When we arrived at Circolo Popolare at 6pm on a humid Wednesday evening, there was already a queue around the block. Impressive for a restaurant that has only been open since June. But then again, Circolo Popolare is not your average restaurant.
Coming to us from Big Mamma Group, the brainchild behind Gloria, the equally popular and equally extravagant Italian trattoria that opened in Shoreditch, East London in February, this visually-stunning space has already garnered a reputation as the go-to hot spot for those who want to see and be seen in Central London.
If Dolce & Gabbana and The Ivy gave birth to a restaurant, we reckon it would look a lot like Circolo Popolare. A larger-than-life hangout in the heart of Fitztrovia, London, its inspired by vintage Sicily and as soon as you enter you’re enveloped into a dreamlike setting with foliage, paintings, posters and bottles coming at you from every direction. In fact, if one were to take their time counting all the different bottle on the shelves, you would find there were 20,000.
Tables are scattered across two different rooms with a small outdoor terrace at the back. Smaller private booths are intertwined with wood and wicker tables that are wall-to-wall but despite the aforementioned queue, when we sat down there weren’t many other occupied tables in the vicinity. That was soon to change though, as by 6.45pm the place was heaving.
When it comes to the food, you’ll find a simple but extremely enticing collection of Italian classics and we were hard-pushed to choose just two starters and two mains between us. The antipasti section comprises everything from mozzarella di bufala and deep fried courgette flowers to a ‘Rotolo Con 7 Erbe’ which translates to pillowy soft bread roll filled with cheese and herbs. While we didn’t order this particular dish, our neighbouring table did and it’s safe to say we have some serious bread envy.
Flower Power, Lateef Okunnu @lateef.photography
Word for the wise: get there early and order the burrata with pesto heart. We put our order in at 6.50pm only be told they had already sold out. Watching our hearts breaking, our waiter miraculously managed to locate one so we were able to enjoy the cheese in all its incredibly oozing creamy glory, and it’s an experience you won’t want to miss out on if you can help it.
Burrata with pesto heart, Lateef Okunnu @lateef.photography
Mains are divided into pizzas, pastas and skewers, including veal escalope strips worth grilled courgette, sweet potato and mushrooms, and cuttlefish marinated in garlic and orange zest. The pizzas looked like they’d come straight from an authentic Italian kitchen and have super fun names like John Malkofish (tomato tuna ragu, fior di latte, olives, buffalo mozzarella and chives) and Emrata Burrata (san Marzano tomato, burrata, almonds, capers, olives and basil), and there’s the option to order a huge double pizza to share at just Dhs65 per person.
Carpaccio Pizza, Joann Pai
We’d heard so much about the carbonara for two though, which comes served in a huge wheel of parmesan that we couldn’t pass it up, so opted to share alongside another plate of hand-made linguine served with a tomato and aubergine sauce and creamy burrata heart. While the dishes were certainly impressive, we felt the pasta felt a little on the heavy side with a slightly sticky texture, but as they’re rolling out so many dishes per evening, we could see how easily that could happen.
Sfoglia al Ragu, Lateef Okunnu @lateef.photography
Defeated by the pasta we opted to skip dessert, but for those with a sweet tooth, we’ve heard the lemon pie complete with a 5’9 inch meringue layer is to die for.
It’s still in it’s opening stages and Circolo Popolare is certainly one to impress, but with so many tables to turn and customers waiting in the wing, the service felt a little less personal than we’re used to at a five-star London dining establishment. Reservations are limited though, so be prepared to wait when you do go. Needless to say we’ll be back though – our Instagram feed deserves it.
Circolo Polplare, 40-41 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HX, bigmammagroup.com