When Manu Feildel was 13, he ran away to the circus. Seriously. “I did join the circus for a little bit – for three years –when I was a kid,” he says. “I was clowning, unicycling, juggling.”

Obviously, things didn’t work out as a clown – Feildel ended up the fourth in his family, after his father, to become a chef. Regardless, the My Kitchen Rules judge is making a return to the circus dream with Le Grand Cirque, a traditional French restaurant in a big-top-tent-inspired space.

Backed by the Made Establishment Group (also behind Gazi, The Press Club, Jimmy Grants and Hellenic Republic), the new restaurant takes the place of its beleaguered Mama Baba. A casual lounge space is decked out in celestial blue, while a row of yellow benches are illuminated from within. There’s even a popcorn machine. “We ripped the place apart and started again with a fresh mind,” says Feildel. “We’re very excited. Opening a restaurant from scratch takes a lot of energy and manpower. It is difficult, but we’re getting there bit by bit.”

At Le Grand Cirque, Feildel is concentrating on classic French dishes delivered in a relaxed manner. Snapper is served in the southern style en papillot with olives, capers, thyme and fresh tomato sauce. A trio of beetroot, walnut and cumin, white bean and ‘caviar of eggplant’ dip comes with a tower of freshly baked bread. “My background and mentality was always a little bit old fashioned,” explains Feildel.

And, although he’s attempted to lighten up with a selection of five salads, Feildel can’t help being classically French with dishes such as cassoulet and short rib in red-wine sauce. “As a French man, I’m trying hard to bring some health into my food,” he admits. “But there’s still some duck fat in there.”

Le Grand Cirque
21 Daly Street, South Yarra
(03) 9207 7421
Daily 5pm–midnight