What’s on the menu at Circa – checking out the latest in fine dining

We all have our favourite dining spots and nothing provokes greater debate than the latest release of a TOP TEN restaurant list  – especially in Melbourne, arguably host city of the country’s best quality establishments. (of course, I live here…)

Circa, at The Prince in St Kilda, has long been held in high regard and is definitely in my Top Ten. (http://www.circa.com.au/) It’s undergone a reincarnation of sorts in the past eighteen months, since it was taken over by the Melbourne Pub Group. The vibe of the venue is now more relaxed, but the standard of dining far is still first-rate.

Circa Restaurant

Circa Restaurant

I was lucky enough to be invited to a special lunch this week, launching Circa’s new Spring Lunch menu. Under the guidance of MPG’s executive chef Stephen Burke, new chefs Ashly Hicks and Lyndon Tyers have produced a superb menu that’s also very affordable. This means you can enjoy lunch at one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, with two courses for $35 or three courses for $45. And yes, that includes a glass of wine.

The menu varies on the weekend, where the focus is more on seafood, so on Saturday and Sunday, the cost is $55.

Moet and Chandon champagne

Moet and Chandon champagne


The lunch on Wednesday was also sponsored by Moet and Chandon, so the bubbly was flowing freely in the courtyard before we sat down. Not many functions have free-flowing French these days, so I was in heaven before we even had a bite to eat.



Then we ventured into the restaurant where we were treated to a sample of what’s in store on the new menu. With every course, I had massive attacks of food envy, because I just wanted to eat everything in sight… Here’s how it went:

A choice of two items for entree….

Hand-picked spanner crab with avocado, lemonade fruit and wood sorrel

Hand-picked spanner crab with avocado, lemonade fruit and wood sorrel

Robata grilled Spencer Gilf prawns with pickled cucumber, daikon and bergamot

Robata grilled Spencer Gulf prawns with pickled cucumber, daikon and bergamot








Likewise, with the mains, it was difficult to pick which would be the tastier – suckling lamb or roasted Milawa duck? For me, the duck won hands down, not only with its colourful presentation, but the intricate flavours were more appealing than the more basic styling of the lamb.

Roasted Milawa duck with tangelo, endive and blackened seasoned onion

Roasted Milawa duck with tangelo, endive and blackened seasoned onion

Flinder's Island milk fed suckling lamb with roasted gem, yuzu and coriander

Flinder’s Island milk fed suckling lamb with roasted gem, yuzu and coriander

But every one has different tastes and you can tell from the smiles at our table, there were happy customers all round.

The Circa Spring Lunch launch

The Circa Spring Lunch launch

The chefs excelled themselves with the desserts – both stunning in presentation, like works of art – and such delicate, melt-in-the-mouth flavours, it’s left me counting the days till I can return for more. (The meringue slices on the cheesecake were unbelievably light)

Valrhona 'Manjari' chocolate mousse with mandarin, buttermilk custard and cookie crunch

Valrhona ‘Manjari’ chocolate mousse with mandarin, buttermilk custard and cookie crunch

Vanilla and L'Artisan fromage blanc cheesecake with toasted oats, yuzu custard and meringue

Vanilla and L’Artisan fromage blanc cheesecake with toasted oats, yuzu custard and meringue

What better way to finish off such a superb gastronomic experience than with a couple of Expresso Martinis? This is a favourite cocktail of mine and one I’m rather fussy about but Circa do it with style.

Expresso Martini

Expresso Martini

So if you’re wondering where to plan your next social catch up or business lunch, now you know where to head. A guaranteed delight. If you’d like a closer look at what’s on offer, here’s a copy of the latest lunch menu:

Circa's new lunch menu

Circa’s new lunch menu

Circa is at 2 Acland Street, St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia.
Ph – 9536 1122

The website is http://www.circa.com.au/

Opening hours are:
Mon-Sun, 12pm-Late

Rachael’s story about genetic testing for breast cancer – a blessing or a curse?


In case you’ve been living in a hole, October is BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH. I know – you knew that, didn’t you? How could you miss it? There’s been a spike in activity among fund-raising groups and it’s fantastic to see so many people getting involved and being supportive. But a few weeks ago, I over-heard some disappointing comments from a few people who have been infected with the dreaded Charity-Fatigue-Syndrome. (CFS) Yes, it’s easy to become blasé and say, ‘Oh no, not another event…’ when those invitations land on your desk, but now is NOT the time for complacency. Whereas breast cancer used to have a strike rate of one in fourteen women in Australia, it’s now risen to one in nine. Horrifying. ONE IN NINE!!!


Rachael Joiner

Rachael Joiner


For anyone complaining about CFS, I challenge you to listen to 36-year-old Rachael Joiner and still say you’re too tired to put your hand in your pocket. Rachael’s story is particularly moving because it highlights what she had to deal with even BEFORE she discovered she had breast cancer. I heard Rachael speak at a THINK PINK fund-raising lunch at the magnificent Circa restaurant in St Kilda last week. How confronting it must be, standing up in front of a large, social crowd and talking about your traumatic experience with cancer… yet Rachael, who is still recovering from her treatments and is in what she describes as ‘chemo shock’ was keen to support the THINK PINK cause.


