Magical. If I had to use one word to describe Circolo Popolare – based on its looks alone – that’s the one I’d go for. Moments after walking in to this sibling to Shoreditch’s chintzy cheese-fest Gloria, you’ll be scraping your jaw off the floor. It might just be the most atmospheric dining room in London. Despite being huge, it has a grotto-esque feel, the space illuminated by candles, strings of garden lights and a dazzling kaleidoscope of backlit booze bottles crammed onto every shelf of the arched walls. Plants in the rafters cast down their dangling fronds. There’s an enormous tree in the centre of the back room (obvs).
As for the trattoria-style menu, our meal had an auspicious start, with a kick-ass bruschetta. Thick, oily grilled bread heaped with fragrant ripe tomatoes and silky, smoky burrata all mingled together in satisfying, umami-rich mouthfuls. Simple stuff, done brilliantly.
But as the portions grew, standards fell. An olive, caper and almond pizza had a woefully wet, soggy base, falling apart in our hands. And the ‘open lasagne’ our waitress insisted we order was like something your student housemate (who can’t really cook) might have rustled up. Pleasant enough – and with the welcome addition of aubergine chunks – but essentially too-soft pasta marred by tasteless, bloated blobs of mince (that is, neither broken up nor browned). The tiramisu was worse: all cream, with barely any biscuit or coffee. Such a pity. This is a breathtakingly inviting place (and you can book, at certain times), so do go, but stick to the small stuff.