In case you missed it, London’s dining scene has undergone a drastic change. Gone are the days of bare-brick walls and stripped-back menus, because it’s all about the OTT. From pink rooms to igloo dining, it isn’t just about the food anymore – setting is key. The most Instagrammable of them all? Following in the footsteps of its just-as-jawdropping sister site in Shoreditch, Circolo Popolare is the ostentatious offering from Paris’ Big Mamma Group.
Tucked away just seconds from Oxford Street, you could easily miss your destination if it wasn’t for the crowd outside. A leafy exterior and hostesses controlling a queue via tablets are an unassuming welcome for what lies ahead. Incredibly high ceilings are adorned with hanging flowers and twinkling lights, chefs are kitted out in old-school New Era snapbacks and the walls are stacked high with bottles of booze from Campari to Cynar... because we're in Italy now.
From bruschetta to burrata and sea bass crudo, picking antipasti proved to be the toughest decision of my week. Ultimately, we settled on pork rib bites (£7) and frittatina (£7). Served croquette-style, the pork bites were meaty mouthfuls coated in the perfect crisp crumb, while frittatina arrived as huge deep-fried cubes of mac 'n' cheese, layered with pork and peas and served with a seriously cheesy dip. Paired with an aromatic Spritz Veneziano (£8) for my dining date and a punchy, short Take The Pisco (£8) for me, we were off to a decent start.
You’ve probably seen the carbonara – served fresh from a cheese wheel – and the curly Tartufo – topped with freshly grated truffle – but we were here to try something new. Toying between crab paccheri and open lasagne, our hands were soon tied when we realised that the latter was prepared to share between two. Coming in at £14 per person, The Great Open Lasagne was a mound of silk handkerchief pasta layered with Tuscan pork ragu, aubergine and pecorino. While tasty, it could have done with a little more flavour. Plus with undercooked sheets making for a tough bite, I can’t get behind the near £30 price tag.
All thirsty and pasta-d out, it was time for more drinks. Among an Anti-Brexspritz and a boob-shaped mug of rum (yup), the peachy Bellini Spritz (£8) and whiskey and watermelon-infused Berry Julep (£10) stood out. We couldn’t leave without a taste of the infamous lemon pie (£6), piled high with a towering 6-inch layer of soft meringue and lined with a perfectly tart citrusy film. My god, what a beauty.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Let’s just get one thing straight - you don’t come to Circolo Popolare purely for the food. You come for the decadent décor; the eccentric staff; the in-your-face cocktails. Granted, with pasta coming in at £12-£20 each, quality should be better, especially for a restaurant labelling itself as Sicilian. But with flavour-packed cocktails, mac 'n' cheese cubes and a dessert so good that I still dream about it, I really couldn’t care less.