Circo requires little introduction. The sister restaurant of New York’s iconic Le Cirque from entrepreneur Sirio Maccioni, has pitched its big top at Abu Dhabi’s Intercontinental Hotel, impressing an audience of regular guests for a number of years now.
Circo offers a menu of Italian fare in which the majority of dishes hail from Tuscany and the recipes are straight from the kitchen of Maccioni matriarch Egidiana. The restaurant utilizes multi-coloured glass, mirrored columns and subtle circus influences, in a bid to recreate the dazzling thrills of a European Circus tent. A red velvet curtain marks the entranceway and having not visited a circus in over two decades, provides a nostalgic image we remember all to well. Light fixtures are hung to resemble the peak of said tent and the carpet is like an explosion of fireworks, providing a contrast against the icy blue glassware. A design of concentric circles completes the elaborate theming of a circus ring and charismatic Chef Matteo Fontana is our ringmaster for the day.
Amidst the vibrant bursts of colour it’s pleasing to see the space is neither overdone or kitsch. Instead Circo takes a far more subtle approach, reflective of its positioning as a fine dining establishment. Despite dining at Circo on numerous occasions over the years, the venue continues to impress upon repeat. Especially the outside terrace, offering views over the marina and one of the most recognisable symbols of Abu Dhabi – Etihad Towers.
Our recent visit was to sample the newly launched Saturday brunch concept, aiming to encapsulate the Italian family dining table in a presentation of classical dishes served from a set sharing menu. With a number of Abu Dhabi restaurants turning their hands towards Saturday brunches (see our recent review of Butcher & Still), what exactly does Circo have to offer? A veritable feast covering a range salads, pizzas, pastas, meats and desserts.
Expecting a carb heavy meal, we begin with warm breads and savoury muffins accompanied by an olive and garlic tapenade and plenty of fresh butter. The breads are followed by four salads, each distinct but appealing in their own right. Mix di Lattuga, Verdure Grigliate e Asparagari Bianchi takes mixed leaves, tossed with grilled vegetables, al dente white asparagus and a selection of nuts. For lovers of seafood there’s Insalata di Polpo e Olive Taggiasche, a mixture of olives, cherry tomatoes, carrots and celery with thick slices of tender octopus. The Tartare di Salmone e Barbabietola su Crostini di Pane represents a delightful twist on the traditional salmon tartare with beetroot oyster mayo and an explosion of citrus. Our favourite though, was the creamy Burrata Pugliese, Pomodari Ramati e Basilico Fritto. An alternative take on the caprese salad with its mix of tomatoes, basil and burrata.
Next was the pizza and pasta course and due to the heavy nature of these dishes, the team at Circo have wisely scaled back the portions. Pizza Sirio Maccioni is a simple and effective combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, beef salami and mushrooms, on top of a thin and crisp base. While Risotto al Profumo di Mare e Bottarga is a seafood infused risotto served with squid ink chips and salt cured roe. Making for the most flavoursome dish of the brunch, offering hints of the sea and a generous sprinkling of salt. In compatison, the Ravioli Freschi Ripeni di Ricotta e Spinaci (spinach and ricotta ravioli) though tasty and perfectly cooked, may’ve been the weakest dish of the day.
Leaving behind the carbs, we move onto the meat and fish course, of which both dishes are exceptional. Tagliata di Manzo, Rucola e Grana (Angus beef rib eye) is an example of sheer simplicity, with the tender beef, cheese and leaves making for an uncomplicated and understated dish that shows the powerful of allowing each individual ingredient to stand on their own merit. Similarly, Filetto di Branzino, Asparagi e Salsa di Zafferano follows suit with a beautifully cooked fillet of Mediterranean Sea bass. Crisp skinned to contrast texturally against the delicate flesh and served with asparagus and a vibrant saffron sauce.
The Circo dessert platter is scaled back when compared to the usual extravagant dessert offerings of the restaurant (their tiramisu sphere is hands down the best tiramisu in Abu Dhabi). Offering dainty cakes, potted chocolate mousse and lollipops of coffee encased in chocolate. It’s a lighter way to end to the meal and one that we appreciated.
Having dined at Circo frequently, it’s the consistency in terms of both food and service that draw us back time and again. The new Saturday brunch is no different and offers excellent pacing, well plated dishes and the chance to sample Circo’s food at a fraction of the cost of dining a la carte. The Circo team are friendly, engaging and attentive without being over-bearing and restaurant manager Gianluca Maglianella ensures each and every guest is well looked after.
A special mention should also be given to the well constructed kids menu that veers away from the usual chicken nuggets and chips, in favour of more adventurous options with a healthy twist. Continue the family day out and head over to The Bayshore, beach club where brunch guests can avail a discounted entry for AED 50 per person.
Given the name and the theme, one would almost expect Circo to provide dinner and a show (something along the lines of Dubai’s Billionaire Mansion or The Act). Though no acrobatics or lion taming can be found here, there’s really no need, as the food is the star of this impressive show. At a time when most brunches are cutting ingredients in a drastic cost saving measure, it’s especially pleasing to see Circo aren’t sacrificing quality in favour of increasing profit margins.
Circo has a strong reputation on the capital’s ever-competitive dining scene but has stiff competition from the likes of Villa Toscana just over the road and the newly opened Cafe Milano and Roberto’s on Al Maryah Island. Not to be outdone, Circo offers a range of exciting new promotions outside of their usual business lunch and evening happy hour. In addition to the Saturday Brunch, there’s a monthly Opera Night in which guests are serenaded while enjoying a five course meal and Dinner In The Dark, where diners must rely on their senses while dining blindfolded. Two Innovative concepts that are completely new to Abu Dhabi.
The Circo Saturday brunch is held on Saturday lunchtimes from 12pm – 3:30pm and costs AED 185++ (soft beverages) and AED 225++ (house beverages.
Location: InterContinental Hotel, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – midnight
Phone: 02 6666 888
We were invited to dine at Circo. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.