Saturday, 30 November 2013

Au Cirque - now also known as 'Cirque by night'

There are so many new restaurants opening in Brisbane you would wonder why an established Brisbane breakfast institution would take the risk of opening up for dinner.  That's exactly what's happened with New Farm favourite Au Cirque, who've recently launched their 'Cirque by Night' dinner menu on Thursday and Friday nights.

I was invited along with a couple of blogger buddies and online publications to check out the new offerings and provide some feedback and thoughts.  Au Cirque is extremely well known as one of Brisbane's best breakfast spots, a reputation that is well deserved and well earned after years of hard work and toil.  I've written about my experiences with breakfast at Cirque and was blown away by the breakfast (see post here), so I was extremely keen to see what they would do with their dinner offering.

As is usually the case, I arrived pretty early for our 6:30 kick off, I really need to get better at my timing my arrival, but I would always prefer to be early somewhere than late.  I sat in my car for a while before deciding to 'bite the bullet' and head into Cirque, my fears of being a 'Nigel no-friends' quickly allayed once I saw our host for the night.  After some quick catching up some of the other guests for the night started to turn up and there was a great mix of known and new people.  It's always fun putting names to faces because most of us are connected through Twitter or Instagram, so I'm continually meeting people in person who I follow.

It was an intimate little affair for our dinner at Au Cirque, which was perfect for the dining area downstairs, which is very cozy.  In an unusual twist there was actually another bloke joining us for dinner, so I strategically placed myself so I would have some male company for one of these events.  Drinks ordered and conversation flowing, we looked over the 'Cirque by night' menu to see what was on offer.  As you would expect from a little cafe starting out with dinner for the first time, the menu was short and contained, with a handful of starters and three mains.  We were told that the mains menu would change regularly depending on what fresh ingredients were available, so they were up on the specials board.

There is no better way of testing a menu than getting a whole heap of starters for the table and to share them about, so that's exactly what we did.  We had squeezed a couple of tables together so there were four of us in our little grouping and we ordered a pretty varied and eclectic assortment of starters.  The first plate placed on our little table was the duck liver pate with toasted brioche and fig compote.   There was a decent amount of pate placed on the wooden board which was presented in rustic manner with a quenelle of the fig compote and a pile of the toasted brioche.  The pate itself was very creamy and had just a subtle hint of gamey duck which was balanced out well by the sticky fig compote.  I love strong gamey flavours so I would have loved just a little bit more flavour from the pate.

As the pate was being sampled we had our next dish presented, the sticky BBQ pork ribs, and I was extremely pleased we thought ahead and ordered a couple of plates.  Put simply, these ribs would easily compete for the best ribs I've ever had, they were sensational.  The pork was beautifully cooked with the sweet pork falling off the bones at the slightest touch.  The pork was not only sweet but ridiculously tender.  Best of all was the sticky sauce that accompanied the ribs, which could be best described as similar to that wonderful chocolaty, gooey sauce that comes with a chocolate self saucing pudding.  The texture was thick and viscus and perfect for the ribs and was so rich, it could actually have been a meaty chocolate concoction.  I can't overstate how good these ribs were.  Yum.

Wondering if I had made a mistake by not ordering more of the ribs, I moved onto the Moreton Bay Bugs sautéed in harissa butter with fresh lime.  You would have thought that any dish following those amazing ribs would suffer, but surprisingly the bugs held their own.  After cleaning my palate with a decent hit of water, I could appreciate the beautifully cooked bugs and the meat that slid easily from the shell thanks to a massive 'tooth pick' (probably not actually a tooth pick).  The bug flesh was sweet and married really well with the harissa butter.  The problem always with bugs is that there is never enough and when you are sharing with three others, it's definitely not enough!

Last of the starters at our table were the sizzling escargot with garlic butter and crusty baguette.  I'd been the brave one to order the escargot at the table, but it's not really brave if you love escargot (which I do).  We were presented with funny little snail shell tongs that helped hold the snail shell and extract the small but tasty escargot pieces.  The plate really was sizzling and my first attempt to use the tongs resulted in hot melted garlic butter flying everywhere as the snail shell escaped my grasp.  After a couple of attempts I finally managed to get it right and before long was savouring the earthy flavours of the snail flesh.  As usual with escargot, the melted garlic butter worked in perfect harmony with the snail flesh.  We shared the escargot with everyone within sitting distance and for a couple at our table, it was their fist time ever, and I'm sure it won't be their last.

It's a little harder to share mains, so we all went our own way.  With only three main options to chose from, it was a fairly easy choice for me to run with the steak and frites with paris butter.  This is a fairly traditional French approach to steak and chips, with a very tender piece of strip loin cooked to a perfect medium rare sitting atop skinny French fries.  The paris butter was a mix of butter, garlic and seeded mustard and was lathered on pretty thick.  I didn't mind the paris butter and thought it worked quire well with the steak, but it was very rich and not something you would do too often.  There was nothing special about the fries, they were just french fries and I didn't really eat them all after polishing off the steak.

The dessert menu was somewhat larger than the mains menu and there were a couple of interesting looking desserts available.  The chocolate mousse with double cream was the dessert that most appealed to me, so I ordered it wondering how it would taste.  I had visions of my youth when I would hit Pizza Hut with my parents, back when they actually had restaurants, and we would always get a chocolate mousse to finish off. The Cirque version was just like that but on steroids, it was rich and very decedent, especially with the double cream on top.  The texture was a little thicker than I would normally like with a chocolate mousse, so I couldn't get though it all, but it was very, very nice.

The meal over, I was able to chat to the other guests and find out what they all thought about their meals. Pretty much to a person, everyone had a superb time and really enjoyed their first crack at the 'Cirque by night' menu.  Everyone had their favourites, but we were in agreement that the star of the night was those sticky BBQ pork ribs.  

It's interesting that with a name like Au Cirque and a very French inspired menu, the team at Cirque didn't want to be 'pigeon-holed' as a French restaurant.  Their aim will be to have quite a diverse and eclectic range of offerings each Thursday and Friday night, so I will be interested to see how the menu changes over the journey.

I managed to have a wander around upstairs to view the Cirque main dining area.  I'd never been upstairs before but it was a beautiful spot, made more amazing with low lighting and many lit candles casting wonderful shadows across the room.  The upstairs section at Cirque would be the perfect spot for a romantic dinner or a party with your mates.

It's a brave move opening Au Cirque up for dinner, especially given all of the restaurant closures and changes over the last few months.  Cirque has a loyal following for breakfast and I hope they can translate that into a loyal 'Cirque by night' following as well.  I think if people wander by and check out the sticky BBQ pork ribs, that following might just eclipse the breakfast crowds.  Imagine that, queueing for dinner??


** I was a guest of Au Cirque for this event

The specials board will change regularly depending on whats good
The goats cheese and zucchini croquettes with spicy tomato relish
The cuca sardines with tomato and pickle salad, lime, aioli and crusty bread
The twice baked gruyere cheese souffle with cauliflower puree was very rich and cheesy
Perfectly cooked salmon with a nicoise  salad
The cherry and vanilla semifreddo was pretty nice too.  I think the pick of the desserts
Crepe suzette seems to be coming back in fashion
The affogato 
Serious discussions about the food, or maybe other stuff too
Spot the lego spaceman
Upstairs was beautiful and such a welcoming space
Cirque on UrbanspoonAu Cirque Cafe

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