In a comparatively new forecourt just north of Oxford Street, right by the Facebook offices, is Circolo Popolare, an exceedingly popular (as in its name, although it isn’t circular) Italian restaurant operated by the Big Mamma chain. One reviewer described the dining room as “basically fake Sicily on steroids”, which sounds intriguing and quite clever until you figure out that you don’t know what the hell she means. Actually, our waitress got me momentarily confused, too. She asked, as they all do these days, if I had any allergies. I usually say ‘no’ but to her I said ‘crab’. (I don’t know if I am strictly allergic to crab but the two times I have eaten it I have been ill the next day.) She looked briefly nonplussed before replying: “The vitello tonnato contains fish.”
There is a significant difference between seafood and tuna, so I wasn’t going to let that put me off. And I was glad it didn’t. For my main course, for about the millionth time in an Italian eaterie, I went for the spaghetti carbonara, which was perfect, albeit for some reason it’s only available at lunchtime. For larger parties, I gather they serve this at your table out of a large wheel of pecorino cheese (if you so wish), which I guess could be described as pasta on steroids.
From London’s West End to west London; specifically to Portobello Road in Notting Hill to enjoy Gold. (The restaurant’s interior is on the home page.) Formerly called Portobello Gold, among its past visitors has been Bill Clinton and in its revamped splendour it showcases the culinary talents of Theo Hill, previously at River Cafe and Soho House. It was originally a humble pub (if one can have such a thing in Notting Hill) but its restaurant now has the feel of a conservatory and there is a roof terrace which would be nice if the weather ever warms up.
As you can tell from the photo above, we ate at the counter that overlooks the kitchen. Being a bit tight for time, we had only one course apiece, mine being the squid – a seafood I do enjoy eating – that you also see above. The skordalia sauce (garlic and potato), a Greek speciality, was especially sensational. As good as gold, if you like.
By way of a final thought, the Greek word for ‘good morning’ is kalimera, which is very like calamari, the Italian word for ‘squid’. So, no, the Greeks do not go around all morning saying ‘squid’ to each other even if on your next trip to Athens that’s what you think they are doing.