Technically speaking, if you’re wearing just a lonesome pair of shocking red nipple tassels, are you naked?
Was this the kind of question Tom Dixon – designer of Circus – hoped we would ask ourselves when he injected surrealist influences into the interior of this cabaret-orientated restaurant? Or was the goal to create ‘real-life’ surrealist art by inviting incongruous situations that leave you questioning everything you thought you knew and expected? Because if so, he certainly succeeded with me; I was halfway through a mouthful of tuna when not only did my best male friend slip a hand onto my thigh, but a semi-naked man strutted across our table, launched into the air and, wearing tights so tight, and doing the splits so wide, became a perfect plus sign. This was a circus indeed and had me wanting to join in with the theatre (as is encouraged) and yell in my Friend-Now-Date’s ear: “Ceci n’est pas une date!” But then I thought, “Or is it?
FND had asked me to join him for dinner and as there was a lot of hype surrounding this restaurant when it opened earlier this year, I was intrigued to see how it had fared. We met on the threshold. I was excited but as we stepped into this alluring den of entertainment, I noticed he was a little smarter than usual and rather than his normal charismatic self, he seemed a little sheepish. I smelt an ulterior motive amidst the aroma of too much aftershave.
Inside, the intriguingly designed restaurant was buzzing in anticipation. We went to our table, next to the long communal one that doubles as the stage for the acts, and ordered cocktails from a menu of classics with novel twists such as mandarin and passion fruit mojitos, and kumquat and almond caipirinhas (£8.50 each). Our first sips into the unknown were hesitant but I was soon making vulgar gurgles as my straw disappointedly probed the bottom of the drained glass like a blind man’s cane. We decided a second was needed before moving onto wine.
Chef Nik Biok, (previously at Gaucho) has created a Pan-American menu from which we chose starters (both £7.50) of pulled pork and cheddar quesadilla, and crispy fried squid with sticky coconut glaze and coriander cress. Both were good and in keeping with the general Circus theme - variants from the predictable. To follow, my date had churrasco (£20.50) - sirloin marinated in garlic, herbs, chili and lime, served with an avocado salad (apparently it was good – I didn’t get a look in). But no matter as my seared, sushi-grade Cajun tuna with cherry tomato and habanero chili salsa (£18.95) was as substantial as it was satisfying.
As we ate, performers took to the ‘table’ and were greeted appreciatively. Lithe male aerialists swung through hoops and a female burlesque act stripped down to her tassels. It wasn’t quite Cirque de Soleil but the atmosphere was energetic, convivial and excitable making the crowd easy-to-please.
FND was beginning to relax; a waiter with a plate of barbeque scented ribs sashayed past, which was when FND slipped his hand onto my thigh, looked me in the eye and said, “Nice rack.” The message was far from subliminal, but certainly surreal.
Maybe it was the relaxed but vibrant atmosphere, or maybe Dixon's interior (with his mirrored orbs and quirky design) combined with the Circus concept had succeeded in blurring edges and pushing boundaries of definition (or maybe it was just the vodka) but I was not completely adverse to the idea of FND. Although obviously he will have to jump through a few hoops first.
27-29 Endell Street, London WC2H 9BA
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