Greedy Girl feels for those legions out there who have birthdays close to Christmas. It goes back to her esteemed mother’s birthday on Boxing Day. Growing up, she only ever received one gift; we kids learned from a very early age that, if we expected birthday presents when our time came, we’d need to ensure her childhood tradition did not continue …

But Greedy Girl digresses. The occasion was gluttonous husband’s birthday, the week before Christmas, and we ventured into the suburbs to try Circa The Prince.

In the Prince of Wales Hotel, in bayside St Kilda, Circa (as it was originally known back in the day when it was a top fine dining destination), has had a few incarnations. At present, it’s sort of mid-way between fine dining and casual. There’s an option to do a tasting menu, but we decided on a la carte selections, given ’tis the season’ for eating and drinking – a lot. Ordering a very fairly-priced bottle of Veuve Clicquot we sat back on comfortable banquette seats in a quiet corner and hoped to settle in for an entertaining evening.

And it was, but not for the reasons one normally hopes or expects when dining out. The rectangular shaped dining room is light and bright in the early summer evening and a door opens on to a narrow balcony overlooking the street. That was home to some, ahem, raucous females who presumably had been ensconced since lunch finished. It took only a round of piercingly-loud squeals for the Maitre D to act; he took them their bill and shortly after we were relieved to see them depart.

We were there for the food, naturally. We opted for a couple of little treats to start, followed by two ‘entrees’ (appetisers for US readers) for Greedy Girl, feeling the effects of a big eating week, while gluttonous husband chose one entree and a main course. Sorted. Or so we thought.

Gluttonous husband, fond of oysters, chose two little beauties – Moonlight Flat Kiss oysters from Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast. The menu advertised they were served with a celery and horseradish ice. Our request was for them to be served natural. Not a problem. Greedy Girl opted for Gruyere puffs with jamon. Promptly the dishes were brought to the table. The oysters were served with the flavoured ice on top and, instead of the cheese puffs, we received salted salmon beignets. Ummmm. The oysters were whisked away and the Maitre D (who didn’t take our order) offered the beignets  with his compliments while he went to procure what we asked for. Very shortly thereafter the natural oysters arrived.

Circa the Prince

Moonlight Flat oysters

Circa the Prince Melbourne

Salted snapper beignets

Gluttonous husband pronounced himself very happy with the oysters. He prefers smaller varieties than larger, meatier oysters. A little squeeze of lemon juice and down the hatch they went. The beignets were interesting; quite a strong fishy flavour but light and crispy. Even though we didn’t order them we were happy to try them. They were certainly better than the Gruyere puffs that came out later with a prawn tartare wrapped in a sorrel leaf. The menu describes this as ‘Ama Ebi’ tartare, literally ‘sweet shrimp’. It was a rather nice combination but impossible to share. Greedy Girl took a bite of the little cylinder and chopped prawns popped out everywhere. The cheese puffs were an odd texture, almost like they had been coated in a polenta. We should have waited until they’d cooled a fraction to get more of a sense of the cheese flavour but we were too hungry – and the champagne was being felt. Greedy Girl was intrigued by the addition of jamon, but didn’t think it outrageously successful. The jamon was quite hard and didn’t pull apart easily in the mouth.
Circa the Prince Melbourne

Ama Ebi tartare with sorrel

Circa the Prince Melbourne

Gruyere puffs with jamon

Snacks concluded, we moved to the first of our starters. Greedy Girl had ordered beef tartare and octopus as her two subsequent courses, while gluttonous husband took a Wagyu beef bresaola, followed by a fillet of grouper. We’d requested to have the meat first (the grouper being a main course-sized serving), so imagine our surprise when the fish dishes came out first. We queried our waitress – literally we had to ask: “Where’s the beef?” She looked puzzled then, after presumably replaying our ordering sequence back through her memory, her expression turned to one of dismay. Immediately she fessed up – she’d made a boo boo. Did we want to continue with our fish dishes or have them taken away? Sigh. We couldn’t bear the idea of the dishes going to waste, so we pressed on.

Greedy Girl had the barbecued octopus with cucumber, perilla and black garlic. Perilla is a herb from the mint family. The grilled flavour of the octopus was very appetising and the dish quite light and refreshing. It was on the small side but that was just fine by Greedy Girl, although it did mean not much was left for gluttonous husband to sample.

Circa the Prince Melbourne

BBQ octopus

Gluttonous husband’s Bass grouper was served with broccoli and pistachio ‘furikake’. This is a dry seasoning rubbed on top of the fish. It was cooked perfectly and a very well balanced dish. The furikake was an excellent addition, especially its slight saltiness. He was well pleased.
Circa the Prince Melbourne

Bass grouper with pistachio rub

We then went back to the starters with a beef tartare, soy pepita (pumpkin seeds), cured yolk and tarragon for Greedy Girl. The beef had been finely cut and was incredibly soft and tender and it was a nice combination of flavours and textures but it missed the little hint of heat a traditional beef tartare has from tabasco sauce. It was also a little low on seasoning; one needed to scoop the meat on to one of the potato crisps to get a bit of saltiness.

Gluttonous husband’s wagyu beef bresaola (pictured at the top of this post) was delicious and combined well with Jerusalem artichokes and black walnut. It was well received but gluttonous husband estimated it could have been improved by a touch of acidity.

Circa the Prince Melbourne

Beef tartare

We asked to finish our champagne before dessert and opted to share a dish. This was a trip down memory lane for gluttonous husband, when he saw the Circa ‘wagon wheel’ on the dessert menu. This is a chocolate confection every Australian of a certain age will remember from their schooldays. A wagon wheel was two biscuit discs sandwiched with raspberry jam and a marshmallow filling, coated in chocolate. Circa’s version was completely deconstructed, using an exceptionally good chocolate mousse, meringue, frozen raspberries, raspberry coulis and very light on the biscuit crumbs. It wasn’t teeth-achingly sweet and a rather nice way to finish the meal. Happily, it came as ordered.
Circa the Prince Melbourne

Circa’s Wagon Wheel

Having drained the champagne, we were ready to head into the night. Graciously, given the hiccups with our meal, we weren’t charged for the two meat dishes that came out of the correct order.

While the atmosphere at Circa these days is a bit more casual, the food is definitely worth watching. Executive chef Ashly Hicks has brought imagination to the overwhelmingly French influences and the results are very palatable. It will be interesting to watch what trajectory his food and the restaurant itself will follow.

Circa The Prince Melbourne

The main dining room

Circa The Prince

The Foodie World three star rating
2 Acland Street, St Kilda
Circa, the Prince Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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