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The Circle Club

Jonathan Schofield is surprised by the new lunch at The Circle Club

Written by . Published on June 3rd 2008.

The Circle Club

I felt conned by the Circle Club when it first opened.

As a media and creative industries private members club, I thought it would be full of clever people talking about the issues of the day, or the latest exhibition, over sophisticated cocktails and fine ales. Instead on weekend nights it was a full of nippers drowned out by a ridiculously loud sound system.

These people must have been brought up by stern religious types in a monochrome world of black and white. Now they've rebelled. Ringspun loves shiny things more than magpies. The Circle has neon signs, rude wallpaper, candles, gold wrapped pillars and so on.

It was anything but the suave bolt-hole it promised. I went about seven times in the first two years.

There have been signs for a while now that things are maturing, especially since the venue dropped that exclusivity (which only really existed in name) about media types.

First off there's the Circuit Series of debates, which are generally well-informed and well-managed. The one this week (Wednesday) is typical, assessing the impact of Mediacity at the Quays after the BBC move in sometime during 2011. There's also good lunchtime dining at the right price.

Not that you get expansive views across the city. This isn't Cloud 23, more like Cellar 1, but it does have a certain windowless eccentric charm. The crazed modern Baroque tone is explained by the ownership of the venue: Manchester's fashion label Ringspun.

These people must have been brought up by stern religious types in a monochrome world of black and white. Now they've rebelled. Ringspun loves shiny things more than magpies. The Circle has neon signs, rude wallpaper, candles, gold wrapped pillars and so on.

By August it'll be a much bigger venue with an underground extension based on the seven deadly sins: let's hope they don't put the booth for sloth too far from the door.

Food comes from Neil Lorenzo who is working his way around Manchester's dining places. What is it with chefs and their flibberty-gibberty ways? I last had a Lorenzo meal when he was at Palmiro in Whalley Range, and the herb-encrusted lamb cutlets still occupy a place in my food memory. Let's hope he sticks around to build on the intial menu here.

The plan is to do evening meals when the extension opens, but for now it's just lunches.

Lorenzo has created an interesting menu which matches the décor: a mix of simple and flamboyant. I've been a couple of times and so have my spies.

Off the pasta range the veggie option of pumpkin and ricotta agnolotti (£7.50) with pink peppercorns and almonds in a sage butter sauce has been consistently good. The keynote here is squash which adds that pleasantly fibrous texture and substance to the dish. For fish the seabass fillet (£13.50) cooked lightly after being marinaded, apparently in lemon and garlic, is a winner. Sea bass can be yawn-inducing, but the mini-blast of garlic helps, as does the physicality of the roast fennel. The sea bass, by the way, is the second most expensive item on the menu after the 8oz ribeye at £14.50. Sensible pricing.

This writer's fave dish was the slow braised oxtail steamed pudding (pictured) with caramelized vegetables, squash fondant and sage mash for £7.50. There should be a campaign for the return of proper puddings such as this. True they're labour intensive, but done right, as they are here, they're a real joy. The pudding case breaking softly and moistly with that lovely rich oxtail (an underused meat) lurking beneath worked a treat. It's the sort of clever and distinctive dish which drags you back to a place. The two pigs trotter patties with beetroot jelly, fried quails eggs and greens at £6.50 looks enticing too.

I had to dash away on the review visit so the Circle delivered dessert to the Confidential offices. This was a chocolate torte – a slice costs £4.50. For me this was simply too much, too sweet, too intense. I prefer, although this might be a contradiction in terms, a little more subtlety in my tortes. The rest of the Confidential vultures tore it apart like they hadn't eaten for weeks.

To my surprise, given the noise that can be generated in the evening, the lunch was a wholly pleasant and tranquil experience. The louche, sybaritic atmosphere of the Circle was enticing, and there were enough people in to create a gentle buzz of conversation.

It should even attract dining punters in the evening if the menu keeps up this standard. But for the Circle to succeed as a dining venue after 9pm in the evening the volume will have to be turned down in the new space. That music policy still needs looking at. We had a rich debate about this on the site around Christmas – and it wasn't just forty four year olds such as me that were complaining, click here.

