Circo by New York’s famous Maccioni Group opens in Abu Dhabi

Circo, a new circus-themed Italian restaurant, is finding ways to stand out in the the culinary crowd.

The Circo restaurant opened to a full house at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
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Circo by New York’s famous Maccioni Group quietly made its Middle East debut at the ­InterContinental Abu Dhabi, the third branch after NYC and Las Vegas.

“Dubai is a great tourist mecca,” says Mauro Maccioni. “But Abu Dhabi is no longer so much the second fiddle. It’s come to prominence. This is a wonderful place to be. The people are so wonderful and they appreciate quality food.”

It’s all in the family

Mauro is the youngest of the three brothers, who run the business with their parents Sirio and Egidiana. The family is also behind New York’s iconic French restaurant and celebrity hangout Le Cirque, which opened 40 years ago. The Maccionis now have 10 restaurants around the world and are hinting at the possibility of bringing their flagship restaurant Le Cirque to Dubai.

At Circo in Abu Dhabi, the menu offers traditional Italian cuisine that is inspired by the Maccioni matriarch Egidiana and her cooking. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes are also her personal recipes. The Ravioli Mamma Egi is Egidiana’s ricotta and spinach ravioli dish. Also available is her Zuppa Frantoiana – a classic Tuscan minestrone made with more than 20 vegetables.

A twist on the traditional

Circo Abu Dhabi’s head chef Luca Banfi, who is from Milan, says: “Some dishes are rooted in traditional preparation. But others are interpretations of classics. There are quite a few unique dishes on the menu.”

Some of the more unusual dishes include Lasagnetta di Polenta – a baked polenta dish made in the style of lasagne; pizza with saffron béchamel, lobster, prawns and calamari with halloumi cheese and zaatar; and Casa de Campo pizza with mango, chorizo and mint pesto.

“Dishes like these show that even classic Italian staples can be reinvented or explored with unique results,” says Banfi, who had to compete to land the job of head chef at Circo in Abu Dhabi. He battled it out with three other chefs on the Food Network series Chef Wanted with Ann Burrell in a season three episode, and emerged victorious. “It was tough,” says Banfi. “But in the end, I made it and here I am.”

An experience like no other

The Maccionis believe the quality of the food and the colourful, circus-themed environment will set Circo apart from other Italian restaurants in the capital. “We’re going to have fun exposing regional Italian cuisines to the people of Abu Dhabi,” says Mauro. “We want them to come and enjoy a traditional Italian eatery: laid-back, fun and vibrant. We specialise in service, making our guests feel special, and we feel strongly about our restaurants.”

The 82-year-old Sirio is more direct. “We think we are better than everybody,” he says with a laugh. “And we are.”

• Circo, InterContinental Abu Dhabi; open daily from noon to 4pm and from 7pm to midnight. For reservations, call 02 666 6888. Visit