Given where the Hippodrome is located, in the heart of Birmingham’s Chinatown, it would be easy for the Circle Restaurant to skip over the Vietnamese inspiration of its latest big blockbuster musical. Sure, Birmingham is not particularly well served for Vietnamese food, but there are enough East Asian eateries within skipping distance of the restaurant that many theatre goers could be forgiven for being sidetracked. However the Birmingham Hippodrome’s own AA Rosette Circle Restaurant has created a menu which combines a modern British menu with some surprising Vietnamese and East Asian inspired elements, in ode to Miss Saigon which is currently enjoying a run at the Hippodrome.
Opening two hours before the show, with the option to reserve a table and enjoy dessert during the interval, the Circle Restaurant overlooks the main entrance of the Birmingham Hippodrome, absorbing just enough of the pre-show excitement to add a little buzz to the dining experience, but not so overpowering that it detracts from the meal. But it has got an elegant, refined feel about it, the sort of thing you’d expect if you’re indulging in dinner and a show (as opposed to pick n mix and the latest blockbuster).
We sat down to tasters of all all four of the Act I dishes, also known as starters. A highlight for me was the white bean soup with basil pesto which was well seasoned and just the right density without being to heavy or creamy. The Vietnamese prawn summer rolls with sweet chilli sauce worked well as both a dish inspired by the musical and the season (that is, if we’d had much sun this summer); light, fresh and crunchy with a nice kick from the sweet chilli sauce, it was a pleasantly different type of starter.
Of the Act II mains, the modern British with Vietnamese/East Asian inspiration theme continues. The congenial pairing of the herbal and sweet from the honey-brushed confit of duck leg with celeriac purée, bok choi and star anise jus worked perfectly to create a delicious summer dish.Most surprising was the vegetarian yellow curry lentil scotch egg with asparagus & new potato salad, of which the lentils made up the traditional minced meat element, but worked surprisingly well. Honestly, it’s hard to pick a favourite of the taster mains because each of them had a lovely finesse to them without being overly gimmicky. But if I had to it would probably be the pan-seared fillet of coley with rice noodle, samphire, ginger and spring onion broth, because samphire is one of those things that ought to be on more menus, and as a sucker for sustainability seeing coley in place of cod makes me unreasonably happy. The pan-searing was executed beautifully, crisp skin coating flakes of white fish, sprinkled with samphire, lazing on the ginger and spring onion broth. It was simultaneously comforting and nourishing, whilst light and fresh.
With starters and mains done, it was off to see the first half of the show that had inspired the menu. Set in Vietnam, Miss Saigon tells the story of a doomed romance between a Vietnamese women and an American male soldier during the Vietnamese war in the 1970s, based on the opera Madame Butterfly. I knew little about the plot of the musical going in, but the production is a blistering and absorbing portrayal, heavy and intense with emotion and utterly captivating.
During the interval, instead of queuing up for the customary ice cream, we moved round to experience some of the meeting rooms attached to the Birmingham Hippodrome. Now I’ve used some of their rooms during my day job and I know they’re great spaces, but it was fantastic to see that they worked well for an evening meal – perfect if you’re looking for a spot of corporate hospitality. Or if you’re dining at the Circle Restaurant, you can reserve your table and enjoy refreshments there.
We tried tasters of the three dessert options on the Miss Saigon summer menu: matcha green tea panna cotta with kalamansi and sesame tuille; bitter chocolate tart with lychee, strawberry & mint compote; and poached peach & pistachio cake with raspberries and vanilla set custard. Ordinarily I’m not one to favour chocolate-based desserts but the bitterness of the chocolate tart really worked well to counterbalance the creaminess. The pistachio cake had a lovely bright green hue to it, with a nice nutty flavour but still pleasantly airy.
I’d never have thought to eat at the Circle Restaurant before seeing a show, usually I’m more a grab a plate of something of char siu from one of the local Cantonese places nearby. But with such an impressive show, like Miss Saigon, it’s worth the indulgence of making a night of it and treating yourself to dinner at the Circle Restaurant too. I’m looking forward to seeing what menu head chef Melissa Menns comes up with for the next show.
Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Southside
, Birmingham, B5 4TB
Disclaimer: The Hippodrome invited a bunch of Brum Bloggers to check out the Miss Saigon menu and show, in exchange for our thoughts on the menu. As ever all thoughts remain my own, including some pretty strong ones about sustainability…don’t ask me about transport.