I’ve been hoarding an $80 gift voucher from Circa, the Prince for quite some time now. It was a birthday gift from Adam’s sister, Jen, and although I received it almost 10 months ago, I was not able to use it until now because the restaurant was going through a massive renovation last year. After the pseudo-apocalyptic weather that terrorised Melbourne the previous day, we were hoping for some calmer weather on Sunday. We were scheduled to arrive at The Prince of Wales for a 12:30pm start but unfortunately could not make it until 1:30pm. We notified the restaurant over the phone about our late arrival and they were lovely about it.
Now, I’ve never been to this place before so believe Adam when he said that this place has done a complete 360. He attended Jen’s wedding here several years ago and he recalls the place being “more classy” but admits that the new Circa had a “fresher” and “cleaner” atmosphere. This could be attributed to the more open floor space as well as the wall of fresh garden herbs and vegies lining the airy dining room which looked like a toffed-up food court with its booths and erratic seating arrangements. And although Adam doesn’t remember much about the old menu, other sources suggest that chef Matt Wilkinson focuses less on theatrics and instead, playing up the fact that all their dishes use fresh produce straight from the restaurant’s garden. Settling into a cushy booth in the middle of the room (where the sun decided to settle in for better part of the afternoon, dammit!), we anticipated our first dish of the $65 Sunday four-course set lunch menu you get to pick your main and your dessert.
Our first dish came in the form of several pieces of emulsified goat’s cheese on a plate that was then covered in a sexy roasted tomato, aged balsamic and garlic puree at the table. The result was one of the most luscious and flavoursome tomato purees –dammit, I’m calling it SOUP… I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. We also received a piece of warm, round multi-grain rolls to dunk in our soups. There was also a mini pot with sour cream in it but we both rendered it pretty useless and yearned for a butter pat in place of that.
A bit of a digression here: I always giggle every time I see the restaurant’s name. To me, Circa, The Prince is one helluva weird name to call a restaurant. It’s kinda like lumping it with those royals who had names such as Henry the Eighth, Piero the Gouty and Catherine the Great. Haha Circa the Prince. I wonder what sort of person he’d be. No doubt someone who likes to beat around the bush *badum-ching!*
The second course was a sampler of starters to share but what we did not count on was the fact that the serving sizes were going to be so generous that we would bowl over before our mains arrived.
Crispy fried lime and chilli whitebait with aioli (“Look! You can even see their eyes!” exclaimed Adam). I thought it was a bit odd to see this dish make an appearance, as it would be something I’d normally associated with bars rather than fine-dining. Paired with a bottle of Trumer Pils, however, ensured that Adam (a whitebait friend) was a happy camper, at least until the mains appeared.
Heirloom tomatoes with Migas bread and prosciutto. The fresh slices of several varieties of Heirloom tomatoes were the star of the show, with the crunchy Migas (read: leftover bread) soldiers and prosciutto playing supporting roles. So sweet and lovely were the tomatoes that they probably would have made a fine dish on their own.
Roasted padron peppers, smoked salt with spiced yoghurt. Probably my least favourite dish as I’m not a fan of padron peppers. While I could eat the peppers if they were merely a supporting ingredient any other dish, a whole bowl of peppers on their own was a bit too much for me. I did, however, liked the slightly tangy spiced yoghurt which helped defuse some of sharp bitterness that I encountered when taking the peppers.
Chicken, tarragon and mushroom pot pie. It was divine with a capital D; arguably one of the better chicken pies I’ve had in my life and trust me, I’ve had more than my fair share. The crust could have done with a bit more ‘crisp’ but otherwise the filling was superb and surprisingly light.
Adam’s main: Black Angus sirloin, ox tail kromeski, runner beans and caper dressing. Adam had requested it to be cooked “medium-rare” so imagine our surprise when he cut a piece of steak to discover that it was cooked all the way though:
Boh! Only a few moments earlier, the guy sitting behind us had received the same dish only to send it back as it was “not medium-rare.” Later on, the dude received his new steak and said, to his partner, “Ah, this is more like it! Now THAT is the difference between a piece of meat and a steak!” Such profound words from the gentleman cannot be truer, we thought, as we forlornly stared at Adam’s steak. We should have probably sent the steak but I’m one of those people who hate wasting meat. Something about the animal dying in vain for nothing. Despite the fact that our meat was edging towards the “well-done” side, the dish was actually quite lovely. Teamed up with fresh baby carrots, runner beans and little parsnips, the steak piece of meat was served with a slightly sweet pan jus to bring out its flavour and a smidgen of very light béarnaise sauce for depth. The croquette-like object(s) was the ox tail kromeski which had a lovely silky cream filling flecked with shreds of ox tail meat – it rounded off proceedings quite nicely. Divine.
My pan-fried John Dory with golden beetroot, redlof and herb salad did not match up to the steak but it was still exquisite nevertheless. The three pieces of John Dory fillets may have been a smidgen too oily but thank goodness for the abundance of greens such as baby spinach, rocket and endive which filled the rest of the plate up along with pieces of yellowish-orange beetroot from the garden. I normally stay away from beetroot (I’ve had one too many sandwiches and burgers ruined by the shocking reddish dye that the canned variety gives out) but the golden ones I had at Circa surprisingly did not make me gag – their sweetness was more subtle yet they had more bite.
And just when you thought that we were given enough vegies to last us a month, we were given a side of, yep, you guessed it, fresh salad leaves from the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly advocate eating your greens – heck, I love them – but I thought the whole must-emphasis-the-fact-that-we-grow-our-own-vegies thing was a bit too much.
We were stuffed at this point but we had to soldier on for dessert. Adam’s nougat parfait and raspberry coulee and berries tasted as good as it looked and made us not regret ordering the much heavier (but also much more popular) apple crumble with crème fraiche. The parfait, being not too sweet, enabled the berries to truly shine.
Finally, my Holy Goat Black silk goat’s cheese with raisin puree and crackers was probably one of the better dessert cheese dish I’ve had. The cheese was very soft, almost like brie but had a silky rather than creamy texture. It went well with the sweet raisin puree and the wafer-thin crackers that were almost like pappadums. It breaks my heart to tell you this but I was so full that I was not about to finish off my dessert.
On top of the food and beverage the effkers slapped a 10% “Sunday surcharge” on our bill which I wasn’t too pleased about, especially since I wasn’t told of this surcharge over the phone nor was it specified on the restaurant’s website. Apart from that and apart from the steak, I’d say that this was one of the better experiences I’ve had in a two-hatted restaurant in a very long time. Great service and wonderfully fresh, simple and delicious food in a restaurant that is only a stroll from the beach = approximately a winning formula for a prince(ss).