Total Salads’ verdict: Circle Café is an excellent place for anyone who loves salads. They have an impressive salad menu with 23 salads to choose between and very generous portions. The salads here are not just an afterthought tacked onto the menu – they are creative, well-balanced and varied. Circle Café has thought of everything – the salads are chopped which makes them easier to eat, the salad dressing is served on the side in little jugs so that diners can control how much dressing they want to use, and almost all of their salads have some kind of protein component to make them filling and satisfying meals. They also have plenty of gluten-free options clearly marked on the menu. Circle Café adjusts its menu every 6 months, which allows them to keep on top of the latest health trends and also to keep their food seasonal (the next menu change is due in April 2015). With 23 salads on their menu, there are at least 23 good reasons to eat at Circle Café.
Restaurant: Circle Café
Location: I visited the Jumeirah Beach Park Plaza branch in Dubai. Circle Café currently has several branches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. They also offer delivery and take-away services.
Price Range: Salads are priced from AED35 to AED54 (you can add your favorite superfood seeds for AED3 – flax, pumpkin, sunflower). Fresh smoothies and juices are priced from AED26-AED28. They have a delicious fruit salad for AED20.
There is no denying it – Circle Café is a warm and welcoming place to sit and eat. It’s like going over to your friend’s house for lunch – if your friend has really good eclectic taste in interior design. I don’t know about you, but I have my eye on that large distressed wooden table (pictured above), although I don’t think I could sneak that out without being noticed.
Circle Café’s atmosphere is inviting thanks to their well thought out and beautifully decorated space. There are some nice rough organic surfaces like the aforementioned large distressed wood table and slate chalkboards with little messages scribbled on them. There is a ladder in one corner masquerading as a bookshelf and another wall is dedicated to books.
These homely features are counter-balanced well with bright white chairs and tables scattered amongst the more rustic elements of the cafe. There is also a huge wall of glass on one side facing the sea with lots of natural light flooding the room. It just works – it makes you want to sit and take your time. It’s the type of place where you will order one extra coffee just to find an excuse to stay a little longer.
Earlier this week, I was invited to come to Circle Café to try their salads and to go behind the scenes into their kitchen with Executive Chef Kamal to learn his tips and tricks for making a delicious salad.
BEHIND THE SCENES – A COOKING LESSON WITH EXECUTIVE CHEF KAMAL
The cooking lesson began with me putting on a hairnet and some gloves (good for hygiene, bad for photos!).
Chef Kamal has been working at Circle Café for 3 years and puts a lot of thought into each of the salads he creates. For my salad-making lesson, I was looking forward to making the Kale Salad and The Family Salad. Here are some tips and tricks which I picked up while making salads with the Chef.
– Prepare your ingredients in advance: Preparation is the key to being able to pull together an interesting salad quickly. This means washing, chopping and roasting your ingredients in advance. As soon as I saw the salad area in the kitchen, I could tell that a fair amount of time had been spent getting all the ingredients prepped for the day. Restaurants will prepare ingredients fresh every day, but for us home cooks we can keep our prepared ingredients in the refrigerator and dip into them throughout the week. Washed lettuce stays fresh for several days in the refrigerator in a crisper or wrapped in kitchen towels. Most hardy vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers can be washed and stored in the refrigerator as well. Roasting vegetables may seem like a hassle, but it’s very easy and they stay fresh in the refrigerator for several days after cooking. You simply need to chop them, toss them in olive oil and salt, and roast them at 200C/400F for 20-60 minutes (depending on what you are roasting and the size of the pieces).
– People like salads to be chopped: Yes, it’s true – people like their salads like to be chopped. Follow Circle Café’s example and chop your ingredients into bite-size pieces or smaller. No one wants to tuck into a salad and grapple with an oversized lettuce leaf. Chopping makes your salad easier to eat and also allows each bite to be slightly different as various combinations of ingredients make it onto your fork each time. Some ingredients, like avocado and cheese, should only be chopped at the last minute.
– Organization will save you time: Circle Café’s salad area is very well organised, with all the ingredients laid out in separate containers. At home, make sure that once you’ve prepared your ingredients, you organise them into separate containers and bowls in the refrigerator for easy access.
– Increase the nutritional value by adding seeds: Circle Café gives diners the option to add superfood seeds into their salad for a nutritional boost. For home cooks, remember that a salad is a great place to toss a handful of nutritious seeds. Nuts and dried fruit are also great options.
– Add protein to make a salad more filling: I noticed that all of the salads on Circle Café’s menu (except for one) had some form of protein in it. Protein is what turns a salad from a nice side dish to a delicious filling main meal. Sources of protein include cheese, quinoa, beans, seafood, chicken and meat.
– Have an amazing dressing: Even the dullest salad can be lifted with a great salad dressing. Here are two delicious salad dressing recipes shared by Chef Kamal: Dijonette Dressing and Italian Balsamic Dressing (recipes below).
Chef Kamal’s Dijonette Dressing
Blend all these ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth:
750ml virgin olive oil
100ml lemon juice
150g Dijon mustard
40g chopped raw onion
Chef Kamal’s Italian Balsamic Dressing
Blend all these ingredients in a blender or food processor or shake in a jar with a lid:
750ml virgin olive oil
250ml balsamic vinegar
Circle Café has lots of healthy options on their menu. They have a variety of fresh smoothies and juices to suit any mood. We started off by ordering some vibrant colorful juices (AED26-28) (clockwise from top): Orange, Go Green (apple, cucumber, celery, mint), Good Day (carrot, ginger, orange), and Kale Lemonade (kale, ginger, apple, lemon juice).
Circle Café has an impressive list of 23 salads on their menu, each one very different from the next. It was difficult for me to choose which ones to try because I wanted to try them all, so I left the decision up to the Chef. He chose two popular salads: Kale Salad and The Family Salad. Both were very fresh, varied and creative. The Kale Salad was delicious but for me The Family Salad had the edge thanks to the grilled chicken and Burrata cheese (it was so tasty that I almost didn’t need to add the salad dressing).
Kale Salad (AED48) has kale, rocca leaves, avocado, roasted pumpkin, goat cheese and walnuts with Dijonette dressing.
The Family Salad
The Family Salad (AED 46) has mixed lettuce, rocca, roasted pumpkin, beetroot, Burrata cheese and grilled chicken with Italian balsamic dressing.
Rosewater Pomegranate Lychee Salad
Fruit salads are where a lot of restaurants lose points, but Circle Café’s Rosewater Pomegranate Lychee Salad was beautiful, creative, delicious and modern. This generous portion of exotic fruits came in a fragrant light juice with ice cubes and blanched almonds for some added crunch and was beautifully presented in a jar.
SHARE YOUR OPINION: If you have eaten at Circle Café, share your experience in the comment section below.
TOTAL SALADS’ FINAL VERDICT
Circle Café is an excellent place for anyone who loves salads. They have an impressive salad menu with 23 salads to choose between and very generous portions. The salads here are not just an afterthought tacked onto the menu – they are creative, well-balanced and varied. Circle Café has thought of everything – the salads are chopped which makes them easier to eat, the salad dressing is served on the side in little jugs so that each diner can control how much dressing she wants to use, and all of their salads have some kind of protein component to make them filling and satisfying meals. They also have plenty of gluten-free options clearly marked on the menu. Circle Café adjusts its menu every 6 months, which allows them to keep on top of the latest health trends and also to keep their food seasonal (the next menu change is due in April 2015). With 23 salads on their menu, there are at least 23 good reasons to eat at Circle Café.
Full disclosure: I was invited to Circle Café with one guest. All content reflects my honest opinion.