CIRCO (Formerly Señor Buddha)
Almost a year ago, Señor Buddha popped up along the somewhat degenerate parade of shops in Preston Road to inject some new life into the street. The brainchild of owner Lee Shipley, Señor Buddha is a celebration of two popular cuisines fused together: Spanish tapas fused with East Asian influence. Since its arrival, it has become a popular spot for the experimental foodies and those looking for something a little different. I kept promising myself we’d check it out, especially as it’s not too far from us, and after seeing more and more mentions across social media I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and we needed to go.
We arrived just before 19:30 to find almost every table full already. If you’ve never been past, Señor Buddha is a tiny little space with only four tables and seats around the bar where you can watch the tapas being made before your eyes, so I’d say booking on a 2-4-1 night is essential. We were seated at the bar, and directed to the large menu on the wall.
A glass of the white Rioja told me everything I needed to know about the rest of the wine menu here, and I now trust that the rest of their selection (mainly Spanish) is equally splendid. If it weren’t for the lack of space in the restaurant, I’d want to stop by for a glass or two just as an after work wind-down.
Complete novices, we ordered and hoped for the best: duck legs with pea purée and crispy shallots, salt and pepper calamari, grilled asparagus in miso sauce topped with watercress and manchego, and a potato and caper tortilla.
The calamari is served on a generous smudge of quid ink, and the once very fussy child in me is always a little nervous about unconventional food and dressings, so I really didn’t know what to expect from it. If anything, the way I’d describe it is pleasantly salty, which made a tasty accompaniment to the calamari – which, by the way, tasted so fresh! No stringiness or chewiness here, and the batter wasn’t overdone either. Properly pleasing, and very moreish.
Duck legs – soo yum. Crispy seasoned skin on the outside, with beautifully tender meat on the inside. I attacked mine until there was nothing edible left on the bone and then stole some of Brandon’s skin (sorry if you’re not a skin eating fan). I’m not really big on peas but the purée really didn’t taste like I thought it would, it was slightly sweet and creamy and I found myself mopping most of that up with my duck. And the crispy shallots? I could have eaten a whole bowl of them to myself.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the potato and caper tortilla at all, and I’ve never had a Spanish omelette before, but it looked a little like a slice of one of those – with layers and rigidity similar to that of potato dauphinoise. With a contrast of different textures, firm potato with crispiness on top and layers of creaminess in between, and a kicking sauce underneath, it created something quite special.
Finally, the grilled asparagus. Saved until last because you’d probably assume the plate of veggies was the least spectacular, right?! Oho, what a dark horse! Good grief, there is really something about grilled asparagus in tapas dishes, because I really don’t care for it in my own home. The whole plate was bursting with a contrast of flavours that worked wonderfully – salty and earthy asparagus, peppery watercress, sweet manchego cheese, complex sweet/salty miso sauce and the most gorgeous fruity little tomatoes (I think!? They were so fruity it’s hard to tell). The overall effect was a crunchy flavour party and I think the best dish of the evening. Seriously, look out for this one.
We rounded the tapas off with a scoop of Boho Gelato each – chocolate and ginger for me, lychee and mint for Brandon, with much swapping taking place using the lychee and mint to cool down the ginger spice in our throats! Depending on your tastes, both were delicious although I don’t know that the chocolate and ginger is for everyone. I loved it, however.
A third place?
Señor Buddha hit all the spots as far as the food and wine was concerned, and I loved the happy chaos of the eating experience. The plates arrive as and when they’re ready and much plate swapping takes place so you can try a bit of everything at all once. Sitting at the bar, we had the added bonus of watching Lee cook an array of other dishes and got to ask a load of nosey questions about what he was making. The deep-fried ham hock looks absolutely insane and is drizzled with a fish caramel sauce, so we both made a note to order this next time as we watched him drizzle the already sweetened pork with caramel. Whilst incredibly busy in the kitchen, he finds time to engage in conversation about food, family, Brighton and even pulls out rare herbs for you to taste. You can really tell how much he cares about his cooking and ingredients, and how much he wants to share that with you too.
The ship was run tightly across just Lee and Cristina, with Lee cooking up a storm non-stop and sharing his knowledge, and Cristina hosting, serving, garnishing plates and also running social media. It was a delight to be a part of it, and you can’t help but find your head turning from side to side as you watch them both work.
Señor Buddha is definitely a third place to introduce to someone special whether friends, family or dates and manages to create a lightly intimate atmosphere amongst the pace of it all.
You can find out more about Señor Buddha by checking their website out here.
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