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Le Freak - c'est chic

Angie Sammons is treated to the works at Circo. Any good?

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Le Freak - c'est chic

A BLOKE squeezes himself into a demijohn on Saturday nights at the Albert Dock. Apparently.

It's not one of those beery pub tricks either. Over men and horses, hoops and garters in what is a vast, fairground themed venue, he holds his breath, clenches his buttocks and gets in a jar - while the lads get a few jars in.

No, he does this being for the visual benefit of those paying good money to have a good time. In Circo.

Now whoever Demijohn might be, and whether that is actually a regular weekend routine in the Circo “Freak Show” any more, I'm not sure, so don't hold your breath.

But Michael Heseltine would undoubtedly be proud that the Albert Dock, his cornerstone of post Toxteth riots regeneration, decades ago, now involves people jumping through hoops as his Cabinet colleagues did for ringmaster Thatch back in the day.

You can picture the scene: An aerial acrobat, on the same billing, winds her strong calves around a swing above diners, torso and head hanging freely, hair skimming the hollandaise.

“No, Madam, she didn't forget the Head and Shoulders - that's Parmesan cheese, Madam.”
“Ah, so that's what they meant when they advertised for a tra-peas artist.”

Oh stop it!

Circo lies on the old Richard and Judy set, but vampires never did do This Morning. And forget Fred Talbot's jumpers, there's other stuff to jar on the eye these days. Look out of these handsome floor to ceiling windows and there's still the splendid sight of Jesse Hartley's sandblasted, Grade I-listed warehouses. Step around the corner for that oft-photographed vista of the Three Graces and hey presto, it's gone; the view blocked by the steady climb of the “multi use development" (flats) now taking shape on Mann Island. You could say it's being re-vamped, but that's a touchy concept among the undead in this place.

Bile rising, the grub had better be good.

Thank hell it is. They know we're coming, therefore we can't present this a dinner given to ordinary paying customers so we won't score it. However, it is fair to say that if the kitchen performs as well for you as it did when they put on a spread for us, you won't be feeling too aggrieved.

Circo is under new management since Korova, who opened it just 18 months ago, sold it on. The stuffed animals have largely gone up to Zeligs.

And in the daytime, when the freaks are asleep, hanging from a beam somewhere, and the shafts of sun are flooding the waterside dining room, there are few more pleasant settings.

We begin with hand-made duck spring rolls, deep fried and served with a saki and Cointreau glaze (£5.75). They are bursting with a filling of tender, succulent meat and crunchy vegetables in a delicious savoury sauce. Really.Seared and succulent scallops go beyond the regular call of duty, too, set on wilted baby spinach with sunblushed tomato foam and sevruga caviare (£6.95).

The main courses sound imaginative – at least for the Albert Dock, home of the hamburger, the lasagne and the Ha-Ha!

Duck breast with a sloe gin and blueberry sauce (£17.75) comes on a soft, creamy mash with a couple of glazed, spring carrots and asparagus spears and it all works together very well. Chefs seeking fruity variations on the old duck in orange sauce have come up with results ranging from the silly to the plain nasty, in my past experience, but not this time.

Top end of the menu is a fillet steak served with a trendy oxtail parcel and horseradish jus (£23.50), which a friend has, and which Dracula himself would spare your neck for by the look of it.

Free range chicken breast, on the bone and wrapped in streaky bacon, comes again with that mash, but this time with a sage jus (£15.50). The meat is generous and full-flavoured as you would expect from something that has been around the block a few times on its own two feet. Choose that, rather than the chicken off the grill menu (£14.40) which is adorned with little aside from a half grilled tomato.

Sides, at £2.95, include various sauces for your steaks which one might expect to be thrown in with the price of the dish, however the spinach in chilli, green beans with bacon and shallots were a welcome green and properly cooked addition, and some chips that appeared were ok.

And they do know how to present a pudding in here. Pear tarte tatin (£5.25) was created on a light, puffy pastry that left the sweetness to come from the fruit and the vanilla ice cream. Rhubarb and custard mousse (£5.25), served in a sundae glass, scattered with biscotti crumb and crème Chantilly, was tart, wonderful and luxurious at every turn.

If I were rating Circo on this performance it would be a seven or an eight on 10. They certainly tried. But it's up to you to give it a go and let us know.

And hopefully you won't make me eat my words. Or should that be swallow my swords?

Britannia Pavillion
Albert Dock
L3 4AD
0151 709 0470

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DigMay 27th 2009.

Never tried the food there but it is certainly one of my favourite venues in Town. The Freak Shows are superb entertainment. I wonder if David Gest hosting the relaunch was himself or one of the freaks?

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