Wednesday, 2 October 2019

CIRCOLO POPOLARE - PUTTING THE MAGIC BACK INTO EATING OUT








Circolo Popolare is the second UK outpost of the ever-expanding BigMamma restaurant empire, known for their eccentric, slightly offbeat approach to Italian dining. And if I had to sum up Circolo in a few words …well I guess I would have to say it’s a little bat shit crazy in the best of ways.

Why? Think Italian kitsch x1000 - a huge dining room filled with hanging plants, romantic lights and walls lined with row upon row of coloured vintage liquor bottles collected from all around the world.  It feels like you’ve walked straight into some kind of Italian fairy-tale and you won’t want to leave once you have settled on one of their tables for the evening.

It’s not understated dining by anyone’s standards but I think we’ve all grown a little tired of Scandi inspired minimal interior design that at times can feel too clinical. With the realities of Brexit looming we all seem quite up for having a little fun when it comes to eating out again and Circolo Popolare definitely knows how to make a meal an unforgettable spectacle!

That ranges from cocktails served in boob shaped cups, to not taking themselves to serious when it comes to naming their dishes (John Malkofish anyone?!).  Waiters, like at all the other Big Mamma operations I have visited, are entertainers in all their Mediterranean forwardness (being from Italy is a prerequisite for hire) as much as they are here to take your food orders and a little flirting is more than encouraged which means you’ll end up feeling charmed in no time, whether you like it or not.

Not everything is perfect, compared to Gloria (their first London restaurant) and Pink Mamma in Paris, I found service to be sluggish and clumsy at times, maybe because they know they can get away with it considering the restaurant’s hyped status right now. Also, with a no reservation system unless you time your visit well, I suggest you go around 5pm when no food or booze is served but you are pretty much guaranteed to get a table and can kill time until 6pm when their normal dinner service, order a soft drink or coffee whilst admiring the interiors, you can easily end up queuing for up to 2 hours which isn’t a particularly fun in any scenario but even less so when you find yourself waiting on a bland yet busy side street off Oxford street.

That’s another slight negative, unlike Gloria which is located in a nice bit Shoreditch with lots of cool bars and other places around to have a drink at in case you have to wait, in the case of Circolo you find yourself bang in the middle of central London’s tourist hell and the crowd does reflect that a little at times - I couldn’t help but think I had walked into a place “that one had to simple go to when in London” which I guess explains the queues - it’s fabulous here but definitely not a hidden gem.

However despite these few minor niggles I would tell any Londoner, no matter how cynical, to make a visit to Circolo Popolare ASAP to experience a bit of the Big Mamma magic for themselves. It really is a place to make you feel like a little kid again, even just for a few hours and you can't help but explore the impressive interiors and enjoy the delightful, delicious and fun food. 

Indeed I can’t fault the food at all, the menu features many Big Mamma classics, served across all their restaurants, like the extraordinary truffle pasta and infamous spaghetti carbonara served straight out of a cheese wheel that you are very likely to have seen on Instagram at some point by now and which I can assure you taste as good as they look and aren’t badly priced at that. 

There are also some fabulous Circolo Popolare specific dishes added - I ADORED my ‘truffle shuffle’ pizza, the most amazing truffle pizza with fresh black truffle, truffle sauce, provola cheese, egg and chives which was one of the best truffle pizzas I have ever had and so heavy on the truffle that it may not be to everyone’s tastes but was total heaven for more.

Desserts were outstanding and of course also served with touch of magic. My ‘dessert island’ was the most indulgent of dishes, featuring whipped egg whites, caramel and a silky cr√®me anglaise, poured over the dish right in front of you and oh I could have eaten it for days. 

Our waiter treated to us to shots of limoncello out of the most adorable egg cups at the end of the meal when we had reached just the perfect saturation point after plenty of wine, food and cocktails (I recommend you try the limoncello spritz, it’s a game changer) and we felt a world away from London, almost like we had been transported back to a 1950’s Italian coastal resort, the few problems I had with Circole during our dinner quickly forgotten. 

Play the queue game, get over the inconsistent service and just bloody enjoy Circolo for what is, a place that really has put the magic back into eating out and I am all for that.

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