Circolo Popolare

The blurb

It was hard to miss the first London launch from French-owned Italian restaurant group Big Mamma earlier this year. 90% of my Instagram feed seemed to flock to East London’s Gloria to sample the much-hyped Italian fare and snap the photogenic establishment that already garnered a loyal fanbase in both Paris and Lille. Now, Big Mamma has opened a second restaurant, and they’re determined to make it bigger and better. In fact, the Rathbone Place restaurant, based on a Sicilian trattoria, seats a whopping 300.

The style

In three words: over the top. The 9000sqft office space has been transformed into a faux Sicilian terrace (a mean feat considering the lack of natural light) that’s kitsch but somehow cool. It’s an assault on the senses with the towers of trailing plants, twinkling fairy lights, vintage Italian prints adorning the walls and, the piste de resistance, 20,000 bottles of booze lining the walls. It’s clear this enormous project cost a bomb and Big Mamma isn’t afraid to show it.

The decor may suggest ‘family Italian’ but the staff don’t seem to have quite got the memo. While they’re definitely Italian (there’s clearly an HR policy encouraging them to drop in as many recognisable Italian words as possible), the sheer size of the restaurant means you never see the same person twice and the service seemed to swing from too quick (our starters arrived before our cocktails) to nonexistent (the dessert wasn’t cleared for an hour).

The crowd

With a menu designed for sharing and a lively party atmosphere, it’s ideal for groups and debaucherous celebrations. There was a feeling of excitement on our visit and the majority of the crowd seemed keen to digitally document their visit. When I was struggling to take a photo a friendly American couple on the next table swooped in to save the day – not to snap my friend and I but the aforementioned booze wall that’s come to dominate on Instagram.

The food

The menu is supposedly based on Sicilian dishes however I didn’t notice anything particularly different from the standard Italian fare you find across London. We started with Rotolo Con Erbe (£7), a mini Calzone with cheese and fresh herbs that was delicious but not life-changing. The Make Bruschetta Red Again (£6) – you can see the fun extends to the tongue-in-cheek menu – tasted fresh and the topping of moreishly creamy burrata was a nice touch.

For mains we shared two pasta dishes, the Carmina Burratta (£12), linguine with aubergine sauce and burrata, and the Mafaldine al Tartufo (£18), a ribbon-shaped pasta with truffle, mascarpone and button mushrooms. I found the former a little too al dente and a bit stingy on the aubergine but we gobbled it up all the same while the latter was cooked to perfection, very very rich but delicious in a heart attack inducing way.

For dessert we plumped for Cookie Dough ice cream (£6) and the Tiramisu (£6). My guest complained about the lack of cookie dough in her ice cream, a little bit of a let down when you consider gelato such an Italian staple, and my Tiramisu was an odd experience. They usually serve the Tiramisu at the table from a big dish in a small bowl but considering mine was the last portion they just dumped the whole dish on my table. I’m not sure if it was a joke or a normal procedure but I felt like Bridget Jones bingeing after a break-up. Serving aside, the Tiramisu was tasty albeit a little heavy on the cream.

The drinks

Circolo Popolare has an extensive cocktail list showcased on a beautifully illustrated menu (so
you can choose the best looking for your Instagram I imagine). I went for the Anti Brexspritz (£8.50), lured in by both the name and the combination of gin, apple, cucumber and elderflower. It was the perfect cooling cocktail for a summer’s day. My guest went for the Bellini Spritz (£8.50), a twist on the Italian Prosecco classic with peach, raspberry and rosemary, which also went down very well.

In a nutshell

I may have had better Italian food in London but this wouldn’t put me off revisiting. Don’t go on a hangover or for a quiet mid-week lunch but for a Friday night out with friends it’s an ideal place to forget about Brexit while enjoying buckets of cocktails.

The details

40-41 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HX,

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