Brummell recommends: Circolo Popolare

With moreish Italian comfort food, quirky cocktails and a party atmosphere, this lively restaurant proves the Big Mamma Group doesn’t do things by halves

Food and Drink 2 Aug 2019

The wisteria-filled Sicilian dining space at Circolo Popolare
Metre-long pizzas are the order of the day

The background

The name Circolo Popolare, which translates as ‘popular circle’, perfectly captures the essence of a restaurant from the Big Mamma Group. The second London-based trattoria from the group, which already has seven sites in Paris and Lille as well as its cosier big sister Gloria in Shoreditch, is every bit as lively, quirky and masterful as the rest. Founders Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux’s expansion across the Channel is clearly paying off.

Bottles line the walls of the beautiful dining room at Circolo Popolare
Bottles line the walls of the beautiful dining room at Circolo Popolare

The space

With more than 20,000 bottles of spirits lining the whitewashed walls, lit in a welcoming amber glow, along with thousands of festoon lights and wisteria covering the ceiling, entering Circolo Popolare is like stepping off the streets of London into a Sicilian summer. The space is expansive – 9,000sq ft to be exact – and is divided into three areas: the main Sicilian-esque dining room, flanked by the aforementioned spirits, and adorned throughout with a series of kitsch props (wall plates, Roman Catholic icons, vintage TV sets, painted jugs); a smaller dining room at the back overlooking the pizza kitchen; and the adjoining sunlit outdoor terrace. Larger tables can seat up to 12 people while cushioned stone booths for two to four guests offer a more intimate dining experience.

The menu

Conceived by head chef Salvatore Moscato, the menu is a selection of classic Italian comfort food with a quirky twist, from metre-long pizzas and pastas to seafood and impressive meat dishes. It sounds straightforward enough, but when our food arrived, what should have been a simple Italian bread roll stuffed with cheese and herbs was actually something even more spectacular. Sprinkled with paprika, this unassuming starter was out-of-this-world delicious. While most of the dishes have kooky names, including one of our mains, Crab Me By The Paccheri (a moreish seafood pasta with crab, red gurnard, mussels and tarragon), Moscato and his team clearly take the food here seriously. It’s almost always better than you were expecting. The cuttlefish marinated in garlic and orange zest with a gazpacho coulis was seriously good and not too filling. We had room to squeeze in a Peach Face (fresh peach salad with lemon verbena syrup) and some chocolaty churros for dessert, all the while soaking up the constant good vibes permeating the restaurant.

A selection of indulgent desserts at Circolo Popolare
A selection of indulgent desserts at Circolo Popolare

The drinks

The wine list here is more than generous: as well as a selection of whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines, there’s an entire page dedicated to magnums (we told you they don’t do things by halves, here). Alongside this they have beers, Italian spirits and Italian sodas. It is hard though to resist the offbeat names and illustrations that make up the restaurant’s cocktail menu. Eschewing the ‘big sharers’ – large punch bowls for up to nine people to share – we opted for a Take the Pisco (pisco, bergamot, ginger-honey mix, cherry liqueur and lemon) and a Look Me in the Eyes – a blend of three rums, almond hibiscus syrup, triple sec, lime and maracuja, served in a tongue-in-cheek mug adorned with a pair of breasts; there’s always fun to be had at Circolo Popolare.

The bill

A three-course meal for two with cocktails starts from around £100.

The verdict

Fun is the buzzword at any Big Mamma Group trattoria and none more so than Circolo Popolare, expect to see its picturesque wisteria-filled dining room all over your Instagram feed. With its lively atmosphere and great food, it’s definitely worth joining the queue for.

Circolo Popolare, 40-41 Rathborne Place, Fitzrovia London W1T 1HX;