Iâ€™ve heard so much about the slow-roasted beef belly at Cirkulo that itâ€™s almost become an urban legend with me. Then a special family occasion presents itself and I find myself face to face with THE belly.
Beef belly, also known as shortplate is where short ribs come from as well as skirt steak rolls, beef cubes and ground beef. An entire belly weighs between 4-5 kilos but is only 2-3 inches at its thickest. The belly is prized for its well-distributed marbling. A tough cut that makes it perfect for slow cooking, the meat transforms into a quivering slab of bovine bliss.
At Cirkulo, the beef belly (P645) is crusted with a trinity of salt, pepper, and garlic and then roasted for five hours in a slow oven. Itâ€™s then sliced across the grain and presented with haricot verts, a baby carrot, portabello mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes. I mistakenly spear my fork into the beef and watch as it falls apart. The fat has cooked down leaving just a whisper of fat, the meat glistens, and in my mouth, the meat seems to tremble ever so slightly before giving itself up. I sigh as only the content can.
Cochinillo asado (P2,000/P4,000 â€“ half/whole) is another dish that Cirkulo is known for. A roasted suckling pig, itâ€™s sometimes so tender that it can be cut with a saucer. While we werenâ€™t witness to any saucer-slicing episodes, the cochinillo is presented at table before being portioned in the kitchen. The skin is not as crunchy as a regular lechon, although the cochinillo is served with a similar liver-based sauce.
This paella montaÃ±a (P545) reminds me of risotto. A change from the usual tomato-based paellas, this one is more subdued with portabello mushrooms, whole roasted garlic cloves, asparagus spears, and a drizzle of truffle oil.
Croquetas (P97) are filled with potatoes mashed to a silky-smooth consistency that no teeth are required, just tongue. Pushing and pulsing and leaving it on the roof of my mouth, these croquetas are one step away from obscene.
I see these all the time in Mediterranean restaurants. A popular tapas dish, these are called hojaldre at Cirkulo. Stuffed with spinach, I was surprised to find that there was also blue cheese in here. Its characteristic pungency was absent.
Moving from back to front, these little bruschetta are what start off the meal at Cirkulo: a simple trio of roasted garlic, feta cheese and pureed tomato.
900 Pasay Rd., Makati