Roll up! Roll up!
One of London’s most glamorous women had her 40th birthday recently. A Southern Belle hailing from New Orleans, she is married to a clever and charming Englishman and has subsequently made her home here, collecting along the way a posse of equally cosmopolitan friends. Predictably, her celebrations were going to be an extraordinary event and the Lovely Husband and I were privileged to be invited to join the party. 22 people gathered for food and entertainment at unusual cabaret restaurant and cocktail bar, Circus in Covent Garden.
Intrigued by the choice of venue, clearly no run of the mill restaurant, we had no idea what to expect or, for that matter, what to wear for the occasion, so we carefully perused the website to find some guidance. We learnt that making a ‘wonderful effort’ on the sartorial front was requested, yet fancy dress was not welcomed, that hen and stag parties were out of the question and that, since we were more than seven guests, we could look forward to a set sharing menu, rather than an a la carte selection, of Pan Asian fusion delicacies. So far, so mysterious!
As we arrived, we were led to the opulent bar area for a cocktail or two and some mixing and mingling with the other birthday guests. Beside us was the dining area with tables for two, four, six or more people, all facing the front where an enormously long and very wide table was set for 22, our table! At 7pm sharp, we were called to sit, a glass of Prosecco already awaiting each guest. Then, some minutes later, a tall, slim, top-hatted ringmaster showed up at our table. The lights dimmed, ‘Sit back and hold your drinks’ was projected in large letters repeatedly across our table and the room grew completely silent, the anticipation almost palpable. A drum roll and, ta dah! a young woman dressed in a kimono and in silk on pointe ballet slippers emerged from the darkness, vaulted on to our table and proceeded to juggle and breathe fire, while dropping her attire to reveal a skimpy circus tricot underneath, and somersaulting and pirouetting across the length of our table. We were all mesmerized by her skill and elegance. Her performance lasted about five minutes, after which the lights went up again and our starter was swiftly served. It was a feast! A duck and watermelon salad, prawn crackers, tiny crispy pieces of chilli salt squid, vegetable sushi, edamame beans, chicken truffle shumai, sauces and condiments, there was certainly plenty of it, all beautifully presented and despite the size of our party, it all arrived at the same time. More surprisingly still, considering this type of entertainment venue, every last morsel was divinely delicious! We all tucked in greedily with much oohing and ahing and lipsmacking. The hosts had been more than generous with their wine order, so we were excellently well looked after all round.
Barely had the table been cleared when the initial light show was repeated, the ringmaster reappeared and a second breathtaking act entered the arena, so to speak . And thus it continued between each course. A trapeze artist, a tumbling Batman and Robin, and others performed astounding feats on our table while we watched with mouths agape at their antics, their limbs swinging and swirling right in front of us.
The main course of green thai spring vegetable curry, black angus fillet steak slices, white miso salmon, rice and a selection of side orders, followed by an elegant baked cheesecake with a chocolate lollipop in a bento box, were served at appropriate intervals, all quite as magical as the performance. By 9pm the first show of the evening was over and we retired to the bar once again.
It was all like a grown-up, burlesque version of a childrens’ party and very good fun indeed. Sure, it’s gimmicky, and obviously, so as not to endanger the spectators at such close quarters, the acts can neither be as dangerous nor as sophisticated as they might be on stage or in a circus ring, but they were entertaining nonetheless, and made for a very different and unusual kind of restaurant experience. It must be said that, on account of the stage table arrangement, the meal was not necessarily conducive to good conversation. The background noise and the width of the table made talking to anyone other than direct neighbours impossible without a megaphone, but there was plenty of opportunity to chat before and after in the bar. The food and service were quite outstandingly good, however, and coupled with the hair raising tabletop performances, they made for a most enjoyable and certainly very memorable evening.
I rather suspect that after a second visit to Circus, no matter how delectable the food, the surprise and novelty value rapidly wear off, but if you haven’t yet been, then I highly recommend booking a ringside seat.
The set sharing menu is £60 per head including a glass of Prosecco but excluding any other drinks. Groups of seven or less have the option of choosing from either the a la carte or the sharing menu. Circus is open from 6pm until late but closed on Sundays and Mondays. Advance booking is required.
Circus, 27-29 Endell St, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9BA
Tel.: 020 7420 9300 www.circus-london.co.uk