Squeezed into a gauzy oval, the moon looms above the monumental stone curve of The Circus. We see the gathering evening dusk and the reflected Bath-stone glow of the encircling architecture and feel an ancient connection – the architectural proportions of The Circus were indeed inspired by those of Stonehenge. Breaking away from the circle at the Brock Street entrance we quickly arrive at the other circus, The Circus restaurant. The warm, golden glow of the interior beneath its bottle-green awning draws us in.Surprised at its size, simply because the restaurant’s reputation looms large in comparison, we are struck by the sense of polished, elegant bistro. There is a background of laid-back chatter and an atmosphere of poise and calm. Owners Ali and Geoffrey Golden, who bought the restaurant in 2007, define their culinary style as rooted in the recipes of classic chefs such as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, defined by the use of essential flavours and classic combinations. The menus change every month and, my word, there is a refined choice.
I started off in Russia with zakuski (little Russian bites); Rob went to the metropolis with London Particular soup. The zakuski, my vegetarian choice, had multiple components and were a sight to behold. There were Georgian beans in plum sauce (bite and they dissolved in a tang on the tongue), Moldavian peppers (bright flashes of dusky flavour), a dome of beetroot and walnut purée, another of aubergine caviar scattered with pomegranate seeds, vodka olives (divine) and dill gherkins (long, thin strips of juicy crispness). The play of tastes was accomplished, just enough to give a starter hit without taking away the appetite. Zakuski are traditionally eaten in Russia to soften the impact of the iced vodka they are served with, but the vodka olives were all that was needed, along with our choice of Bordeaux Château Moulin de Mallet, Serge Couderc red wine.The London Particular soup is so named after the peasouper fogs – typically thick and yellow – that used to settle on London from the 1850s into the late 1950s. This one was made from split peas and home-cooked ham stock. Rob was an instant slave to its charms – it had abundant texture and real presence. I grabbed a spoonful in between a vodka olive and a Moldavian pepper for quality control, and agreed.
My main course took me to Sri Lanka with a dal of red lentils, coconut and spinach served with squash and lime pickled rice, charred cauliflower and chickpeas in a chaat masala sweet and sour mango dressing. The squash and lime pickle rice blended immaculately with the dal, creating an overall spice-and-citrus-infused flavour that was light, fruity, uplifting and cleansing.Rob’s fillet steak of 28-day aged beef was pan-fried and served with Café de Paris butter, garlic mushrooms and fat chips. The steak was tender and moist – it sliced with ease and the mushrooms endowed their garlic flavour with every bite.
For dessert I opted for Yorkshire rhubarb crème brûlée and Rob selected posh bread-and-butter pudding. The success of a crème brûlée undoubtedly hinges on the first crack of the brûlée shell and I was not disappointed as the deed was done and the creamy sweet interior exploded into the bowl. The rhubarb lurking within was an inspired addition, a delightful hidden texture. The bread and butter pudding was made with brioche, fresh pineapple, Mount Gay rum and vanilla custard, baked and glazed with ginger preserve. So a total reinvention of the Poor Man’s Pudding that this dish was once known as, and executed with finesse.
As we left, we felt that our evening at The Circus had caught us up in a golden glow of culinary enchantment. There are no false airs here, just an unpretentious elegance that keeps the food experience pure. The ancient moon gazed down on us as we crossed The Circus once more.
Zakuski (little Russian bites) £6.50; London Particular Soup £6.10; Sri Lankan dal £17.30; Fillet steak with garlic mushrooms and fat chips £23.30; Yorkshire rhubarb crème brûlée £4.90; posh bread and butter pudding £4.90; Bordeaux Château Moulin de Mallet, Serge Couderc red wine £25.30 a bottle and £14.70 half a bottle.
34 Brock Street, Bath, BA1 2LN. Tel: 01249 782206, Twitter: @CircusBath, visit: thecircusrestaurant.co.uk