Le Cirque: The Greatest Culinary Show on Earth
Beloved New York restaurant Le Cirque finds a new home in the Middle East, where it’s unique 40-year-old ethos as New York’s swankiest restaurant is reimagined for a new era.
In 1970s New York, Sirio Maccioni, the longtime maître d’ of the Colony Club — the famous Park Avenue haunt for society swans like Lee Radziwill, C.Z. Guest, Babe Paley and Jackie Onassis — decided to strike out on his own. Infusing his Tuscan roots with his French training (he did stints at Maxim’s and the Plaza Athénée in Paris), Maccioni opened Le Cirque in Manhattan.
A Well-Heeled History
Given his 15 years of experience amassing a loyal and well-heeled clientele at the Colony, it didn’t take long for the restaurant to join the roster of preferred hangouts (La Grenouille and La Côte Basque among them) of society’s crème de la crème. During its 44-year history (it closed at the end of 2017, though the Maccioni family announced plans to relocate later this year to the Upper East Side), Le Cirque welcomed the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, Pope John Paul II, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Andy Warhol.
Plus, the food was top-notch. Maccioni brought on talented chefs like Bill Telepan, David Bouley, Jacques Torres, and Daniel Boulud — all of whom would go on to become stars in the dining world. He then expanded — to Las Vegas, Mumbai, New Delhi and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. He also entrusted his sons Mauro, Mario and Marco to open an Italian sister restaurant, Circo, and expand that all around the world.
The Evolution of a Culinary Institution
It only made sense that Maccioni — a man who built a culinary empire inspired by theatricality and showmanship — would look to Dubai for his latest expansion. In this glittering city of extravagance and glamour, Le Cirque is right at home. In the spring of 2017, Le Cirque officially opened its grand doors at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre. Master interior designer Adam Tihany (who designed the New York restaurant when it moved to the Bloomberg Building in 2006) was commissioned to create the space. “I wanted to suggest magical moments of a circus through dreamlike details,” he says. “The Fellini-esque effect is that of watching circus acts bordering on the outrageous.” Sculptures by Jeff Koons and David Gerstein also help with that vision while adding some art-world cachet.
A New Chef Takes the Helm
But true to its core, world-class yet unpretentious food remains the top priority. For that, the Maccioni family went to Wesley Tyron Berghoff, a chef with a knack for turning everything he touches to critically acclaimed gold. Born in South Africa, he discovered his career path when he was only six years old after watching his first episode of British celebrity cook Keith Floyd’s show. “I never looked back,” says Berghoff, who went on to train under chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Jason Atherton. “Each of them showed me the true beauty of our craft and the transformation of amazing raw ingredients into works of art.” In 2010, he moved to Dubai to become head chef at the Atlantis Hotel’s Seafire restaurant. A year later, it was voted best steakhouse by Time Out. When he moved to the hotel’s seafood restaurant, Ossiano, it won Best Restaurant Middle East at the Middle East Hotel Awards. When he became head chef at Marco Pierre White’s eponymous restaurant in Abu Dhabi, it was soon awarded best steak restaurant by What’s On magazine.
Now, Berghoff has the task of recreating Le Cirque’s New York classics — like the pasta primavera, crème brulée and black bass in Barolo sauce — while also giving the menu a Dubai-appropriate spin through elements like table-side service of dishes, including Dover sole amandine and crêpe suzette.
“Here we strive to give our guests a relaxed but refined experience,” he says. “We aim at delivering good, honest food. There is nothing on our menu that is overly pretentious — we’ll cook classic French and Italian recipes, but redefined.”