Review of Circo by Señor Buddha (+ El Pabellón update)
A funky tapas bar serving up bold and unique flavours, topped up with plenty of first class booze
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m finding it pretty tricky to keep up with the new openings and reopenings in Brighton, which is why I’m so late updating you on Circo – down by Preston Circus.
Modern, lively small plates
Formerly known as Señor Buddha, this modern, lively tapas bar has long been a favourite spot of mine (as mentioned in past reviews from 2015 + 2016). It has an edgy vibe, complemented by a menu that confidently fuses Spanish small plates with South East Asian flavours. Yes, I know it sounds as though it wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) work but believe me, it does.
The press event for Circo’s launch was back at the end of March, just before I had four of my wisdom teeth out. I’d planned a week-long eating frenzy, which culminated at Circo the night before my operation. The idea being, if I lost the ability to taste food – a rare, but possible side effect of the operation – or worse, didn’t wake up at all, I would have at least had a feast to remember.
Thankfully, after two weeks of soft foods everything was absolutely fine, but had dinner at Circo been my last meal, I would have died a very happy foodie.
A new venture, in the centre
So, why the name change, I hear you ask? Well, that’s because the restaurant is expanding! Later this year – sometime in summer – owner Lee Shipley (aka Señor Buddha), will open a sister to Circo in the heart of Brighton; as a way to link the two restaurants together, both will take on the names of the area they are in.
If you know a little Spanish, it will be obvious where El Pabellón (the new restaurant) will be… but if you need a clue, the building that will be its home previously belonged to Cologne and Cotton, a mint-green bedding shop at the bottom of North Street.
The refit of the site is currently in operation and throwing up all sorts of surprises. Hidden treasures include Victorian serving trays, 100-year-old Brighton newspapers and classic cigarette packets from the 70s – talk about a time tunnel!
It’s a gorgeous period building, with arches and original wooden floor features, which I’m told they are sensitively refurbishing.
Once open, El Pabellón will offer brunch, lunch and dinner seven days a week, with a killer cocktail menu in the same vein as the wines at Circo.
For the lushes amongst you there will be tipples specifically designed to have with brunch too and I’m informed that brunch will be classic dishes but with a twist.
The rest of the food menu will stay true to the original Señor Buddha ethos: fun, bold flavours, topped up with plenty of first-class booze, but with new categories to the tapas menu, including Frío (cold) and Mar y Montaña (surf and turf).
If you have a nose for good wines, there are also going to be monthly fine wine evenings you’ll want to know about, where guests can sample 125ml flights of the more premium wine range for a 30% discount.
That’s all I know about the new place for now, but as more is revealed I’ll keep you posted.
Dinner that hit all the right buttons
Returning to Circo and the press night all those moons ago… I had the pleasure of dining with the veteran food critic Andrew Kay, who has the longest running food blog/magazine column in Brighton: “Andrew Kay Dines Out”. For 25 years Andrew has been tracking down the city’s best eateries and sharing his finds in Latest 7, so if you don’t already follow him make sure you do.
We were propped up at the bar together, right in front of all the action in the kitchen and it couldn’t have been a better pairing of foodies. We spent the whole evening gassing about how well done all the dishes were, and watching in admiration as Head Chef John Reed and his team danced around each other in the smallest kitchen known to man.
Drinks à la mode
The food was completely on point all evening and it was made all the better with the à la mode Spanish and Japanese wine pairings which included premium Cava, chilled Sherry and Sake, curated by Circo’s new wine and spirits supplier, Toby Mason of Enotria & Coe.
As always, it’s really useful to understand why the drinks on the menu have been chosen and what they pair well with at dinner – which Toby delivered expertly.
First we were treated to a beautiful premium Cava – NV Mas Sardana Cava Brut Nature with our pintxos. It was dry and light with notes of apple, hazelnut and a touch of biscuit.
ABOVE: Ajo Blanco, pomelo with black garlic oil – a cold soup shot, made from creamed almonds and citrus juice and truffle.
BELOW: Cubed tuna with a dollop of wasabi & cured Iberico ham.
Then a dry, very light and very fresh white Sherry with a delicate oak-ageing with the “planta” and “pescados” (vegetable and fish) courses.
ABOVE: Tenderstem broccoli with tofu, pickled mushroom, nectarine and hazelnuts, drizzled in a coconut cream.
BELOW: Pumpkin Thai aioli, kale, pak choi and candied cashew nuts.
ABOVE: Crispy, fried squid served with squid ink romesco and pickled chillies.
BELOW: Octopus in a tapioca crisp with a garlic sauce, fennel ribbons and Sobrassada (spicy Spanish sausage).
With the meat courses, out came an intensely flavoured Monastrell Reserva, Mas Delmera – a red wine from the south of Spain in Jumilla.
ABOVE: Presa Ibérica pork (aka the Wagyu of pork) served pink with nori (edible seaweed) shrimp crumb and romesco.
BELOW: Lamb rump with bacon with crispy bacon, plum sake chutney, chard and fennel.
To finish we had two Japanese sakes, Kodakara Nanko Umeshu and Tatenokawa Shuzo with dessert (which I sadly missed as, like Cinderella, I had to be home before midnight).
RATING: MUST GO | WORTH A TRY | GIVE IT A MISS
PRICE: 5 tapas dishes for approx. £30
Having been to Señor Buddha at least five times before, I felt this meal was the best I’ve had here to date. The combination of flavours and textures were creative, unique, punchy and interesting! I’d even go so far as to say that there is nothing quite like it in Brighton. Circo really has grown up and finessed its whole offering, and for me, its launch in the city centre cannot come round quick enough!
NEED TO KNOW
Every Tuesday Circo offers 2-4-1 tapas. On Wednesdays, one tapas dish and two ‘raciones’ from their planta (vegan/vegetarian) menu, plus a dessert, is just £20.
Circo, 9 Preston Rd, Brighton BN1 4QE
*Disclaimer: I was invited to a press dinner but I always write what I think, honestly, regardless.
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