I got invited to try a vegan menu at Circus this Summer and it made me reflect a little bit about my personal food choices. Most of you probably know that thy faith in the holy grail of sashimi, bacon, and oysters is too strong for me to become a seitanist. But whilst a purely plant-based life still seems too rough a road to trek, recent surge in creativity surrounding vegan and vegetarian dishes has made it easier to explore every now and again.
At the event, I was sat next to vegans and vegetarians alike. As they spoke with distinct “vegucated” passion, I drowned in mea culpa and willed the earth to swallow me in my shame. Because the ocean of tears I cried watching Okja and the anger I felt after watching Cowspiracy did not stop me indulging in a dirty bacon cheeseburger every now and then. Or a cheeky Nando’s.
Fortunately, they weren’t ones to judge. Kym of Brixton Food Fiend in particular was ever so nice to explain things with a clear and open mind (and didn’t scrunch her nose when I said I’m an omnivore). She clearly knew her stuff and as we chatted and drank vegan prosecco and cocktails, I had a feeling that the whole night may just a mini-revolution.
What can you expect on the menu
We started with edamame beans (on ice) and nori crackers, both of which I thought were forgettable. Slightly more exciting were the “Banh Trang” rolls aka vegetarian Vietnamese summer rolls. I thought these appetisers were just okay. I wasn’t moved.
But that was fine because the first act came in and I was rather transfixed.
Circus, as some of you may know, is a Pan-Asian restaurant accompanied by “cabaret” entertainment. They’ve got aerialists, fire-eaters, magicians, dancers, etc. Not particularly my cuppatea but it’s somewhere you can go with workmates and colleagues. I’ve only been twice before during corporate events, and have observed clientele are mostly companies on a night out, hens/stags going for pre-drink dins, first daters, or tourists.
More vegan drinks came, followed by more vegan small plates.
The date and water chestnut gyoza was a rather funny one because I just couldn’t marry the thought of sweet dumplings. Very interesting take, but I still prefer my dim sum savoury.
The truffle and mushroom spinach parcel packed a lot of aromatics. I wanted to love this when I smelt that lush earthy scent, however it didn’t translate as great on the palate. I found it lacking in flavour which was a shame.
One of the evening highlights (and possibly my favourite of the lot) was the crispy cauliflower and four bean salad. I love how flavoursome the cauliflower was, with its light batter seasoned beautifully and the textures playing well with the beans. Definitely a winner on my list.
After the small plates we had more entertainment and more drinks.
And then we had a selection of mains.
I wasn’t convinced the san choy bau was going to be sufficient enough but I was pleasantly surprised. The filling was a mixture of quinoa, pomegranate, cashew nuts, and cauliflower. Frankly, the texture was great and I hinted notes of ginger and lemongrass which made it fresh. Only thing I reckon is that this would sit on the starter section of an omnivorous menu.
The other large plate was a chilli crusted tofu served with a salad of morning glory, bean sprouts, mint and coriander. This was quite comforting in its own right, with the tamarind dressing reminding me of South East Asia. The batter on the tofu once again was light and perfectly prepped, but I still prefer the cauliflower dish.
One of the side dishes was a nod to a nasu dengaku and I wish they made this into a main instead because it was a highlight for me. More-ish miso-glazed smoked eggplant with rice? Yes please.
Finally, we were served a vegan eton mess for dessert. It was my first time to try aquafaba (chickpea water, which they used as the cream) and for what it’s worth, it wasn’t as gross as I imagined it. In fact, it was rather nice and I prefer it to cream (I’m not too keen on cream anyway). Overall, the dessert was quite nice.
Verdict for Circus’ Vegan Menu
It’s hard for me to put an opinion about something I know not much about. I know that the menu comes at £65 per head and whilst I think that’s reasonable, is that expensive for vegans? Educate me.
Truth is, I accepted the invite knowing I probably won’t go vegan ever (although I’ve been toying with the idea of going pescatarian). But I came as a foodie – someone with a curious palate and an open mind. I had to try everything otherwise I wouldn’t know what I like or what I don’t like. What works or what doesn’t. Frankly, some dishes did whilst some perhaps need tweaking. There were things that I perhaps wouldn’t have ordered a la carte on a normal menu, as I tend to go for the fishy or meaty options. But now I’d perhaps think otherwise.
The biggest takeaway here I suppose is that I’ve been eating a lot less meat lately and I feel like I’m definitely more keen to explore plant-based options and restaurants. It really is fascinating how the London vegan/vegetarian scene is becoming more creative and I respect that.