To fully realise its potential the Circle has to become more rounded - so to speak. Is it capable of this? Is it a club, a restaurant or a bar? This writer can't think of a single occasion where a venue trying to be all three ever works in a space as restricted as this.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: The Circle Club
13 Barton Arcade
M3 2BB
0161 288 8118
Lunch food times: noon-3.30pm

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46 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JimJune 3rd 2008.

I joined when it first opened, and found the place enjoyable, however, going down one night, we weren't allowed in, due to a "private party." We were assured that all the members had been emailed; we weren't. I've never been back.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

hmmm.. true leeroy can be an ass but hes got a hard job and trying to pick the finer people to allow in from the trash aint easy, ringspun are a successful brand and there style is often copied but in a whole! keep up the good work people x

ConnorJune 3rd 2008.

yeah it is spot the celeb in there but thats not why i go - i go to have fun, party late and not have to worry about trouble/tramps spoiling my night - the circle aTTRActs unewanted attention, like any late nite haunt, but being a member for 5 years i have encountered very little agro and have enjoyed watching the club develop, mature and change over the years. i intend to be a member for the next 5 years tooEAch to there own!

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Like many peoples 'circles' its full of ****.

WebbJune 3rd 2008.

Er, looking deep into my crystal ball as well as seeing a tall dark stranger, I also see the wrong link being used.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Are the people who are posting these negative comments going to the same Circle Club as I am? I always have a fantastic time when I go.....it's like spot the celebrity! Last Friday Frankie Dettori was there, and yeah he might have gone to panacea first but like foreplay....it's something you have to do before you get down to the main business and Frankie certainly enjoyed 'coming' to Circle Club! As for GHD's or GJHwhatever he's called, comments about 'the t-shirt designer', if he's talking about the hottie with the dreds then he is clearly not aware that this 't-shirt designer' owns 2 of the most successful fashion labels not just in this country but worldwide!!!

BigfishJune 3rd 2008.

does that mean you have no account of if you actually ended up at home with one of the 'foxy girls'?

JohnJune 3rd 2008.

Mark, would that safe and enjoyable venue, Panacea, by any chance be connected to the place on John Dalton Street where the owner put one of his customers into intensive care?

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

I can understand the comments regarding the door policy but as an consistent Manchester after hours socializer and ex doorman I can't think of any late night venues that could survive with very nice easy going sheepish door staff. This is Manchester at the end of the day, the policy is there to maintain an atmosphere where there is no need to feel like you have to look over your shoulder to stay healthy.Keep up the good work boys!!

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

I cancelled my membership recently after being a member for 5 years. My boyfriend also cancelled his together with some of my other mates, due to the fact that it doesn't really matter anymore if you're a member as they let anyone in if your face fits! After too many bad experiences of being denied entry by the rude door staff enough was enough. Used to be a great place for a late drink but I definitely won't be rushing back now to drink with the crowd that's usually in there. Rubbish!

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

circle has had its bad comments but i have never had a problem gaining access being a member, true you need to turn up at a reasonable time but that goes for most places

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

I cancelled my membership as a matter of principle after the thug like behaviour of the dorstaff, watching two friends of mine get beaten half to death in the alley way outside by a group of guys who they (thug doormen0 had welcomed into the club as 'old friends'. Shame they have such dreadful door policy as they do run some good debates and the food sounds great.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

I'd rather rip my own eyeballs out than go back to that place.I dont think I need to say anything else.

aliceJune 3rd 2008.

The Circle isnt my kind of thing of a night ((Im more of an indie kid)) but the decor is brilliant, the food is wonderful (and not a bad price at all) so I dont mind hanging out there of a daytime/ early evening for lunch, networking, film nights or debates.

crazyjohnJune 3rd 2008.

I received a very rounded service there.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Enjoyed an occasional good night back in the old days, but since the re-opening it's not worked.I rang downstairs to furiously cancel my membership on the spot after being refused entry because it was "too late" - the place being open for another two hours - and having the door slammed in my face. They still ring up to offer special rate birthday parties every year. What a joke.

