When Harry’s Grill & Bar closed in Northernhay Place, it left available a prime spot for a restaurant. The inevitable march of Exeter’s chain restaurants had some worried that the site might be engulfed by some bland corporate named establishment…
Enter stage left: James and Rob, founders of Circa 1924, a 1920’s inspired Steak and Seafood Restaurant that is raising the bar for casual-fine dining in Exeter, with its Shoreditch like coolness and eye for excellent quality dining. Since they opened in May in Northernhay Place, they have been doing some excellent things with seafood and steak. I don’t normally analyse feedback, but if the image on the right is anything to go by, they must be doing something very right.
We visited on a Wednesday night, it was a school night, the city winding down after a busy hot day; the shops had closed but now it was the restaurant’s time to shine.
Based at 6 Northernhay Place just off the bustle and hustle of the High St, the restaurant features a rustic downstairs bar, serving cocktails, beer and wine. The interior is smattered with vintage antiquities, which help create the theme of ‘1924’ with dark wooden furniture and the grand wooden roof that arches over the diners in the restaurant upstairs.
As you walk past the rustic downstairs bar (inspired by the moonshiner bars of the prohibition era) and head up the stairs to the restaurant, the first thing you notice are the large shelves at the top of the stairs, adorned with top hats, vintage telephones and a lot of very nice looking wine in the cupboard underneath. The dark woods and black moleskin booths lay themselves out to straight lines with the till at the end of the restaurant.
The waiters were handsomely wearing waistcoats, not overly theatrical but subtle and efficient. Throughout the meal the service was unobtrusive and friendly.
The menu itself is presented as a typed and simple affair which fitted into the theme of the restaurant. It is printed in-house which gives head chef Lauri Hilli greater flexibility to change the menu depending on the season and weather. The ingredients, as expected, are locally sourced and of excellent quality with a lot of care being given to the selection of meat and seafood.
As well as the wine menu, there is a beer and cocktail menu, which I realised half way through eating that I hadn’t asked for. But as it was, the wines on offer were gorgeous and well selected vintages which worked well with what we chose to eat. Unless you’re into Cocktails or Beer Food matching, with food of this calibre I would stick to the epic selection of good wines Circa 1924 possess.
I would recommend checking out their website if you’re considering Circa 1924 as a place to dine as there is a lot of good information about the food and it is very personable.
We kicked off our meal with Spicy Peanut Chicken (with a rice noodle salad £7.50) which was presented tastefully. The rice noodle salad was chilled, presented in a slate bowl, with a warming dressing that worked nicely with the chicken. As usual, I ate this ungracefully and managed to get half of it on the table. The chicken, as expected was moist and very enjoyable.
I wanted to get a good impression of the sort of things that Circa 1924 can produce, so I went for their daily fish of the day. This changes from day-to-day, depending on what has been landed. Today it was Cod Loin (£14.50) which sounded perfect, and Tori went for a Rib-Eye (£19.50 a really good recommendation from our waiter Matt who sold it to us after we found that Rump wasn’t available). Our sides, which were separate, consisted of Triple Cooked Chips (£3.50) and Seasonal Steamed Vegetables (£4.00).
The Cod Loin flaked; it was tender and well cooked with an excellent taste. The butter created a delicious sauce with the seasoning, and with a dash of lemon the spectrum of flavour intensified. The steak was as flavourful and well-cooked as we had imagined it might be, the fats of the Rib Eye steak gave this piece of meat a really nice palette which worked well with the delightful peppercorn sauce (I am sure my wife is obsessed with peppercorn sauce). The triple cooked chips certainly get my award for ‘Nicest Chips in Exeter’, already seasoned with a bit of salt they were crunchy and moreish and generally bloody lovely.
Normally, at this stage of a meal, I have to start wondering whether I’ll fit dessert in. But on this occasion, there was no question that we were going to explore the Circa 1924 dessert menu.
Tori, who is obsessed with chocolate desserts, went for the Chocolate Truffle Torte (seasoned with chilli, served with frozen orange & cream £6.00), which inspired many noises of delight from the other side of the table. I went for the Lemon & Cream Cheese Tart (served upside down & topped with gingerbread crumble £6.00) which was smooth, creamy and everything in between.
Circa 1924 is a new concept for Exeter. Fine dining, with a casual themed twist, yet still using locally sourced quality ingredients in their dishes. The A La Carte menu was well portioned, and would be a good introduction to anyone who felt intimidated by the concept of A La Carte. The friendly and relaxed atmosphere doesn’t detract from the level of service that one would expect from a restaurant of calibre, and Circa 1924 is definitely here to give some well-established Exeter names a run for their money.
I would recommend this as a restaurant to consider for a special occasion, an anniversary or when the need for a blooming good steak is overwhelming. Let Circa 1924 step in and grill you some meaty magic.
6 Northernhay Place, Exeter, EX4 3QJ