Circo takes the fear out of fusion

Calamari Fritto, squid ink Romesco and pickled chilli. Photo by Eshe Brown
Calamari Fritto, squid ink Romesco and pickled chilli. Photo by Eshe Brown

As with so many great things, Circo, formerly known as Señor Buddha, began its Karmic ascent in the resurgent environs of London Road.

The funky little Preston Circus tapas bar was the brainchild of Lee Shipley, who promised a synthesis of Spanish and South East Asian flavours and took the fear out of fusion.

Lamb rump, bacon, plum sake chutney, chard and fennel. Photo by Eshe Brown

Lamb rump, bacon, plum sake chutney, chard and fennel. Photo by Eshe Brown

In just over two years he’s built a loyal following, experimenting with flavours and creating a popular and constantly-evolving menu

Following the recent change of moniker there’s now an imminent expansion into the citadel of BN1. Circo took the new name in recognition of its location, and similarly the second restaurant, El Pabellón will open later this summer in the regal surroundings of the Royal Pavilion. The popular neighbourhood joint has undergone a bit of an interior tweak and feels a bit more spacious since my last visit in 2015. There are plenty of exciting new creations alongside some more recognisable plates.

The astoundingly good Calamari Fritto with squid ink Romesco is a familiar favourite and has been on the menu since Circo’s inception.

It’s no surprise it’s still there, the squid ink sauce boosted with ground almonds and supported with perfectly pickled chillies is an ringing endorsement of the Iberian-Thai mission statement. If the management ditched it their patrons would be rioting in the streets of Fiveways and Preston Park.

Pumpkin, Thai alioli, kale, pak choi, candied cashews. Photo by Eshe Brown

Pumpkin, Thai alioli, kale, pak choi, candied cashews. Photo by Eshe Brown

A wonderful new addition is the sublime lamb rump, a dish that head chef John Reed is justifiably proud of. The lamb is accompanied by an absolute flavour-bomb in the form of a shard of lamb bacon, lovingly cured in-house, and when combined with the sweetness of a plum sake chutney will leave you wondering if you’ll be able to pass a gamboling Spring lamb without drooling.

For those without a blood-lust there are some marvellous vegetarian dishes. The tenderstem broccoli a la plancha is gorgeously grilled to bring out its inherent nuttiness and ably assisted by hazelnut and coconut, and a pumpkin creation features a great Thai-inspired alioli and deep-fried kale (I knew that one day I’d enjoy the taste of kale).

Another important aspect in the cosmic rebirth of Circo is its relatively new partnership with well-respected wine supplier Enotria and Coe.

The industry heavyweight has brought with them an ace line-up of well-crafted Spanish wines, including a Cava which threatens to knock Prosecco back to the north of Italy, a fresh and vital Fino Sherry, and Monastrell Reserva Mas Demera, a full-bodied beast of a red which is as complex as Circo’s cuisine.

Tenderstem Broccoli a la Plancha, Tofu, pickled mushroom, hazelnuts and coconut. Photo by Eshe Brown

Tenderstem Broccoli a la Plancha, Tofu, pickled mushroom, hazelnuts and coconut. Photo by Eshe Brown

It’ll be interesting to see how the new town centre restaurant shapes up, but it should be fine provided they don’t stray from the template of inventive and immaculately-presented food in a lively, unfussy environment.