Dining at the theatre… it’s not the most inspiring prospect.
The idea of a pre-show meal sounds like a great idea but then reality, poor produce and slapdash cooking usually intervenes. That special occasion night-out leaves a bad taste in the mouth; the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd isn’t going to do anything to erase the unhappy memory.
So I’d like to slap my thigh and offer a hearty pantomime “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” to the kitchen brigade and front of house team at The Hippodrome in Birmingham.
I last dined at the theatre’s restaurant, The Circle, several years ago and it was kind of okay, no more, no less. It’s what you would expect at a theatre “in the provinces,” as they say in London.
Fast-forward and we returned to the restaurant for a pre-performance dinner during November’s run of the marvellous Slava’s Snowshow.
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/IMG_4679.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2013″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/IMG_4679-300×200.jpg” alt=”IMG_4679″ width=”300″ height=”200″ /></a>In short, the food has been transformed by head chef Chris Bratt-Rose. Rather than sitting in a theatre with an add-on, “second thought” restaurant, the standard of the food gives the impression that The Circle is a decent stand-alone dining room that just happens to have one of the UK’s largest touring venues attached.
That in itself is some compliment because the demands of a theatre restaurant, where service is crammed into a tight timeframe before curtain up, creates a unique set of pressures for the chefs and servers.
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/TheCircle.4.10.2013.0172.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2003″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/TheCircle.4.10.2013.0172-300×197.jpg” alt=”The Birmingham Hippodrome. 4th October 2013.” width=”300″ height=”197″ /></a>
The Circle will not be on many people’s radar outside theatre-goers but the quality is as good, or better, than some operations in the city that flog their credential as “fine dining” venues.
The menu is priced at two courses for £28.50 and three courses for £34.50, so for most of us it is not in the category of a place for a quick bite.
My heart sunk when I saw the menu. It looked ambitious for a theatre restaurant; too ambitious. There were six starters, six main courses and six desserts. Why didn’t the chef keep it simple?
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/TheCircle.4.10.2013.016.jpg”><img class=”size-medium wp-image-2000″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/TheCircle.4.10.2013.016-203×300.jpg” alt=”Head chef Chris Bratt-Rose” width=”203″ height=”300″ /></a> Head chef Chris Bratt-Rose
The fact of the matter is that Bratt-Rose knows what he is doing and the variety of dishes speaks of confidence rather than confusion. I dined as a guest of The Hippodrome, so this is not a review. The team was interested in my opinion and I like what the place is trying to do so I was happy to offer some thoughts.
For this reason, I will keep my comments brief – in fact, very brief, but this may tell you all you need to know: yes, I would return to The Circle as part of a package involving a show, perhaps as a special treat, because the meal, combined with Slava’s Snowshow (insert War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time etc) made for a truly wonderful night.
For me, the theatre is all about getting transported, albeit temporarily, to a tingly, magical place outside the humdrum of everyday life. And The Hippodrome, ably assisted by The Circle, certainly achieves that. With bells on.
There is an extra incentive to dine at Christmas because The Hippodrome is part of the Streetsmart campaign that helps the homeless.
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Streetsmart-logo.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2010″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Streetsmart-logo-300×225.jpg” alt=”Streetsmart logo” width=”300″ height=”225″ /></a>An extra £1 is added to your bill – and goes directly to people facing a grim time in Birmingham. The donation is voluntary.
For more information about Streetsmart, read my earlier blog <a title=”Streetsmart” href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/2014/09/why-the-best-birmingham-restaurants-need-to-get-streetsmart/” target=”_blank”>here</a>.
Finally, I should also point out that the service throughout the evening, including staff in all points of the theatre, not just the restaurant, was very good. There is a great buzz about the place.
<strong>The Circle menu </strong>(dishes we tried in bold):
Soup of celeriac, smoked ham hock, rocket (V*)
<strong>Home gin cured salmon, Bloody Mary, avocado, tomato dressing</strong>
Crispy Edam cheese, confit of pineapple, smoked bacon & watercress
<strong>Carpaccio of beetroot, Bramley apple, baby cress, sweet and sour cashew nuts</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/beetroot.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2005″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/beetroot-300×274.jpg” alt=”Beetroot” width=”300″ height=”274″ /></a>
<strong>Warm confit duck leg, crab apple jelly, Waldorf salad, rocket cress salad </strong>
Seared mackerel fillet, smoked mackerel patties, fennel & dill salad
Slow cooked Herefordshire beef, roasted garlic mash, braised celery, carrots, red wine sauce
<strong>Orchard-reared pork fillet & cheek, Savoy cabbage, pear, black pudding & potato croquette, piquant sauce</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/pork.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2009″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/pork-300×229.jpg” alt=”pork” width=”300″ height=”229″ /></a>
Smoked haddock, saffron mash, caper butter sauce, brown shrimp, creamed leeks
Corn-fed Staffordshire chicken breast, pancetta, butternut squash & sage risotto, kale, sauce vierge
<strong>Roast monkfish tail, creamed potato, roasted onion & salsify, red wine sauce</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/monkfish.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2008″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/monkfish-300×248.jpg” alt=”monkfish” width=”300″ height=”248″ /></a>
Gnocchi, Oxford Blue cheese sauce, rocket, sundried tomatoes, spiced aubergine<strong> </strong>
<strong>Banana parfait, dark chocolate sauce & candied peanuts </strong>
<strong>Dark rich chocolate cake, Kirsch cream, dark cherries</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/black-forest.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2006″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/black-forest-300×273.jpg” alt=”black forest” width=”300″ height=”273″ /></a>
Cold damson crumble, rose water custard
<strong>Popcorn panna cotta, poached apple, caramel sauce</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/toffee-apple.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2011″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/toffee-apple-300×280.jpg” alt=”toffee apple” width=”300″ height=”280″ /></a>
Rice pudding crème brulée, pear compote & honeycomb <strong> </strong>
<strong>Selection of regional cheeses,</strong><strong> biscuits, celery, grapes & fruit chutney (supplement £2.50)</strong>
<a href=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/cheese.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2007″ src=”http://www.richardmccomb.com/home/mccomb/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/cheese-300×226.jpg” alt=”cheese” width=”300″ height=”226″ /></a>
<li><span>Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, </span><span>Southside, Birmingham, B5 4TB</span></li>
<li><a title=”www.birminghamhippodrome.com” href=”http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com” target=”_blank”>www.birminghamhippodrome.com</a></li>
<li>Ticket Sales: 0844 338 5000</li>
<li>Groups: 0844 338 7000</li>
<li>Restaurant Reservations: 0844 338 9000</li>