Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Circus Wine Bar and Grill, North Castle Street, Edinburgh
The Location Circus Wine Bar and Grill has taken over from the former Cosmo, which became almost an Edinburgh institution as a fine dining Italian restaurant over many years on North Castle Street. Still under the ownership of Keith Murray, it's a fresh start for the restaurant with a change of name, new chef and a switch to modern Scottish cuisine. This new venture is a key development, moving on from the former Circus Café, Stockbridge, a lively coffee house and bistro.
As Restaurant manager David Mackenzie explains, "Circus Café in Stockbridge was such a successful concept and with the end of the lease on the Circus premises coinciding with the closure of Cosmo, it was an obvious move to relocate the Circus brand to a new city centre location".
As part of the Circus brand, there's Circus Express café-shop next door on North Castle Street, as well as Circus Café Direct hamper, food and wine business and Circus catering company for private parties and events.
Wine Bar and Restaurant
The original interior design of Cosmo had been recently refurbished before the takeover, so no major redecoration was required. In fact the rich ruby and claret colour scheme suits the fun and funky name of Circus very well. No acrobats or clowns here, but you will find a smart and elegant wine bar with high backed bar stools and lounge area of bucket chairs and tables, where you are welcome to relax over a few drinks, without dinner reservations. There is an extensive wine list, as well as premium range of cocktails, beers and spirits.
Up a few steps to the mezzanine level is the classic Georgian red Restaurant, a long intimate room featuring a series of white painted arches, tear drop chandeliers and along the walls and at the window, a neat row of white linen draped tables. While Circus may sound as if it is a very formal restaurant, the change of name and menu promotes a more smart casual style - a relaxing place for a leisurely meal. Circus is popular for its very well priced business and shoppers' lunches as well as for a la carte dinner.
Head Chef Paul Whitecross is keen to serve fresh, seasonal Scottish produce. The extensive a la carte menu is clearly laid out, with precise descriptions of each dish and all accompaniments. For starters, a real island hopping dish of Orkney Scallops served with Stornoway black pudding and a swirl of vanilla puree. You simply cannot beat simply seared, succulent scallops. Fabulous. A most inventive dish is Smoked Haddock Lasagne with tiger prawns and a champagne sauce - rich flavour, chunky texture and beautifully presented in a neat pasta parcel. Alternatively Chicken Liver and Foie Gras pate, or Asparagus with Parma ham, topped with a poached Duck egg and parmesan hollandaise - the soft yellow yolk drizzling over the green asparagus, all cooked to perfection.
For main courses, you can expect the usual suspects - lamb, chicken, salmon and duck, but all prepared with a wee surprise in store. Corn fed chicken breast is served with a spring onion and herb risotto (a play on sage and onion stuffing). The Salmon seafood feast is surrounded by mussels and clams with saffron butter, and, to ring the changes, a delicious pea and polenta croquette. The name Grill in the Restaurant name gives a clue to the kind of wide ranging menu here. Yes, there is a Grill section featuring a good choice of Aberdeen Angus beef steaks - Ribeye, Sirloin, and Chateaubriand, all served with choice of sauces, garlic butter or red wine jus, house chips, plum tomatoes and sauté mushrooms. Also from the Grill is the chef's special Fish of the Day, as well as Calves Liver served with bacon, herb mash and red wine jus.
Rather than select one bottle of wine for our different courses, the Sommelier chose a glass of wine for both our starters and main courses, so that the wine was perfectly matched to the food. There are around half a dozen Spanish, French, South African and New World house wines by the glass, such as a crisp clean, French Sauvignon Blanc and a South African Merlot, all under £ 5.00 a glass.
Desserts are too tempting to resist and many in fact are thankfully rather light and just finish the meal off very well. Tried and tested is the Banana Parfait with caramelised banana - creamy, chilled and very refreshing on the palate. Also recommended is Tarte Tatin, apple sorbet complemented by prune compote.
Dinner. Starters: £5 - £8. Mains: £15 - £22. Grill: £18 - £42 (Chateaubriand). Dessert: £6 - £8. House wine: £3.50 to £ 5.00, glass, £14 a bottle. House champagne, Joseph Perrier blanc de blanc, £8.
Lunch. Starters: £5. Mains: £10. Desserts: £5. A selection of classic dishes, soup, salads, pasta and Grill menu are also available.
Circus Wine Bar and Grill is at 58a North Castle Street in the centre of Edinburgh. Castle Street runs north from Princes Street, across George Street. For reservations, telephone 0131 226 6743. See also the Circus Wine Bar and Grill Web site.
Having been a great fan of Cosmo for smart dinners and also of Circus Café, for many a coffee, wine and lunch, it really is rather exciting to find that the two separate styles of dining have been combined to create a smart, fine dining restaurant with the colour and buzz of the former Stockbridge bistro. The menu is carefully selected, classic dishes but given a modern, inventive twist. Fresh Scottish fish, seafood, beef, lamb and vegetables is the name of the game here. Service from the restaurant team (including a lovely Spanish waitress) throughout from the pre-dinner bubbly to dessert was welcoming, efficient and friendly. The Circus Wine Bar is a wise move, where you can just come in for a glass of wine after work, a good introduction, to entice drinkers to come back for lunch or dinner the next time. No wonder it's popular at lunchtime too, located bang in the centre of town just around the corner from George Street. The Circus has come to town - Hurrah!
Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
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