Menu Review – Circa 1924, Exeter
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Nick Hook
I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure. Screw that. If you have the chance to enjoy your job, why not take it, right?
So, when I heard that Circa 1924, the independent Seafood Restaurant and Steakhouse in Northernhay Place, had devised and launched a new menu, I was there before you could say “stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Joined by my patient and beautiful wife Jodie and the almost as patient, almost as beautiful food photographer Nick Hook, we settled in for the night to see what this new menu was made of. We were not disappointed.
Welcomed exquisitely by Restaurant Manager Kate Wilkinson, we started with some libations (meaning ‘a drink poured for a deity’ in Latin); for me a delicious Caipirinha, for Jodie a stunning glass of Garnacha-Syrah and, for Nick, some top-quality iced tap water.
We perused the varied menu, torn between the dishes we knew we would like and those that we would only try if we were feeling adventurous. There was something about the relaxed environment, informal but polite service and reputation of excellence that Circa 1924 has which created the perfect conditions for taking a risk or two.
So, with gusto, we ordered our starters, including several dishes which I have never tried before; Mushrooms on Toast with goat’s curd, truffle and herb, Braised Pig Cheek with pickled granny smith, crackling and cider broth, Bone Marrow with red onion marmalade, Cornish Gouda crumb and sourdough and Shell Roasted Scallops in a garlic butter and panko.
For someone who ‘hates mushrooms’ I was really hesitant to try them but, low and behold, they were one of my favourite dishes of the evening. Seasoned to perfection, with the sometimes over-powering ingredient of truffle tuned in perfect harmony to the nuttiness of the mushrooms, it was a dish that I plan to order again when I return to Circa.
As I tried Bone Marrow for the first time, Nick’s food expertise came in handy with a few tips on how best to eat it. Instead of eating it straight from the bone, he recommended that I scoop it out, smash it onto the sourdough and add the various garnishes and side-elements of the dish. As usual, he was right and it made for a superb starter.
A complete seafood novice (as I grew up in a seafood-allergic household) I am still early on in my journey of discovery with seafood dishes. That said, the scallops were certainly one of my favourite dishes of the night; another complete surprise and proof that, sometimes leaving your comfort zone really pays off.
Finally, on the starters, the Pig Cheek was tender and well-executed; a light autumnal nibble to get the taste-buds going before the main courses. On the subject of Autumn, it was a genuine pleasure to be ordering from a menu so in touch with the seasons and packed with ingredients appropriate to the time and place within which we consumed them.
This ties in with Circa 1924’s commitment to source ingredients on a hyper-local basis, from suppliers who share their pursuit of a more sustainable approach to running a restaurant in modern-day Britain.
And so, to the main courses. I think the three of us could very well have ordered anything from the menu for our main course and been very happy indeed. However, we had to make a decision at some point. I opted for a Ribeye Steak with peppercorn sauce and black garlic mayonnaise, served with triple-cooked chips. One word. Superb.
Nick opted for the Wild Local Venison Haunch, with black garlic, blackberry, celeriac gratin and wild mushrooms; an autumnal feast with subtle punch and a well-balanced overall composition.
Jodie went for Pigeon, with goat’s curd, golden beetroot, cherries, seeds and a game jus. This wasn’t to my liking personally, whereas Jodie and Nick both really enjoyed it. If you like game, this is the dish for you.
And, finally to the desserts. We were all pretty full but, somehow, found room for dessert (you know, that special pudding stomach that we all have?).
We ordered a Sticky Toffee Pudding in cider caramel sauce with Riverford clotted cream, the Banana Bread with salted caramel ice cream and candied walnut and a plate of Petits Fours, including some salted caramel rolos, made by Restaurant Manager Kate herself. A perfect mix of flair and substance and a fitting end to our delightful evening together.
None other than The Telegraph recently commented that Circa 1924 is “THE place to have lunch”. I would echo that and go one step further to say, “Circa 1924 has some of the finest food, drink and service in Exeter. You HAVE to check it out!”.
Circa 1924 is a true hidden gem of Exeter. For local, ethically-sourced food, cooked to perfection and served with a wide selection of quality libations, it has to be near the top of your list to visit for your next meal out.