinner reclining on white beds, diners are treated to various expositions of performance art, much of it involving scantily clad men.
And now, Circus. There is plenty of added value in the ultra-glamorous interior, with its mirror balls, glossy dancer’s pole, matte white tables and confusingly labelled toilets (with hand-dryers that involve serious effort to locate). But there is also acrobatic performance, burlesque dancers and serenading guitarists. Part way through our first course, the lights went down, and suddenly an attractive man in white was expertly leaping through a hoop suspended above the central long dining table.
This lasted a few minutes, not enough for the food to get cold. Then, 20 minutes later, down the lights went again, and a woman with her (taut) belly exposed emerged waving a flaming torch and performed a dance to enervating ethnic music. It was certainly a value added experience, if slightly discouraging of digestive processes, and a good chance to take stock of the excellent vodka martini one should have in front of one at all times while eating – and being a spectator – at Circus.
The other area of added value at Circus is the food. A good thing, considering it is billed first and foremost as a restaurant. The menu consists of delicious, interesting American nosh, a cuisine the owner, Adam Davies, defines as being a mishmash of cultural influences. The result is a delightful array of playful dishes such as shredded pork with potato latkes (Jewish-inspired but certainly not kosher), grilled corn bread with tomatoes, butter beans and feta – or with Cajun honey butter – and slow-roast beef ribs (instead of the better-known pork).
There are also hushpuppies, which are deep fried balls of cornmeal popular in the Deep South – both unsophisticated and delicious. We kicked off our meal with a plate of these, alongside smoked chicken wings with chipotle and lime relish and eye wateringly rich portobello mushrooms filled with Berkswell cheese and spinach (very value-rich too at £3.95), and tomato and feta salad.
For health, we had a very honest-sized bowl of courgettes and green beans in hazelnut butter (plain old butter would be far too boring for a place that serves acrobatics along with its main courses). Then on to the main event, which, in the case of my churrasco, sums up why American food is back in vogue. It was a large piece of red sirloin, juicy and slightly charred-tasting, that had been soaked in a marinade of garlic, herbs, peppercorns, chilli and lime, a mixture that was so tasty it begged the question: why doesn’t everyone do this? More to the point, it was filling without being Everest-sized, still making its £17.95 price tag seem perfectly fair. Beef ribs were good but not as good as pork ones – other temptations were josper beef fillet steak (jospers are the God of charcoal grills) with kale, fried shallots, thyme béarnaise and jalapeno jelly, and cornbread-crusted wiener schnitzel.
Dessert doesn’t flag in terms of pizzazz: we had a peanut butter and chocolate brownie with “three milk” ice cream, which was oddly home-made looking and quite bitter. Warmed apple gingerbread – apple cake alone, or plain old gingerbread, would have been a total yawn, naturally – with cream cheese mousse and lemon peel syrup was tempting, but after such a good value meal, we hadn’t the space. In these straitened times, that is a very good thing, and the key to Circus’s success will surely lie therein.