240 Italians, a passion for creating exceptional food and a need to share it with the world; This is the Big Mamma Group. What started as a small venture to bring traditional Italian food to Paris, has evolved into a family of restaurants, where crowds queue to get a slice of the action – two of which reside in London. If you’ve already had the pleasure of dining at the infamous Gloria Trattoria, in Shoreditch, you’ll have high expectations of The Group’s most recent opening, Circolo Popolare, in Fitzrovia. From dawn until dusk, this restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, bringing their own Italian flare to each dish. From ‘Full Fnglish The Italian Way’ to pesto filled burrata, meter long pizzas and homemade pasta, this is a menu designed to be shared – it’s the only way to try everything.
Walking through the bustling streets of Fitzrovia, it’s hard to miss Circolo Popolare, with great vines of green lining the front of the restaurant – not to mention the buzzing queues of people all eager for a table. The inside is even more magnificent. The talented design team, Studio Kiki, have recreated the ambiance of a typical Sicilian wedding. Over 20,000 bottles of vintage spirits and wines line the walls, while summer wisteria and a string festoon of lights hang from the tall ceilings. Vintage plates, coloured glass and pictures collected from creaky Italian village stalls also catch my eye, each one telling a story of years gone by. Seating over 280 covers, across two rooms each as grand as the other, somehow the place still feels cosy.
Open all day, Circolo Popolare attracts a host of different people. During the daytime, it’s an ideal spot for meetings or light bites, while the evenings are more suited to date nights and celebrations. As Big Mamma says, ‘sharing’s caring’, and with tables of up to 12 regularly available, the seating certainly reflects this. If you’d prefer not to share your food with quite so many people, there are plenty of smaller tables too.
“Don’t overthink it, if it’s tasty and inexpensive, it’ll already be phenomenal.”* As I browsed the menu of Circolo Popolare, I was happy to see this mantra reflected in the wide variety of dishes. While we were busy deciding between pastas and pizzas, we nibbled on fresh bread, which we dipped into golden olive oil. On our waitress’s recommendation we ordered a bottle of Pecorino, pleasantly surprised by how perfectly this white wine matched the rest of our meal. To start, we shared the Rotolo Con Erbe, a soft bread filled with herbs, cheese and almonds, the Tucson Scotch Egg, and the Burrata with Pesto Heart – so light and creamy, the hero of all burratas. For our mains, we shared two pasta dishes and one pizza; the Crab Me By The Paccheri, home-made paccheri pasta with crab, red gurnard, mussels and tarragon, the Mafaldineal Tartufo, a luxurious truffle pasta, and the Orlando Blue pizza. A white based pizza, topped with gorgonzola, peaches, speck, lavender and honey. The chefs took a long time to create the perfect dough recipe, and perfect it they have. Deciding to go for maximum indulgence, we found room to try a selection of desserts too. While I enjoyed the creamy pistachio gelato, my date for the evening took on the challenge of the Incomparable Lemon Pie, a humongous lemon pie, standing some nine inches tall. Although delicious, he was reluctantly defeated.
* ‘A brilliant man at East Mamma, whose name the group doesn’t remember, just a few weeks before opening the first restaurant’
In a nutshell
Initially, I was worried Circolo Popolare was going to be all talk and no action, what with the heavily instagramable decor and photographic dishes. But Big Mamma certainly delivers. This restaurant is as big on aesthetics as it is on flavour and I can’t wait to come back and try the rest of the menu.
40-41 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HX