Popular wisdom holds that in Shoreditch, it pays to be conspicuous. This is an area of London that thrives and survives on loud behaviour, good or bad. Walk down Curtain Road any evening of the week and you can pause to watch fully grown adults put their Terry’s chocolate orange negroni on the side, grin maniacally through the glass onto the pavement, and launch themselves into a plastic ball pit. It’s hilarious. It’s kind of great. It’s also awful. It is, very Shoreditch.
Most of the best places to go to around this area, however, generally tend to be a little more unassuming. The excellent Rochelle Canteen is in an old school ground down Arnold Circus, NikeLab’s innovation shop 1948 is under an arch down Bateman’s Row, and Popolo, in a quiet spot on Rivington Street, also belongs on that list.
Pastas aside, the food at Popolo isn’t your traditional fare, and we’re all the happier for it. Smoky grilled octopus looks like a prop from a B movie but tastes fantastic, and the aubergine puree it sits on is as smooth as an Italian on holiday. They’re good at smooth stuff here. The carrot tahini that comes with the slow cooked lamb is something that you’ll find yourself repeatedly running your finger across the plate for pretending you’re a plasterer when, in fact, you’re an all-consuming human dustbin. They also know when to keep things simple and classic, like putting burrata together with radicchio or something else seasonal. This is a good sign in our books.
That said, it’s the ‘Hardcore Italian’ titled section of the menu that falls a little flat when compared to some of the less classic pairings off the grill. Squash and ricotta ravioli is a bit meh - not the best but not the worst - while agnolotti (basically little pasta presents) filled with pork cheek also are a bit underwhelming in flavour. It’s surprising that these underwhelm because the more complex dishes are excellent. That isn’t to say they can’t be trusted with classics full stop though. Fresh pasta with prawns, clams and mussels is simple sounding and simply tastes good.
Inside it’s got a smart, modern feel. Bar seating dominates: whether it’s watching the chefs at work or looking out onto the street from the ground or upper floor. It’s an ideal venue for two people, thanks to this seating set up. There is space for larger groups upstairs though this feels a little more stiff after you’ve perched on one of the other seating options. Also, it’s always nice to be able to stare out onto the street in Shoreditch when you’re having a lovely meal and a bottle of wine, knowing you’re in here and not out there.
Popolo is an interesting restaurant. Interesting in what it’s cooking and interesting in where it is. It doesn’t necessarily suit the area it’s put itself: it’s not loud in its manner nor kookily named to be a memorable soundbite from someone’s anecdote. But some of the food it’s putting out is adventurous, thoughtful and different. And that’s what Shoreditch is meant to be about, right?
Creamy burrata paired with whatever is in season and suits is always a winner.
Looks like it’s just arrived from another planet and tastes out of this world.
This is a real sleeper of a dish. The lamb is perfectly moist and the carrot tahini is something you’ll want to make at home, but almost definitely never will.
Nice, but that’s it. There’s better ravioli in London.
This must be really good seafood because there’s nothing else here and it’s really, really good.
Although this looks like the product of Ridley Scott’s imagination, it tastes excellent.