Inside Circo: The new face of Señor Buddha

If you’ve been wondering whether the appearance of the word ‘Circo’ above the doors of 9 Preston Road had spelled the end for local favourite Señor Buddha, don’t worry – the much-loved Spanish-Asian fusion restaurant has merely undergone a few changes in the wake of some very exciting news.

Owner Lee Shipley still runs the show, the chefs continue to create beautifully modern tapas with a twist, while the charismatic general manager Dean is still entertaining diners with flawless aplomb. But ahead of the launch of its sister restaurant in the city centre later this year, the 20-cover eatery has changed its name in keeping with its surroundings.

There’s also a new menu to look forward to, plus a Spanish wine menu curated by vintners Enotria & Coe. And may we say, diners are in for a treat. Despite the name change, there’s little that separates Circo from its predecessor. The menu still reflects the site’s origin as a tapas bar, and is made up of five to six of each of pintxos, planta, pescados, carne and postre (or snack, plant, fish, meat and dessert). We opt for two of each to share between two – plus wines to match – and get to work.

Our first dish is the Brandada de Bacalao – cod paired with the rich, umami flavour of miso and a crispy tuile worthy of Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace’s plate. We chase it with ajo blanco, which we’re told is an authentic chilled soup shot of crushed almonds and garlic typical in Granada and Málaga, topped with Asian citrus pomelo. However, after the cod this struggled to stand up, and the beautiful tuna, parma ham and wasabi mayonnaise crudites we were later served were far preferred.

Circo’s knack for complimenting flavours cross-continent were reinforced in the dishes that followed, with pumpkin, Thai aioli, kale, pak choi and candied cashews offering a delightfully light vegetable-based option. We were incredibly impressed by the tenderstem broccoli a la plancha, which was served with tofu, pickled mushroom, hazelnuts and coconut, the tofu appearing like crumbled feta cheese sprinkled over the top. The flavours were delicious, our only complaint being that we hadn’t ordered more. We were recommended NV Xeco Fino Sherry to drink alongside it, which offered a crisp addition to the existing flavour combination – however wasn’t personally to our taste.

Next came the Calamar fritto, with squid ink romesco and pickled chilli, which may hold the title for the best calamari we have ever tried in Brighton. The Polpo a la Gallega, fennel, sobrassada and coriander aioli makes for a more unusual choice – octopus not making the majority of menus across the city, after all – yet came perfectly cooked, the fennel offering a subtle aniseed-y taste.

While we were impressed with the fish plates, the Presa Iberica pork that followed was by far the most impressive dish of the night. Perfectly pink, moist and tender, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as a good cut of beef – or perhaps even lamb. The meat was perfectly accompanied by the flavours of nori, shrimp crumb and romesco to balance the plate – the latter of which is usually served with fish, demonstrating Circo’s willingness to go against tradition if it means exciting flavour combinations are fulfilled. Our final savoury dish, lamb rump boasted bacon, plum sake chutney, shard and fennel provided a delectable combination which our red wine (Monastrell Reserva, Mas Demera, Jumilla) paired with perfectly.

Our dessert comprised a deconstructed almond and lemon tart, with mascarpone and basil sherbet – Kodakara Nanko Umeshu Sake served on the side (our favourite tipple of the evening). Delicious and carefully presented, it marked a lovely end to our visit.

If our visit to Circo is anything to go by, the second Senor Buddha – coming to the city centre later this year – is certainly one to look out for. The team is keeping tight lipped about the exact location of their sophomore restaurant, however has released its name: El Pabellón (hinting at proximity to the Royal Pavilion, perhaps?).

We’ll be keeping a close eye out for this one, and we’re sure we’re not alone.

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