Circa, Dublin: I hate to knock a small kitchen, but where’s the flavour?

This Terenure restaurant’s front of house is just right, but the chefs are still looking for their mojo

Circa
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Address: 90 Terenure Road North, Terenure, Dublin 6W
Telephone: 01-5342644
Cuisine: French

My dining companion is a little freaked out. “It’s weird being in Terenure with a fella behind the bar with a man bun,” he says. Hipster creep is blurring the border between Dublin 8 and 6. The man buns are migrating. Terenure has a new neighbourhood restaurant. It’s called Circa. It sits behind gleaming plate glass windows looking out on the determined little dogs of the hood out for their evening perambulations.

This fit-out is box fresh, with new wooden tables and bentwood chairs. Our nicely designed menu has the words “Circa May ’19” printed on its folded front. It’s tucked into good linen napkins and folds out to reveal a menagerie of animals, fish and seafood that have died for our dinner. The small plates include confit duck with foie gras terrine which doesn’t strike me as being a very down with the kids ingredient but let’s hold those judgey horses until the food arrives.

The service is friendly and attentive. It’s a Wednesday night and they’re not particularly busy. A few tyre kickers have come in, just to take a look. They seem to like what they see.

A carafe of fresh water with mint leaves arrives without being asked for. So far. So very good

We kick off the night well with two slices of good seeded bread with nice room temperature butter. The slices are small. No appetites will be spoiled with these carbs. A carafe of fresh water with mint leaves arrives without being asked for. So far. So very good. But then it almost all goes a bit south.

The grey plates look great. I’ve got some juicy scallops and golden raisins (which are mahogany brown) and some careful dollops of creamy cauliflower puree and two rounds of boudin black pudding. The scallops and pudding are good but the raisins are little sacks of vinegar which slash astringency through the dish.

It’s a forgiveable line to cross, to not hold back on the instinct to add one more thing , but across the table there’s a plate of rabbit in a buttermilk batter which is beyond bland. The soft, nicely battered chunks of meat are so tasteless as to be like some kind of generic white protein product. He, who never asks for salt, is asking for it now. The bland bunny comes with a good pea and tarragon salad and some nice house mayonnaise, but it’s a strange missed opportunity to make a impressive opening dish.

There begins to be a theme here. “Pig belly” is a thick, juicy looking wodge of meat with a thicker layer of fat. You might think that calling it pig instead of pork means that this is meat with character. But it’s not. It’s spongy and flavourless, again crying out for salt to take it up a notch. There’s a good skin-on ratte potato, described on the menu as a confit potato, and lovely apple gravy that tries as hard as it can to turn the wodge of flabby meat into something that can justify the €26 price tag.

I get the ray wing, which is served as an uninspiring doorstop of watery and flaccid fish drenched in a brown butter sauce. There are good spears of boiled green asparagus and a lone stem of three-cornered leek, which seems like a stray from another plate. Juicy morels have been soaking up the cream sauce like sponges, releasing the sauce when you bite down, but the fish is a chore to finish. Normally I’d be flipping it over to slide the remainder of the flesh from the underside, but by the end of one side I’ve had enough.

A good local restaurant is a real gem, and with a little bit more reach Circa will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of that

Dessert is fine, a tangy slightly overstewed rhubarb with angostura bitters (someone likes bitter in this kitchen) and some shards of meringue with baked on juice in a gorgeous ruby pink. There’s a sweet ice-cream concoction which is, presumably the “sweet cultured cream” on the menu description but doesn’t have any of the yogurty tang that description might suggest.

Circa means a rough approximation, something there or thereabouts. It’s a weirdly appropriate name for this restaurant. The dishes here are circling around the sort of hearty cooking that makes for great local restaurant food, reliably tasty, unpretentious and consistent.

It’s a lovely room, and they’ve got the front of house just right. I hope they find their feet or their mojo or whatever the kitchen is missing here. A good local restaurant is a real gem, and with a little bit more reach Circa will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of that.

Dinner for two with a glass of wine and shared dessert came to €105.25

  • Verdict It's hard to knock a small place, but I'm bewildered by this underflavoured food
  • Food provenance Minimal. Velvet Cloud yogurt is one of the only names
  • Vegetarian options Very limited
  • Wheelchair access The room is accessible, but the toilet is not
  • Music Fine
  • Facilities Fine (except the liquid soap seemed to have been watered down)
Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests

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