The meet and greet was warm and friendly and drinks order was quickly taken. The menu was diverse and we struggled to come to a decision.
After our first drink, service seemed to slow down and our empty glasses stayed empty for a while and we weren't offered the chance to order again for a while. The funny thing was that even after we did manage to order our second round, and some of the food had started to come round, Steve's empty beer bottle and glass still stayed on the table. The wait staff who brought us new items failed to see the empties and I guess this is a small indication of lack of attention to detail.
The two cocktails I did have were delicious though; both gin based. The first was all citrus and pear and the second berries and lemon. Definitely worth returning for.
We started off sharing a few small dishes. The first to arrive was a seared piece of tuna with a crab and enoki mushroom salad. It was light and fresh and prettily presented. A pleasant start to the meal.
The crab chawa mushi was smooth and silky and slightly more unusual as I tend to have only had this at more traditional Japanese restaurants. The sweet and rich crab meat flavoured the soft egg and the truffle added a heady blast of depth.
and golden shiitake broth sounds pretty light right?
The plate came without the broth which was poured into my bowl from a sake bottle. The heady aroma that came from pouring the broth out was savoury and fragrant. I could taste star anise, soy, rice wine and a sweetness from the vegetables and interestingly found a clump of dehydrated Chinese cabbage underneath all the chicken and veg. My mum used to make soup from this stuff and it's quite sweet. The veggies were vibrant and crunchy and I could taste the flavour of each which enhanced the broth. The chicken was soft and moist with a slight crunch from the crispy rice topping. There was also a ballotine of chicken wrapped in perhaps a cabbage leaf that provided contrast to the chicken breast meat.
The broth did become a touch overpowering after a while like a sauce does when it's over reduced. The salty and the sweet became a touch cloying.
Instead Steve is given a pestle and mortar and three little pots of seasonings - one was sesame seed and another either black salt or black pepper and the third some brown stuff. The explanation wasn't too clear or easy to understand. Anyway the interactive element is pretty fun. The steak was already quite well seasoned with a truffle butter so not sure whether the spice mix is really necessary.
The steak was a tender and tasty piece of meat that came with a creamy coleslaw type thing and some green salad. There was also a small jug of, I think the waiter called it "dressing". So definite credit for the steak, the creamy coleslaw was too rich what with the truffle butter and other spices. The dressing was also too sweet.
Elements of the food so far were impressive but there was also just something off balance with the flavours or perhaps it was just too rich and over flavoured. We felt it was slightly confused and trying to do too much and incorporate too many elements. The steak is an example what with truffle butter, creamy coleslaw, salad dressing and a personal blend of seasoning! Hence the very plain thrice cooked chips were very welcome. The chips came with a sesame mayo but what with everything else, we didn't really touch it.
I guess the confusion wasn't helped by the wait staff who delivered our food. I felt the explanations were not clear enough (the seasoning and dressing for the steak being an example) and they didn't create enough of a personal relationship / experience for us to ask questions. The delivery of dishes was always very brisk and the explanation mumbled or maybe lost in the buzzy background noise. I've had more personal service in other places and perhaps we'd have felt less confused if we'd had it at Circa.
Anyway by this stage we felt very very full but we still had lots of Heathcote shiraz to get through so we worked slowly through it and by the time we got to the end it was dessert time!
Steve went with the native lemon aspen pavlova with hibiscus ripple ice cream. He enjoyed the different layers of fruit, cream, ice cream, jelly and meringue and it was probably light enough to be a good finish. He also enjoyed finishing the rest of my sundae too!
In conclusion, Circa is a happening place to go for the beautiful party people of Melbourne. It's not exactly somewhere Steve and I would say is in line with our style. However I'd certainly return for cocktails and dessert. Maybe I'd sit in the bar where it's more relaxed and just eat the smaller dishes.