Talk about feast or famine for Cirkus. The restaurant from chef Julien Joré opened in late October and waited the long winter out with nary a review. Now, in the span of less than a week, it has managed to nab two. First there was this rave from Jean-Philippe Tastet in which the Devoir critic called the Plateau restaurant a "petit bijou." Now Lesley Chesterman has filed her own review in the Gazette.
The critic acknowledges Cirkus's underdog status at the outset: "Walking past the restaurant’s street-facing windows during the brunch service one recent Saturday, I saw a few tables occupied, which depressed me no end considering the lineups at the many grungy brunch haunts in the neighbourhood." Ah, the trials and tribulations of small, chef-owned restaurants in Montreal. As Chesterman notes, the previous restaurant in Cirkus's space, Pyrus, faced similar obstacles.
On the service front, Chesterman is completely charmed by waitress Bérangère Breulot (as was Tastet), whom she calls "an absolute star." The front-of-house is clearly in good hands. But what about the food? Joré's cuisine can border on the elaborate, even precious, at times. Chesterman applauds the chef's plates as "artistic" and "ambitious" but Joré's approach seems at odds with the room and service vibe. Still, Chesterman likes "a lot" of the kitchen's offerings. Notable starters include a beet duo with mascarpone-filled ravioli and gnocchi with wild mushrooms and chives. The star of the show, however, is a main dish — a guinea hen sugar shack riff: "The breast was seared and served on a bed of braised endive. The whole is surrounded by swirls of celery root purée and maple syrup, and the crowning glory was a large slice of foie gras. Heaven!"
Stéphanie Labelle's desserts impress less. Chesterman, always a stickler for well-executed sweets, describes two as "surprisingly lacklustre" and cites a preference for Labelle's creations at Rhubarbe, the pastry chef's shop around the corner. Happily though, the overall verdict is positive for Cirkus: "I worry that this restaurant might be going through a bit of an identity crisis, and yet I’m pulling for them because what’s good here is very good and the effort and talent in every morsel is undeniable." Two and a half starts on four.