Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Restaurant Inspiration - Confit at Circa the Prince

Does the environment you eat in affect your experience?   I would like to think that I only care about the food and so am not unduly influenced by such things as my surroundings, so that I can enjoy good food on a grimy Bangkok street just as much as in an unadorned, cheaply decorated Fitzroy cafe. 

Last week at Circa the Prince,  I had one of the best meals of the last year in a setting which almost but not quite overwhelmed the food. 

Imagine this room:

To my right, a table of property developers in pressed jeans and blue striped shirts, their silver hair brushed back in in the style of a lion's mane.  To my left, a well known intellectual property lawyer dining with his wife.  Immediately next to us, a completely rotund couple from Holland who talk of food and recipes all night and proceed to order each item on the menu and share all the dishes (just in case you are in any doubt, that is quite a lot of food).   Over past the black tiled central column, a table of beautiful women including a Kim Raver clone sit with their large labelled leather handbags piled up next to them.   Past them, a table of mohawked and bepierced young men with a 6 foot tall boxum women in a Talitha Getty style silk turban with body image issues (I overheard her in the bathroom).   Further behind me sits Luke-who-used-to-work-in-our-local-wine-shop-and-is-now-a-sommelier, dining with two 23 year olds wearing short shorts on this cold Autumn evening.

The people are not the problem in this restaurant.  The acoustics are.   So full of people, sitting in a hard concrete room, eating to a background of loud house music, it is nigh on impossible to hear the person opposite.  I probably seem middle aged saying this, but restauranteurs - please - enough with the loud bass music.  It's not a nightclub.   

And it is a shame, that this newly renovated room, on which I am certain a large amount of money has been spent (it is essentially the old courtyard covered over), feels so temporary, so last minute, so cramped, so unsuited to the delicate, great value food which is being cooked by Matt Wilkinson.    The old restaurant, which faces the bump and grind of Fitzroy Street, is now used for functions. What a waste.  

The very best element of the room, visible above, is the vertical garden, housed in a square frame of boxes.   Oh, and those black lights.   And the upholstered chairs.  And the little tables work really well for closeness but not if you have long legs. 

I ate:
  • kromeskies
  • warm salad of partridge (confit breast and terrine) with rhubarb and heirloom vegetables.
  • 150g Sher wagyu beef 
  • gingerbread parfait with warm apple rice pudding. 
The kromeskies (pork shoulder shredded and deep fried based on a Russion recipe) were salty and moreish.  

The partridge salad was unpeakably divine.  Dotted with tiny peeled carrots, dressed with something piquant, the partridge (not easy to find in Australia) was full of flavour.  The whole dish sang. 

The beef deserves special mention.  It came with the following:  mustard, tomato relish, a lentil and green bean saute, a little copper pot of glistening smooth mashed potato and a perfectly dressed green salad.  All for $45.   Not cheap but good value when you need to order sides to make up a properl meal in so many restaurants. 

The wine service was slow but the sommelier did a great job of plying us with Barolo.  The wine list allows you to order different 'serving sizes' from 30 ml through to a normal 120 ml glass.   Just to be clear, 30 ml is two tablespoons, barely a gulp, and for some of the more expensive wines this size costs more than $15!   However, it is a chance to taste some amazing wine. 

In summary: go for the food, trust the sommelier, and pray that the owners re-think the renovation.  

Circa, the Prince on Urbanspoon

The partridge salad inspired me to do a different kind of confit to my usual duck (great standby dinner party dish because it needs no attention. Also good for killing off unwanted dinner party guests with a nice overdose of cholesterol with the duck fat). 

I couldn't find partridge but I did find jumbo quail, which I jointed. 

Warning: photo of meat below.

Put the quail, one sliced garlic clove, a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary into a small ovenproof dish which just fits the quail. Put enough duck fat to cover into the dish and bring to the boil on the stove top. Then cook in the oven for about an hour at 160 degrees. I find this works much better with leg joints than the breast which tends to dry out.  (I used both, and didn't end up eating the breast).

I served this with cubes of roasted beetroot, some greens and a vinaigrette.


karen said...

I totally get you on the acoustics of this restaurant. When you can't have a reasonable conversation about the food you're eating with the friends at your table...makes me wonder if the owners don't care about what you think of their recipes, or if you'll be back.
Loved the little warning that your next picture was of meat...very funny!
We have a program here called Check, Please! on PBS...they review local restaurants, you'd be good on this show. Great review.

count it all joy said...

What an interesting review, Jane. You should have your own column:) Those small tables annoy me also, my husband's 6ft5" and they just don't work at all. The food sounds amazing however. Maybe worth the discomfort?

By the way, love your green bowl. I'm starting to get quite fixated on your bowl collection...first the raddichio...Meredy xo.
p.s. thanks for the tip about spell check...I'm such a dunderhead sometimes:)

brismod said...

That was interesting, Jane. Acoustics do tend to let down a lot of restaurants I feel - I hate having to pretend I've heard the conversation while eating a sumptuous meal. I love the fabulous Tom Dixon pendant lights they've used too.

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Well it certainly looks stunning Jane, and the food sounds fantastic. And I do love your obsevations on all your fellow diners. But I agree, it is so disappointing when the noise level in a restaurant is at night club level. And, no, you're not sounding old. If you wanted to go to a nightclub you would. Great review! Hope they listen.

ImplausibleYarn said...

I agree completely about how terrible acoustics can ruin the enjoyment of a meal as can tables next to you having really loud and or annoying dinners. The food sounds incredible though. I'm also glad to know I'm not the only person who listens in to other peoples conversations and then comments on them.

Laura said...

That quail looks beautiful, what great product you have access to! I couldn't agree more on the restaurant acoustics. It drives me insane, most of us are not 22 year olds trying to go deaf in raucous clubs after all. Love those yellow chairs in that small table photo though. May have to go in search of something similar...

FTRB said...

The environment is absolutely important - more so if it's a high end restaurant since that is partly what you're paying for but even in a hole in the wall joint, if it has some charm and personality, it makes the meal that much better.

Millie said...

Wonderful Jane 'take' on Circa. Yes aucoustics should be almost Numero Uno on any restaurant Designers check-list. In an un-named restaurant in Sydney, with tables too close together & noisy polished boards, I overheard a well-known Aussie 'celebrity' give a detailed outline of their extreme sexual proclivities to dinner date. It put me right off what should have been a mighty fine culinary experience. I should have asked No Idea if they were interested in the story!!
Millie ^_^

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