CIRCA THE PRINCE – HOP HARVEST DEGUSTATION

2 Acland St 
St Kilda, VIC 
3182
http://www.circa.com.au/
So I while back, I found a very interesting email sitting in my inbox, inviting me to a Hop Harvest Degustation. It didn’t take a genius to work out that this was a combination of beer tasting and fine dining at Circa the Prince, and despite not being much of a beer fan, I was eager to learn more about the golden brew, and any food is good food in my books. I am SO there. 
Photo Courtesy of SUPPLIED
Spanner Crab Cracker with Avocado and Crayfish Emulsion/Duck Liver Parfait with Brioche and Pepper Gel
There was no messing around with these guys; the moment we stepped into the intimate dining room festooned with bushels of flowers and plants, we were handed a tall, frothy goblet of James Squire 150 Lashes Pale Ale. Well, everyone else was, but I was more than a little under the weather that day, and opted instead for a glass of water. I was told afterwards that it was light and malty – very easy drinking.
To go with the beer were roving platters of canapés, including a delicate Spanner Crab Cracker with Avocado and Crayfish Emulsion in a crisp wafer shell, and an oily Duck Liver Parfait with Brioche and Pepper Gel that melted sweetly in the mouth. 
Photo Courtesy of SUPPLIED
Once we were all settled in front of our beautifully presented menus, our hosts for the night introduced themselves. To call them beer enthusiasts would be putting it lightly. Peter, the master brewer, will judge 60 different beers at a brewing competition, before heading down to the pub for a pint. Tim, aka the beer pilgrim, spends his days travelling the country in search of not only a good brew, but also ways of using hops, the key ingredient of beer, in new and interesting ways. Think hops bruschetta and hops sausages.  Their passion was palpable.
Heritage Beetroots Roasted in Hops with Barley Curd and Malted Onions
Our starter was a light but intricate starter of Heritage Beetroots Roasted in Hops with Barley Curd and Malted Onions. Beyond the soft, sweet chunks of beetroot were malty crisps of onion and granules of toasted barley, held together with hops-infused curd. Though delicate, the dish had a substantial earthiness to it that managed to hold the pungency of the hops.
To go with our first course were two beers – a light and malty Beck’s, and a sharper, herbaceous bottle of Urquell
Between courses I munched through warm rolls of bread, slathered in salted butter with a sprinkle of black truffle. I wasn’t entirely sold on the mild butter, but I found the dark, heavily baked rolls to be different but very enjoyable, its smokiness almost coffee-like in aroma.  
Blue Cod with Summer Leeks, Truffle and Roasted Hop Broth
The entree – Blue Cod with Summer Leeks, Truffle and Roasted Hop Broth – was more substantial than it looked. The firm, white fish swam in a broth reminiscent of wild spinach, intermingling with sweet summer leek and a segment of juicy mushroom.  It was a warm dish, despite the delicate flavours.
Spitfire Kentish Ale/James Squire The Constable Copper Ale
I had a great experience with the beers paired up with this course – James Squire The Constable Copper Ale, and Spitfire Kentish Ale, both British in origin. Whilst they both started off sweet, the James Squire left a crisp citric aftertaste, whilst the Spitfire quickly turned bitter yet refreshing. However the truly remarkable change occurred after the cod, with both beers becoming miraculously clean and dewy, accompanying the firm fish perfectly. 
Robbins Island Wagyu with Mustard, Marrows and Onion Juice
I was really looking forward to the main of Robbins Island Wagyu with Mustard, Marrows and Onion Juice, and the flavours lived up to the elegant visuals. The exquisitely medium-rare wagyu was tender and clean, soaking up the caramelised fragrance of the roasted onions. Best of all was the rich, tangy dollop of mustard and marrow sauce, bringing out all the fattiness of the beef. 
As promised, the beers became heavier as the meal progressed. The well known Little Creatures Pale Ale was a harmonious balance of sweet and bitter, with a strong, floral scent of roses. The Knappsteine Reserve was much more showy than the Little Creatures, it’s sweet tropical flavours balanced out with a bold bitterness. 
Chocolate Mousse with Cherries, Cocoa and Shortbread
There was no way a dessert of Chocolate Mousse with Cherries, Cocoa and Shortbread could go wrong. On a backdrop of thick, rich mousse was a potpourri of ingredients, from loud biscuit crumbs, to dollops of cream, and even whole blueberries and cherries. This ticked all the boxes – flavour, texture, and fun all in one. 
Feral Hop Hog
But what sort of beer does one serve with dessert? After an entire meal learning the virtues of balancing sweet and bitter, I thought I could guess, and I wasn’t too far from the mark. The Seven Sheds St Ella IPA was malty, but packed a guttural punch of bitter hops. The Feral Hop Hog was along the same lines, but more refreshing than the Seven Sheds thanks to the bitter pine aroma infused into it. They’re not my cup of tea, but I definitely get the appeal. 
Photo Courtesy of SUPPLIED
There was a lot of boozing going on throughout the night, but it was a very classy affair, despite what you may think 9 different beers and a crowd may equal. The food was enjoyable and very well thought out to complement the beers, though the portions were miniscule. Granted, I was probably the only person in the room who wasn’t sloshing with fluid by the end of the night. But most importantly, the two hours I spent with Peter and Tim at Circa the Prince served to change my opinion on beers entirely. I am definitely sold on the idea of matching beers with food; it is no longer a child to be put to bed so the adults can talk, but has a solid place at the table with the wines. Though I probably won’t partake, ever since that incident with the sangria and the almost-throwing-up (and that was just ONE glass), I hope to see beers accompanying meals in the near future as more than just a pre-meal refreshment.
Rating: 13/20 – beer – all grown up.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Circa the Prince.

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Modern Australian  Mr. Moneybags ($45 Plus)  St Kilda  Victoria 



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