So the CFS crew is having a bad-hair day and finding it tough to get to a function? Well, think about Rachael. She’s still unwell and a frequent visitor to the Peter MacCallum Institute. She is suffering from ovarian failure and is having issues with her thyroid not functioning properly as a result of chemotherapy treatments. Yet still she came.

Rachael was introduced by two-time breast cancer survivor Irene Hendel. Also the Chair and Founder of the Think Pink Living Centre, Irene and her husband David joined the Think Pink team twelve years ago. Irene’s greatest hope – to open a Living Centre for cancer patients in Melbourne – was realised in 2010.

Irene and David Hendel

Irene and David Hendel

The Centre gives people a place to go for support – both physical and psychological. On offer, there’s a bit of much-needed pampering – facials, free make-up and massages – or, if you like, meditation advice, pilates classes and even a wig library. For others, particularly younger women, there’s social opportunities and a chance to meet others their own age.

‘I was introduced to the Living Centre when I did the Day of Indulgence,’ said Rachael, as as she spoke to the packed venue. ‘This was prior to my chemo commencing. I checked out the wig library – just in case I needed it. But then going back to the Living Centre when I was bald was very hard. But I received very gentle and respectful support from everyone there in choosing my first wig, which I called the Russian Spy because it was a stylish black bob. I hadn’t really realised at the time how much the organisation could help me on every level.’

Rachael’s hair has now grown back, although she was surprised to find her new tresses darker and curly. She explained this is quite common among chemo patients. But chemo is tough. She said that after treatments, she’d look in the mirror and see a ghost of her former self. However, it was at the beginning of her experience that the THINK PINK Living Centre really made a difference.

‘The Living Centre supported me emotionally by connecting me to other women, especially other women of my own age that were in the same situation. They also offered me counselling and mediation. This provided me with the first feeling of calmness since my diagnosis.’

After her speech, I chatted with Rachael and was surprised to learn it was the first time she had spoken publicly. What a brilliant job she did! Not a shred of nerves in sight: a moving story told with humour, warmth and dignity.

I was also intruiged to learn that Rachael had taken the brave step of under-going genetic testing at the age of twenty-five – knowing there was a history of breast-cancer in her family. Genetic testing for breast cancer has been available in Melbourne since 2000. This meant she lived with the knowledge she may be diagnosed with the life-threatening disease at any moment. Ten years on and she was diagnosed at thirty-five.

The thought of living under such a threat makes me question the value of scientific knowledge. On one hand, of course it makes sense to know, but how does this impact on the way you live your day-to-day life? What is the price of knowledge? Would Rachael now recommend such testing to other young women?

‘It’s a big decision,’ she said. ‘I think it’s a very emotional and taxing journey.’

But ultimately, it’s what has saved her?

Rachael Joiner and nurse, Kathryn Wallace

Rachael Joiner and nurse, Kathryn Wallace

‘Yes, because they were monitoring me,’ said Rachael. ‘But it is a significant psychological burden to be carrying all that time, knowing that you’re likely to have cancer in the near future. And the trauma of going in for those observations on a regular basis.’ Rachael was first contacted about the THINK PINK Living Centre by nurse Kathryn Wallace, who also came to the lunch.

She admits it was almost a relief when the diagnosis came through. ‘It’s kind of like, I can stop worrying about WHEN it’s going to arrive and just deal with it.’ Rachael had a double mastectomy and reconstruction all at the same time. ‘It’s a massive operation and I’m still healing,’ she said. Yes, she was sad to lose her breasts, but knowing they were responsible for her illness made her, in one way, be glad to be rid of them.

The most important way THINK PINK has helped, is to introudce Rachael to other young women who have become close friends.

‘Oh yes, I have some amazing friends,’ she said. ‘We have very different issues to women who have gone through menopause. A lot of women haven’t had kids so fertility is a massive issue. The treatment is very hard for us, so it’s good to have other women to talk to and not feel so isolated and alone.’

‘We’ve started a monthly young women’s morning tea and I still go along to that. It’s open to anyone who wants to come along.’

Rachael has a partner who she says has been brilliant throughout, but says her new friends at THINK PINK also find relief in sharing stories about the strain cancer puts on most relationships. ‘It’s all challenging. Your world really does turn upside down and those that are there with you really are a part of that journey, so it’s a test of character strength and loyalty. I’m still in the process of recovery.’

Employed as a town planner, Rachael is working limited hours until she regains her full strength. Again, she credits THINK PINK with helping ease the pressures. ‘They’ve given me free massages. That really did help with the stress of it all, when I was very ill. And they’re just so welcoming.’

Dr Sally Cockburn and myself thanked the sponsors!

Dr Sally Cockburn thanked the sponsors!


The lunch was appropriately hosted by a doctor – one with a good sense of humour and persistence in rallying the crowd for funds. Known as Dr Feelgood on her 3AW radio spot, Dr Sally Cockburn says this is a regular gig for her. The Melbourne Pub Group generously donated the food; the superb champagne provided by Laurent-Perrier. And yes, I’m more than happy to give them a plug in return for their generosity.


If you haven’t done anything yet for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now’s the time. You can help THINK PINK to help other cancer patients (as they do so brilliantly) – by making a donation on-line at http://www.thinkpink.org.au/how-you-can-help/make-donation

Go on – you can do it!!!

The THINK PINK Living Centre Car

The THINK PINK Living Centre Car