Welcoming guest blogger, The New Glitterati, to the team! The fact I was invited to this dinner (and instead went to Social) makes me super sad — it clearly would have been worth the trip. And a warning, do not read while hungry!!
Abu Dhabi is not particularly known for its Italian food, and it’s certainly not a go-to for us. Circo is tucked down in the InterContinental next to the Belgian Cafe and the first thing we saw, aside from the well-executed circus-themed decor, was the gleaming “Time Out Abu Dhabi – Best Italian, 2015” plaque proudly placed by the entrance. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a legit Italian meal and we were excited to try something new and see what the ‘Dhabs had on offer.
Plaques notwithstanding, Circo has a lot to live up to. The child restaurant of New York’s famous Le Cirque, beloved by such regulars as Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, and Andy Warhol (just your neighborhood celebrities, really), Circo is closely overseen by Le Cirque’s founding Maccioni family. The Abu Dhabi location opened in late 2014 and joined the diverse offerings of the InterContinental which also includes Byblos and Chamas.
Full disclosure: we were invited as guests of the General Manager, Gianluca Maglianella, and Mauro Maccioni, of the legendary Le Cirque Maccioni family. We received five star service, something Abu Dhabi tends to fall short of, but I took note that all of the guests dining at Circo on this particular Thursday seemed to be treated exceptionally well. Take note, hospitality sector: “silent service” is the fine dining art of subtle but timely anticipation of guest needs, and does not need to be subject to the ubiquitous Abu Dhabi mentality of “bigger and bolder is better.” Circo staff are artisans when it comes to unobtrusive refills, nearly invisible table clearings, and perfect timing of courses with accompaniments that don’t even have to be requested. This alone sets the restaurant apart from some of its price point competitors.
While the interior was less than half full on a Thursday night at 8PM, the outside was completely booked. Circo shares coveted waterfront marina space with some of the other InterCon restaurants, and has a limited number of prime tables. Definitely call ahead to book for outside dining, but don’t despair if it’s full – the inside tables have the benefit of live entertainment as musicians play instrumental versions of a wide variety of jazz and modern favorites.
It could have been kitschy, but Circo nailed the circus theme with just the right balance of whimsy and class. The live music was a pleasant accompaniment, and it was fun to discover the little circusy details like trunk clasps on the bar front and a wall of mounted stylized monkey heads.
We were treated to a 5 course menu of chef’s choice samplings.
Here’s what we had:
Bruschetta (off-menu), Pizza dough base with garlic-marinated tomatoes, basil, and Parmesan
Crudo di Tonno Marinato agli Agrumi con Tenerezze Fresche e Salsa di Mandarini Cinesi (73dhs) // Salt-cured red tuna crudo, baby arugula, orange and ruby red grapefruit, shaved fennel, radish, candy-striped beet, kumquat marmalade
Rissoto alla Qauglia Brasata e Funghi Porcini, Con Scaglie di Tartufo Nero, Uova di Quadlia Poche’ e Salsa della Stessa (78dhs) // Quail and porcini mushrooms risotto with shaved black truffle, poached quail egg, and quail’s jus
Filetto di Sogliola del Golfo In Crosta di Focaccia Croccante, Verdurine Miste Saltate e Salsa di Burro al Basilico (91dhs) // Gulf sole filet in crunchy focaccia, mixed sauteed vegetables, and pesto butter sauce
Zuccotto di Lamponi con Cuore di Gelato al Miele, Meringhe all-Italiana e Salsa alla Vaniglia (39dhs) // Tuscan raspberry semifreddo cake with honey gelato heart, Italian meringue, vanilla sauce
Sfera di Tiramisu con Guscio al Cioddolato (39dhs) // Tiramisu sphere with dark chocolate shell, marscapone cheese, coffee, and lady fingers
Like everything else in Abu Dhabi, quality’ll cost ya. Average cost of apps, entrees, drinks, and dessert per person is around 400-500dhs before tax and tip. But there is an Entertainer two-for-one entree, and Circo holds specials on the reg such as a 5-course set menu with vintage grape selections for AED 295++ per person, 50% off light fare F&B during daily Happy Hours (5 – 9), and a set-course Business Lunch special (power suits optional).
Like its parent restaurant, Le Cirque, Circo seeks to impress and it does a stand-out job. Presentation and atmosphere are just as important as really good food. It’s up there as one of the more expensive meals I’ve had in Abu Dhabi, but the fine dining experience was truly that.