CamdenNewJournal

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A slice of Sicily off Oxford Street

15 August, 2019 — By Tom Moggach

Puns and pizzas are the order of the day at Circolo

CIRCOLO is hot on hype and visual gimmicks – a spectacular new restaurant for the digital age.

“Come for a gram, not for the food” advises an online review of this lavish new opening in Fitzrovia.

This random chap queued for an hour and wolfed down his meal while curating the whole experience on Instagram.

With extravagant decor and 280 seats, this Italian restaurant operates on a mind-boggling scale.

The concept – wait for it – is to recreate the atmosphere of a Sicilian wedding banquet in central London.

I expected to find it tiresome but left beaming, my head spinning from the highly theatrical experience. Dozens of young Italian staff flit between the tables, carrying metre-long pizzas or hollowed-out halves of pecorino laden with oozy carbonara.

The décor is riotous: 20,000 bottles of spirits line the shelves in the main room. The rafters of the high ceiling are festooned with acres of fake wisteria and strings of fancy fairy lights.

The restaurant occupies 9,000 square feet of a new development called Rathbone Square, just off Oxford Street. It’s the latest opening by a group called Big Mamma who run multiple places in Paris and launched Gloria in Shoreditch earlier this year.

I took a friend to Circolo on a Wednesday evening – but there were still queues down the street.

Inside, the place was humming, mainly with a younger crowd – many with one eye on their smartphones.

The menu is printed in pink on a gigantic sheet of retro-style cardboard.

They do decent pizzas with pun-tastic names such as “John Malkofish”, with a topping of tuna ragu and olives.

Antipasti include a huge wobbly burrata filled with pesto, generous plates of gossamer-thin San Daniele ham and deep-fried courgette flowers with a slightly bland saffron drip.

Our best dish was “Crab Me By The Paccheri”, a gorgeous plate of pasta decorated with a whole crab shell. Laced with crabmeat, tarragon and red chilli, it was a riot of feisty flavours.

Service is super friendly and occasional chaotic – in the best possible way.

There’s no tedious tasting of wine before serving. Instead, they slosh a generous serving into your glass – often from a heavyweight magnum.

Our tiramisu was served with similar gusto. They lug the whole dish to your table, then scoop it straight into your bowl.

You have the admire the sheer audacity of Circolo. They must have spent a fortune on styling the site and will need vast volumes of customers to make it work.

Should you go? Well, that depends. The food is good but not great; the booking system is frustrating. In the evenings, you may struggle to reserve a table for small groups and will need to brave the queue. Lunchtimes are far easier to book, but the atmosphere is less fun and frenetic.

Next time you’re nearby, I suggest you pop over to have a gawp then decide. Circolo is a restaurant like no other. We had a glorious time.

Circolo Populare
40-41 Rathbone Pl, W1T
www.bigmammagroup.com/en/trattorias/circolo-popolare

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