Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia: Mouthwatering Italian classics that are sure to win your heart
Rustic Italian cuisine is more than just tasty produce: there is love in the cooking, laid-back atmosphere and homey settings. Big Mamma, the French group behind Gloria’s in Old Street, strikes again in the heart of Fitzrovia with Circolo Popolare, a vast trattoria dishing out mouthwatering classics in traditional style.
It’s pretty impossible not to gawp at the many bottles stacked against the walls, the plants hanging from the ceiling and the little lamps scattered around that recreate a romantic vibe and bring to mind charming grandma-style interiors. Accordingly, the menu is printed on large laminated paper and the crockery is hand-painted following traditional artisan patterns.
Chef Salvatore Moscato leads the very welcoming team behind the counter of the open kitchen. There is enthusiasm everywhere, be it in the packed venue, the loud early-2000s Italian playlist – which, added to the crowded chatter, makes it quite a challenge to have conversations across the table – or the deliciously inviting smells. Already, we expect the meal to be a very enjoyable one.
The long wine list spans from north to south, but we are more attracted by the selection of colourful cocktails. The drawings illustrate the offer of classics, like Spritz Veneziano or Zerotto, simple but highly refreshing, perfect for the torrid summers on the peninsula. The Fever Tree Ginger Ale gives a fizzy twist to signature Big Mamma, making the vodka element smooth as water. The vigorous whiskey-based Fashioned Week, instead, reveals itself to be less bitter than assumed, with a clear finish.
Wishing to test the genuineness of the produce right from the beginning, we start with a burrata, which doesn’t fail to meet our expectations – the most decadent of its kind that we’ve tried to date. The Tuscan Scotch Egg is a satisfactory attempt to set the English table with earthy ingredients.
If there is one of the many items on the menu to fall in love with, that is surely the pizza. Soft, raised dough forms the base of a dish made in heaven. The toppings are heavy combinations of mozzarella, ham, tomatoes and more. We feel safe with the front-of-house recommendation of the Truffle and Shuffle, and this becomes easily the favourite of the night. The truffle is a pretty recurrent element in this kitchen, and every exquisite bite justifies its presence in the menu.
Despite the fresh produce and the quality of the seafood, the other main left less of an impression. Crab Me by the Paccheri is gratifying for the use of fresh pasta, but the al dente cooking doesn’t turn out even.
In a proper trattoria style, the Tiramisù is scooped out of a casserole dish. The coffee wets the biscuits without drowning them, while the cream is of the perfect consistency. However, preannounced by its regal name, Lady Baba dominates the finale. Especially in Southern Italy, people can get very picky about this type of dessert, as the amount of rum soaking the pastry could spoil everything. With this version, though, not only is the liquid correctly added, but the sweet custard manages to blissfully crown it all.
Judging from the very long queue at the entrance on a casual Wednesday night – the venue is walk-in only – the word of mouth has already made Circolo Polare a destination for food pilgrims. Attractive from the outside for its unpretentious greenery, the restaurant’s moreish dishes are indeed irresistible: get their address on your agenda soon and prepare to give over your heart (and taste buds) to Italian food again and again.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Maria Dolores Barrios
To book a table at Circolo Popolare, 40-41 Rathbone Place Fitzrovia London W1T 1HX, call or visit their website here.