New? Popolo Shoreditch opened its doors in October, before which it came to life as a pop-up in Haggerston.
Where? 26 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3DU, www.popoloshoreditch.com
On the Menu: Italian, Spanish and North African-inspired small plates make up the menu, with strong pasta dishes hinting at the kitchen’s experience with Theo Randall.
First Impressions: Tucked down Rivington Street, a few doors down from The Rivington Grill and Tramshed, Popolo occupies a former takeaway shop. Not that you’d know – it was completely gutted over the summer – now, exposed brick walls and a bar made of scaffolding bring it back to life, ensuring it fits right in to the neighbourhood. The space is small, with a counter on the ground floor up against the open kitchen and a few stools at the bar making it intriguing enough to make you look twice if you were walking past and inviting enough to walk in.
The Look: Urban and minimal, the open kitchen is the centre of attention as you enter. 12 stools sit at the L-shape bar, with concrete surface, where front row seats give you access to theatrical cooking – it’s not as rowdy as you may think! Upstairs the space has a few tables and space for more diners, with a counter along the window a nice touch – people watching shouldn’t just be limited to the ground floor.
What We Ate: At first glance the menu is very concise, but on closer look the word ‘refined’ is what I’d use. It’s impeccably curated. Dishes are confident and stripped back but by no means lacking in technicality – apart from the two tasters we got; a bowl of padron peppers and Ventricina salumi from Abruzzo which both contain such authentic ingredients that they are left to do the talking.
Technicality comes in other forms on the menu, showing its head in rich sauces, wonderful textures and flawless pasta. Steamed lamb shoulder was so flaky it didn’t even look like meat, softly battered chunks of merluza (hake) were an amazing alternative to crispy fritto miso and orange and purple cauliflower got the attention it deserved in a warming romesco sauce with hazelnuts and almonds – a traditional sauce from Northeastern Spain.
A stunning highlight was the pulpo; octopus and saltwort generously sprinkled with paprika. It melted in the mouth – hands down the best octopus I’ve ever had. The pappardelle with hare ragu we chose from the specials menu (an individual blackboard no bigger than A4 propped up against our bottle of water) was really special and well worth trying if it’s still on there when you go. But you get the impression the chefs are bursting at the seams with creativity and the urge to experiment so even if it’s not, there’ll be an equally tempting and soulful plate in its place. Next time, I’ll be sure to get the grouse cappelletti; delicate parcels of pasta filled with Scottish grouse and porcini butter – it’s quickly becoming a signature dish.
What We Drank: Two glasses of white: ‘Le Pòggere’ Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, Falesco, Lazio for me, and a floral Fiano from Avellino, southern Italy, for my guest. Wines are available by the glass and the bottle but carafes would be a good addition for when a bottle is slightly too much for two of you.
Go With: Popolo Shoreditch is an ideal contender for your ‘I know this great little place…’ list – any date or friend would be seriously impressed when you whisk them away from the main street, down past Tramshed and into here.
Final Word: Confident, simple cooking, the guys at Popolo know what they’re doing. The location is no doubt a big help in its popularity, but it’s the food that will keep people coming back, time and time again. It’s no surprise Mark Hix has booked it for his Christmas meal in a couple of weeks…
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Fran can be found sipping espresso martinis by night and, by day, on the hunt for London's best brunch. Bonus points for a runny yolk and the perfect flat white.