This was a second visit to Circles. The last time we came, we enjoyed the experience – fresh seafood, good service – and so we wanted to see if they were still around.
Luckily for us, they were not affected by the pandemic but the bubble tea shop below their restaurant was shut. So was the convenience store, and therefore at first glance it looked like the place was no more. But the neons on the side was still on, so we decided to give it a go and went to the second floor nevertheless.
Despite the small place, they still had their live seafood tanks that you picked from all those different variety of seafood and shellfish for your dinner table later.
Another ritual, you need to make your own concoction of condiments to go with the seafood. Remember that most of them will only be cleaned and then steamed so you may need some condiments.
This may sound disgusting at first, but fish intestines are crunchy and not fishy at all. They are usually blanched in hot water and then pickled in soy sauce and vinegar, like this one from Circles. And you need a big fish to produce intestines like this.
Female mud crab was steamed and then marinated in Shaoxing yellow wine before it was chopped to pieces for plating. My favourite part was the shell, where all those roe resided. The yellow wine has flavoured the roe and transformed the texture from sandy to sticky. It’s like eating mochi at this stage but not as elastic.
When seafood is fresh, the best way to enjoy it is simply steaming it. And how much fresher can it get, especially if all the seafood tonight was just swimming happily in their tanks just before cooking. This is not your usual home steamer. The steam that was coming out was pressurised to increase the temperature so the cooking time can be reduced. The tiger prawns took only 5 mins to be cooked right before our eyes. It was a horrific sight as you witnessed the executive of live prawns in the steam.
Everything was forgotten once the steamed tiger prawns were served. The sweetness of the prawns and the umami from the head cream were out of this planet. And for added kick, you can dip them into the condiments, but that was totally unnecessary.
Next up as we worked through the prawns, assorted clams and whelks were placed into the steamer and again 5 min later, you got a plate of natural goodness. The sea snails needed some condiments as they were quite bland on their own, but the manila clams and venus clams were sweet.
After the au natural seafood, the next two required some help from the condiments. First up, squids with mung bean noodles were seasoned with a seafood sauce made up of soy sauce, a bit of white vinegar and chicken stock. The mung bean noodles, aka tunghoon, soaked up all the sauces for a good eat. The squids were full of creamy white innards, which are the sexual organs of the squids. In Western cuisines, these were thrown away. For us, these were what we were looking for.
And then razor claims with fried shallots and garlic. The last time we were here, it was overcooked. It has happened again 🙁 It seemed the compressed steam was too much for the easily cooked razor clams. Usually in a hotpot, it took only 5 sec cook time. So anything more than a minute was overkill.
This was our favourite the last time we were here, and we ordered it again. Steamed egg custard with crab meat and roe was completed in two steps, first the egg custard was made like a chawanmushi. Then once the egg custard was 80% cooked, a liberal amount of crab meat and roe was added on top and steamed for another 5 min.
The price was a bargain given the amount of crab meat and roe that they have put on the egg custard.
We ordered a live king crab as they were doing a promotion. The whole crab was cleaned and steamed, first the legs, and then the rest fo the claws and shells.
Steamed king crab legs were the best – sweetness and umami overdose. Unfortunately it was not the mating season, so the crab did not have roe.
We had shellfish, crustaceans but we were still missing fish. So we ordered a steamed common grouper that was farmed. I was not a fan of wild caught groupers as they could be quite big and therefore the flesh would be chunky and not as tender.
Mama said you have to have greens with each meal, so we order loofahs with XO sauce.
Finally, the piece de resistance, the moment we all have been waiting for – the seafood porridge at the bottom of the cauldron. Rice and some stock were added on the bottom cauldron. Steaming produced all those water vapours that not only provided additional moisture but also cooked the porridge at the same time. All the flavours of the different seafood were incorporated into the porridge. So at the end of the meal, you have a really flavourful pot of porridge.
The service was still as good. The food was one of the better ones in Shanghai. The price point remained reasonable. I hope I could come back again soon and not wait for another 2 years.
Tel : 021-62299396
Date Visited : Apr 2019