Le Cercle is the younger sister of Club Gascon. This was the first time I have been back to Le Cercle for some years, and it was jarring compared to previous visits. My starter of “crispy pork and melting tuna” was a couple of pieces of deep-fried pork with distinctly stringy tuna served on a slate (barely 2/10). Wild mushroom civet had surprisingly tasteless mushrooms in a red wine reduction that needed a lot more concentration to really add much flavour (barely 1/10). Our table happened to look out on to the little corridor separating the kitchen from the dining room, and it was not encouraging to see the waiter drop something at the pass and then replace it before bringing our dishes straight to our table.
The wine list had just over 200 wines, ranging in price from £19 to £850, with an average price of £69. The list was entirely French and mark-ups were fairly hefty at around 3.9 times retail price on average. We drank the very enjoyable Chapoutier "Le Bernadine" 2008 at £78 for a wine that retails at £27. My venison main course was fine, the braised venison in particular tender, served with parsnip and chocolate pulp with an artichoke macaroon (4/10). Glazed salmon and “marinated choucroute” (I was puzzled here: surely all choucroute is pickled?) was an odd dish. The salmon was over-salted though edible, but the choucroute was surprisingly lacking in taste (1/10). “Like a tatin” had a filo pastry base, some apple compote and vanilla ice cream: this was OK but filo pastry was a poor substitute for puff pastry in the tatin, though doubtless easier for the kitchen (2/10). Cheese was served fridge-cold.
I should emphasise that the staff were really nice throughout the meal, and the bill was adjusted to reflect the problem dishes. The sommelier in particular was knowledgeable and helpful. The adjusted bill was £62 a head, much of which was the nice bottle of wine that we ordered. Given the previous good meals I have eaten here, albeit not recently, this particular dinner was hard to explain. I hope it was an off-night. Coffee was fine, as was bread (mostly bought in from the Bread Factory).
The notes below are from a much happier meal in April 2005.
A basement, but one with a very high ceiling. At the far end is a wine cellar behind glass, and there are a couple of booths. There is also a love seat, and in general the atmosphere is romantic, with the lighting subdued, with spots picking out the centre of each table in a pool of light as at Hakkasan, though less well done. The clientele is definitely trendy – one blonde woman was wearing both a kimono and a tiara. Tables are a decent size for four, though I observed that a table for six just had two extra chairs stuffed in around the same table. The menu is tapas style. I had summer salad with mixed leaves and baby vegetables (4/10). This was followed by a small piece of sea bass pan-fried with a little beurre blanc; the fish was fresh and well timed, the sauce subdued (6/10). Next was roasted quail with sauce diable, the quail tenderly cooked and the sauce just a rich smear that did not overwhelm the delicate quail (6/10). Fillet of beef with mushroom duxelle was medium rare yet somewhat chewy, so presumably was not very well sourced (4/10).
Cheese is odd in that you choose and pay for each cheese individually. Camembert and Comte were good but the quantities were too big for a single cheese – much better to have a board and have a little of several (4/10). Tarte fine had good pastry, dessert apples and a fair vanilla ice cream (4/10). Coffee was of good quality (6/10). There is just one bread, a mini white loaf served warm and this was excellent (6/10). Service was flaky – they had lost my booking so I suppose I should be grateful to have got in at all given the place was completely full. Wine topping up was erratic, and getting attention also hit and miss. The wine list was good value, and with plenty of careful selections. Overall this was a very pleasant experience, and a fair price.