Le Cirque Signature

5th Floor, The Leela Palace Bangalore, 23, Old Airport Road, Bangalore, 560008, India

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Le Cirque Signature is the European restaurant of the Leela Palace hotel in Bangalore, located on the fifth floor of the hotel. The dining room has large generously spaced tables and a big picture window looking out over the hotel grounds. The head chef for the last year has been Ranjan Rao, who previously worked in the Middle East at various establishments, including with Yannick Alleno at the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. The a la carte menu was extensive, with mostly Italian dishes, though officially it is “Franco Italian”. Ingredients are sourced partly locally and partly imported. For example many vegetables come from Thailand, whereas the chicken used is local while more exotic shellfish like scallops and langoustines are imported from Norway. Le Cirque was a famous restaurant in New York in its day, whose maitre d' Sirio Maccioni offered obsequious service to celebrities but notoriously bad service if you were not famous, as I discovered to my cost when I ate there. Le Cirque is currently relocating within New York, and now has branches or franchises in Las Vegas, Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai and this one in Bangalore. 

The wine list was fairly extensive. One aberration that can easily be fixed is that vintages are shown only for a few particularly expensive wines. This practice looks very out of place in what is clearly aiming to be an upmarket European restaurant, especially for wines from regions in Europe where the standard and price of wines varies dramatically from year to year. No one in their right mind is going to order a bottle of Yquem at ₹ 66,000 (£700), as it is here, without knowing the vintage. The list had labels such as Zonin Chianti at ₹4,500 (£48) for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, at ₹6,800 (£72) compared to its retail price of £12, and Kendall Jackson Vinter’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at ₹8,900 (£94) for a wine that will set you back £22 in a UK shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Antinori Solaia 2012 at ₹70,000 (£742) compared to its retail price of £180, and Mouton Rothschild 1999 at a fairly ridiculous ₹210,000 (£2,227) for a wine whose current market value is £469.

The meal began with an amuse bouche of a pair of thin, curly potato fritters shaped to resemble a swirl of pasta. One was topped with beluga caviar, one with a sliver of black truffle from Italy. This was a neat visual trick and, more importantly, a well-executed one. The potato was crisp and light, acting as a good earthy flavour base for the luxury ingredients of caviar and truffle (15/20). Bread was made in the kitchen, a choice of ciabatta, rosemary bread, multigrain and a flaky multigrain. The various breads had pleasant texture, though the rosemary bread needed more actual rosemary. 

Artichoke soup had two distinct sections, one of green asparagus and one of white asparagus. There was a garnish of a few blobs of sauté potatoes adding some texture. The soup had quite good flavour, lightly seasoned and served piping hot (14/20). Scallops were served on a base of Puy lentil “cassoulet” along with spears of green asparagus wrapped in bacon, with a thin prosciutto tuile as garnish. The star element was the base, the lentils cooked in chicken stock with bacon and having excellent texture and deep flavour. The scallops themselves were lightly cooked but inevitably lacked the inherent sweetness of a high-quality diver caught scallop that is fresh rather than frozen, as these were. The tuile was delicate and the asparagus was a useful extra element. I would score this dish at least one point higher if the scallop had been better but I understand that it is impractical to get live scallops here (15/20). Perhaps they would be better to just focus on locally available ingredients; India has no shortage of fish and shellfish.

Spaghetti primavera (which sounds a little odd in December rather than spring, but clearly in Asia the vegetables are growing in hot conditions all year round) has pasta that was dried and imported rather than made from scratch in the kitchen, though some of the other pastas are made here. The cooking was accurate, the spaghetti itself a little thicker than is usual, topped with a mix of vegetables including broccoli, courgette, asparagus, peas and sun-dried tomato. Pine nuts added an extra flavour note, the vegetables cooked a touch longer than you might find in Italy but still perfectly OK (14/20). Even better was risotto with black truffle pesto and additional truffle slices, made with vialone nano rice, a medium grain rice that is actually a cultivar of Japonica, grown around Verona. It is an alternative to the more common carnaroli and Arborio rice most commonly used to make risotto. The rice was very well cooked, having nicely absorbed the good chicken stock that it was cooked with, and had excellent texture. I am not sure what a couple of nasturtium leaves as garnish really added. The Italian black truffles were preserved but had pleasant flavour, and overall this was a surprisingly classy risotto (16/20).

At this stage there was a palate cleanser of strawberry sorbet, a notion I thought had died out in the 1980s. It was a perfectly serviceable sorbet, but it seems to be more logical to put something like this after the main course and before dessert, as switching from savoury to sweet and back again is rather jarring. Prawns from Kochin in Kerala were grilled and served with confit artichoke, fennel, courgette, dill and sun-dried tomatoes, with a bouillabaisse sauce. Many prawns these days are disappointing, but these were large and tender, with good natural sweetness. The sauce, made with shellfish shells, had good intensity, though again the vegetables could have been cooked a touch less (14/20).

Chicken was a local bird, roasted and served with carrot cream, black garlic, Boulangere style potatoes that had been cooked in stock, and shallots cooked with balsamic vinegar. The chicken itself had good flavour but was cooked a touch longer than ideal, but I was impressed with the potatoes, which had excellent texture and had nicely absorbed the stock that they were cold in (14/20). A polite veil is best cast over a side dish of rather leathery baby potatoes, while glazed carrots with hazelnuts were cooked too long (barely 11/20). 

For dessert, apple tarte tatin used Granny Smith apples and pastry made from scratch in the kitchen. The apples were nicely caramelised though I have eaten better pastry, while the vanilla ice cream has good texture but would have benefitted from more vanilla pods. Still, it was a very enjoyable dessert (14/20). Coffee was from Lavazza and came with a little tray of petit fours. A selection of ice creams were fine, having pleasant flavour and smooth texture.

Service was very attentive and friendly, and the drinks topping up was good. The bill came to ₹9,766 (£103) with a nice bottle of wine between two. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be around £65 all in. Overall this was a pleasant meal, the risotto in particular showing that the kitchen has some skill.

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