Dating someone you can’t have is a real joy. Of course, that’s only if your idea of joy involves comparing a human being to class As, and saying ‘I really, really couldn’t care less’ at the same time as checking when they were last online. You want them. You hate them. You become obsessed. You start seeing other people as a petty half-hearted distraction. We understand this. Not because we’re dating an elusive muppet, but because Circolo Popolare is the restaurant we want but cannot have.
This huge trattoria in Fitzrovia is one big tipsy, snort of a restaurant. The massive main dining room is basically fake Sicily on steroids. The walls are covered in thousands of bottles of spirits. And the cocktails come served in things that’ll make you look like a cast member of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. At times, the food can be entirely average, but the menu is full of shouting puns, declarations like ‘crazy combo not to miss’, and offers to make your pizza a metre long. Honestly, we haven’t seen this kind of confidence since Lindsay Lohan attempted a British accent. And you know what, it’s magnetic. You want to be here. No, you need to be here. But wanting to be here is not enough to actually get you into Circolo Popolare.
Much like dystopian movie franchises and every child star in existence, this place’s success is also its downfall. Trying to get a table here requires either extreme organisation or extreme patience. Most of their tables are reserved for walk-ins, but that only really works if you’re able to get here by 5.15. In fact, one time we got here on a Tuesday night at 5.45 and the first available table for two was over two and a half hours later. Rejected, cold, and hungry, we put our names down and waited in a nearby bar whilst trying to remember all the reasons why our mums think we’re special. Did we go home? No, we obsessively waited for their text and then legged it towards their excellent I Wanna Nduja pizza with an empty stomach, the recognition that we were definitely already tipsy, and a big old dose of shame. Because really, who needs self-respect when you can eat carbonara out of a wheel of pecorino? Clearly, we don’t.
And so it goes. We hate them. We love them again. And yes, in moments of clarity we remember that their Elizabeth Regina is an absolute yawn of a pizza, the plants hanging from the ceiling are dried, and their XXL desserts are 75% whipped cream. We’re better than that. And there are far better Italian spots in this city. But then we remember the smiles, the laughs, and those Big Mamma cocktails that just keep on coming long after you’ve finished your churros.
Of course, when the hangover hits the next morning and paracetamol is about as useful as a pinky in a fist fight, Circolo will be nowhere to be found. No texts. No calls. Not even a like. It’s infuriating, rude, ridiculous, confusing, and completely unfair. We’re never going back. Well, maybe next week. Or tomorrow. Of course we’ll be back.
Breakfast here is a fun, full-throttle experience. We’re not going to be ghosting a classic fry-up for this anytime soon, but the Tuscan pork sausage is definitely a keeper.
Just like at their Shoreditch sister restaurant, Gloria, this absolute cheese fest is the star of the show. It isn’t available at lunchtime, but come evening they bring over a foreboding fold-out table, then perform The Great Uncheesing out of a big old wheel of pecorino. A must-order.
This is pretty much Circolo Popolare in pizza form. Big, spicy, and a little bit cheesy. The smoked mozzarella goes with the nduja an absolute treat. Our favourite pizza here.
A pizza covered in a little burrata, a little spring onion, and some prosciutto. Boring. Next.
The first bite is exceptional. Every bite after that is just a lot of truffle and little else. Potentially worth an order if you’re sharing with a big group. Or just have a really high truffle tolerance.
You know the saying. ‘If the lasagne comes without bechamel sauce, does it make a sound?’ Okay, that’s not the saying, but you know what we’re getting at. In short, we think the description as a lasagne is misleading. It’s more silk handkerchief pasta with a decent enough pork and aubergine ragu.
Like watching Mr Bean give a lecture on cosmic inflation, this veal skewer situation feels like Circolo is trying to be serious. It doesn’t suit them. Stick to the fun and avoid the skewers.
Fun story: when these arrived at our table we broke out into ‘oh baby, baby’ a la Britney. A churro hasn’t done that to us before. But honestly we haven’t had churros this chunky or chocolate-y before. We approve.
This dessert is so big and sparkler-clad that it’s probably making the International Space Station peckish. It comes served in a ceramic woman’s head - because, Circolo - but sadly most of this is pure whipped cream. The brownies at the bottom are pretty tasty though.