Joe BloggsJune 3rd 2008.

i think the fact that its difficult to get in, its not just for the 'creatives' anymore is a good thing. its nice to meet fellow young professionals and enjoy a safe, exclusive and interesting venue at the weekends in MCR. not something that is readily available anymore

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Oh Rosie....go back to your canal boat with Jim....oh and your 'gucci handbag' too.....have you never heard the saying 'fashion is subjective!'.....and as for 'gullible idiots'....well thats subjective as well isn't it....being fashionable is not just about having versace, prada or gucci on your clothes label! Manchester has an innovative, fresh and vibrant fashion scene.....and if you have ever attended one of the fashion debates at Circle you might be aware of this....I think it is something Manchester should be proud of!!!

missyJune 3rd 2008.

i too am a female member and i think Leeroy and the boys have been very friendly to me when trying to get home safely. i've turned up too late before and not get in but understand their entrab=nce policy so can't complain! xx

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Never been and now thanks to you guys, never going.

LesleyJune 3rd 2008.

The door staff are so rude they make Attilla the Hun look friendly. I totally agree with PH re: too cold/too wet etc. Funny thing though I've only experienced problems when accompanied by men - when it has been me and other females - no problem what so ever - hmmm

JDJune 3rd 2008.

Circle Rocks!! haven't managed to try the food yet but i did jump down to Ssssh event last week and the girls were fine fine fine! don't really attend for business but the parties i've attended always impress. Ps. MO rules the roost!!

PHJune 3rd 2008.

I have been misssold membership !!3 of the 5 times ive tried to get in(i'm a member ) i've not been allowed in it's always to full or to wet to late to cold etc.... even though whilst waiting non members or Platinum members or freind of the door staff heve been allowed in before me etc.. Their Door door policy stinks and door Staff are obnoxious, rude,untrained door openers On sat I was refused entry even though My wife and freind who are not members were let in post 2pm -Get a grip cirlce or you very quickly p*** every one off!!

former member at circleJune 3rd 2008.

I am cancelling my membership at Circle following the worst service at a members club I have ever had. Having called ahead to make sure 3 friends could come into the club on friday night...which was confirmed over the phone...we were not allowed in as I did not know the name of the person I had spoken to! very rude and unhelpful staff!! Do not recommend being a member!

JeffJune 3rd 2008.

Dreadful place ...circle club , circle of crap. Terrible staff ..DO NOT GO

GJHJune 3rd 2008.

Joe Bloggs - fellow young professionals?!! It's not a networking events mate. Rude coke heads who work for a t shirt designer & plastic gangsters maybe.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

I have to say that i have had some great experiences at the circle, and now the restaurant has opened it has allowed me to use the club for the purpose i wished to use it for in the first place.Staff have generally been really good considering it is a late night venue on weekends.I think there are some teething problems but can definately see changes and starting to see the value of the membership.

Mark SimingJune 3rd 2008.

An unfriendly place with a moody door team. It still shares the gunchester crowd with Red Door. Stay cleer, stick to panacea or ithaca for a safe and enjoyable night out.

rosieJune 3rd 2008.

Ooooh,Frankie Dettori.Yeah,that really makes me want to spend time in the hellhole that is Circle.What are you on?And as for the t-shirt designer,I really don't think he's causing Tom Ford to lose any sleep with the cheap tat he churns out for gullible idiots.Hmmm,methinks I see a parallel

circle memberJune 3rd 2008.

GJH, each to their own eh. i'm enjoying my membership, you don't seem to be but i think everyone is entitled to their opinion after all. I have met many people i would now call friends and i have secured business of the back of their recent Rejuvenate networking event! Its working for me! cheers

circle memberJune 3rd 2008.

i find it amusing to read all these rants from non members who have had problems getting in - hardly surprsing when you guys aren't members. i've been a member for years and since the changes i think i am receiving an all together more rounded membership service. no more thugs, better service and the food is beautiful. Good work Circle

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Circle is a very odd and eclectic place. I've tried 3 times to get in and finally got in on Saturday... what a night!!Loving the bizarre vibe, is it a club, a bar, a late night members hangout... not really sure?? All i know is that i had a great night, flirted my ass off with foxy girl after foxy girl and couldn't remember getting home.Whatever Circle is i like it!!!

LisaJune 3rd 2008.

