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Kitchen at Circle's new spring menu

Sarah Tierney tries the debut menu from Kitchen's new lady head chef

Published on May 20th 2010.


Kitchen at Circle's new spring menu

Kitchen at Circle has got a Strictly Confidential deal running at the moment which, according to Yousaf Mehnga, the only vegetarian on the Confidential team, includes the best meat-free lasagne he's ever tasted. If you're a meat-avoider, the thought of a better-than-average veggie lasagne might really get your blood racing. If you're not, you might need further reasons to head to this Barton Arcade restaurant. The Spring menu, created by new head chef Emma Savill, provides plenty.

Confidential was invited to try it out, so I went on a Tuesday straight after work, settling opposite fellow writer Emma Unsworth in a hooded booth that looked like it had been prised off the back of a Jane Austen-era carriage. Like the Circle Club below, there's an element of theatre to Kitchen. An oversized clock hangs over the black leather-fronted bar, red and white tulips sit on dark wood tables. The industrialised columns and chain light fittings give it an urban Gothic feel, like Tim Burton directing an adaptation of 1984.

The wine menu arrived accompanied by a black book containing today's handwritten selection from Hanging Ditch wine merchants. Perhaps influenced by the dark-side surroundings, we went for a Ponte del Diavolo Refosco Friuli 2008 (£23.50). Despite the devilish name, this was a light, juicy red suited to a summer day.

Chef Emma Savill devised the Spring menu after working with former head chef Neil Lorenzo for a year before he left to conquer Switzerland. New starters on this Mediterranean-influenced menu include the corn-fed chicken liver parfait (£6.50) which Emma enjoyed smearing across the little squares of brioche. She described it as like foie gras but without the gruesome connotations, and enjoyed the contrast with the sharp, spiced chutney.

I had scallops (£8.50) which were golden edged and tender and came with a mild cauliflower purée and soft, crumbly black pudding hidden underneath a very fragrant slice of apple. It was one of those dishes where every element stands out and you find your fork darting between them, trying to decide which bit to settle on next.

From the selection of new mains I had the red mullet (£13.50) which came lightly fried with a rich, tomatoey bouillabaisse sauce dotted with meaty prawns. The attention-grabbing flavour of the mullet was offset by fluffy couscous with mint and spinach. If you like your fish strong and satisfying rather than subtle and delicate, this dish is for you. It was a good mix of bold flavours.

Emma was enthusiastic about her lamb rump stuffed with prosciutto (£16.50) with a broad bean purée, roasted new potatoes and a rich, meaty gravy freshened up with diced courgettes. The lamb was robust and like all the dishes, was served in generous portions – two great big chunks of it. She pulled out a paper serviette from somewhere (it didn't belong to Kitchen, I'm sure) and surreptitiously slipped her last bit of lamb inside. “Some people call it a doggie bag. I call it tapas,” she explained. I was tempted to do the same but decided against carrying a bit of fried fish around in my handbag.

By this point, we were realising why 5.30pm is generally considered too early for a three-course dinner. (I'd wanted to get the tricky work of food analysis and description finished as early as possible). We ordered the cheeseboard (£6.50) – Tallegio, goats cheese and pecorino – but that ended up in the bag for later too. We did manage to finish the lovely peach and raspberry crumble with vanilla ice cream – a light sprinkling of chunky, almondy crumble over a mound of sliced peach (£5.50).

It looks like Emma Savill can easily fill the space left by Neil Lorenzo. According to assistant manager David who decamped here from Ithaca, she's kept the restaurant's commitment to home-made sauces, breads and pastas, and the focus on organic, locally sourced ingredients. She's also maintained its ambitious, imaginative style. If this confident Spring menu is anything to go by, the place is in safe hands.

A few of the new dishes can be had with the Strictly Confidential menu – the mullet and the crumble are on there, as is the superb vegetarian lasagne. Click here to have a look.

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