Review: Circolo Popolare restaurant
After causing a big fuss in Paris with six trattorias, Big Mamma Group arrived in London in 2019 to open Gloria in Shoreditch, then Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia. Big Mamma Group is famous for its fun, bold, Italian decor and food, so we sent Neil Simpson to find out if Circolo Popolare is another winner.
Almost everything about Circolo Popolare is huge: there are two dining rooms with room for hundreds of people, 130 members of staff; the ceilings are high, high above the tables; the menus are printed on massive, colourful cards; the lemon pie dessert is piled with about half a metre of wobbling meringue.
The one thing that isn’t huge is the price, which is the main reason that I like this lively restaurant so much: Circolo Popolare offers a decent meal and a wonderful atmosphere without destroying your holiday budget.
Those big menus are quite confusing to read, but all of the staff who served me during my dinner were incredibly helpful. Traditionally Italian, the menu’s divided into antipasti, pizza (Naples-style), pastas and meats, which are all cooked on skewers over a grill.
The salsiccia cinta senese skewer (£14) was the best thing I ate, a succulent kebab of Tuscan DOP (‘Protected Designation of Origin’) pork sausage with juicy, charred peach slices and onion. I also thought the Emrata burrata pizza (£13), scattered with almonds, capers and olives, was enjoyable and good value. The Crab me by the Paccheri pasta (£20) was the most expensive dish I ordered, because it included crab, fish and mussels – the carmina burrata linguine (£12) with aubergine is a cheaper way to try Circolo Populare’s good-quality, hand-made pasta.
The dessert menu is where the kitchen goes particularly mad, with options including The Incomparable Lemon Pie (£6), which is the sky-high meringue monster I mentioned above, or there’s a rum-soaked Lady Baba cake (£8) and the Meraviglioso (£7), which they describe as ‘a ridiculous experience of whipped cream, meringue and chocolate flakes’. If you haven’t got a sweet tooth, it’s probably best to skip dessert altogether and ask for the bill.
All of the (also mostly sweet) cocktails cost about £8, while there’s a good amount of affordable, by-the-glass wines to choose from – although you can explore more expensive bottles if you wish, too.
What I love about Circolo Popolare is its commitment to affordability, while still offering food that’s interesting, fun and mostly satisfying. It reminded me of my favourite French restaurant in London, Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly Circus, which is another huge dining room that is always busy and fun thanks to affordable prices, decent food and great service.
For a tasty masterclass in how to create a fun, buzzing and cool London restaurant, I recommend visiting Circolo Popolare.
If you’re in the area but don’t want to eat your own body weight in pizza, read our review of Covent Garden Mexican restaurant Café Pacifico here