Agree with all the comments. I was conned into 'upgrading' my membership to the Inner Circle which, 9 months on, still hasn't fully opened so I've paid for someting which I can't use yet. The membership team are incompetent and rude, resulting in me also having issues with the company that collects memberships on behalf of Circle when there was a mix up in transitioning to the elusive Inner Circle membership - a total rip-off at £750 btw. The door staff are more aggressive and arrogant that any I've encountered. They once agreed to let me stand outside to take an important phone call, then proceeded to refuse to let me back in, to the point of physically pushing me backwards through the entrance door and shutting it in my face. It's lovely for a single woman to be left alone outside at 3.30am in the rain in that atmospheric alley that they call an entrance. After my friends kicked up a fuss, I was let back in and within an hour my handbag had mysteriously disappeared...I hope to god someone from Circle's management team reads all of these comments and takes notice. Sadly though, I suspect not.

bobJune 3rd 2008.

i don't think being a member has any bearing on entry or any perks at all

ConfusedJune 3rd 2008.

Not sure the "talk to a psychic live now" is the right link to the Circle Club's website??? Trying to view a food menu not my destiny!

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

very badly run - something of which most of manchester are aware, except Circle's management. Has the potential to be special, something they always ruin with their special brand of wankyness that they add to everything: website copy, door policy, punters..

DisappointedJune 3rd 2008.

Went to one of the debates and loved it. Expressed an interest in becoming a member. Took 3 months to sort out. Had to fill in the forms in person 3 times and time taken was blamed on 'staff turnover' and 'bad handover'. Got m'ship sorted and bought tix for 2nd b/day party. Had trouble getting in as doorman had no listing under my name. Had to stand outside in the rain with my date until I could remember the name of the girl who sold them to me. They got my surname wrong.. for £20 each plus the cost of membership, surely Circle can do better. Circle, you're not nearly as elusive or exclusive as you'd like to be. It's just another bar on Deansgate where well-connected guys can go to try and pick up wanna-be WAGs (stunningly beautiful ones at that). It's certainly not the creative and marketing industry club it was pitched to me as (besides we peddle 'wank' everyday, why would we want more of the same when not at work?). The monkeys tell me that the 'private members' element is to be dropped shortly too,if you're prepared to part with £1000 than they'll treat you better. How about getting it right with the regular members first? Never again :-(

DREW PEACOCKJune 3rd 2008.

I had a very bad experience too here. Was meeting a friend of mine who is quite well known and wasn't allowed in. Couldn't contact him amd the staff were rude beyond belief. Stay clear.

rosieJune 3rd 2008.

anon,if you'd have read my post you might realise that the last thing I want to do is spend a night out leering at nanocelebrities.And I thoroughly agree that Manchester has a great fashion scene,but my point was that ringspun isn't a major player in the Global fashion scene as suggested by a previous ranter.

AnonymousJune 3rd 2008.

Rosie - get a life if all you wanna do is celeb spot!! Your post did make me chuckle though to think that there are people out there like you!!!! So funny....

GJHJune 3rd 2008.

Former member at circle - be carefull with them. Following said birthday balls up I cancelled my membership. There was no communication from their end until they nearly sent the baliffs round! Turns out having recommended a friend, I had inadvertantly signed up for another 12 months & they were going to take me to court to enforce! Needless to say they get £10 a month off me to settle....all to a member of a few years standing, who used to have his pic on the wall. Shocking customer service. I can happily say that a number of potential members and events have been put off tho after my experience.

GJHJune 3rd 2008.

I can only hope they have completely new management. They once conned me into holding my birthday meal in the soul-less place at 9pm. More atmosphere in a morgue. Then they pulled the 1/2 price food and drink offer there and then on me! The words of the manager 'how do you think we could afford that'...said it all. Classless.

FiJune 3rd 2008.

Panacea safe?!!!

johnthebriefJune 3rd 2008.

Jonathan must it always be the self-styled exclusive venues that you report on - the ithaca's, circles, abodes etc. What about places that ordinary people want and can afford to go to?

jayJune 3rd 2008.

I've had the problem that someone else mentioned regarding the disappearing half price drink offer. Been to Cirlce twice and would never go again due to the rude staff and door staff who could pick a fight in an empty room.

GJHJune 3rd 2008.

Circle member.If you read the postings, a number of them (including myself) have been members - indeed in my case for years.

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