Recently hailed a “city-best snack” by Time Out, a little dish of crispy olives, chickpeas and strained yoghurt has catapulted Popolo on Shoreditch’s modish Rivington Street to culinary fame. One of London’s must-try restaurants, Popolo is the brainchild of Jonathan Lawson, who trained under Michelin chef Theo Randall. It serves Italian small plates with Middle Eastern and Moorish influences that are both simple and stunningly complex, layered with flavour, texture and colour. Seasonal produce from small producers is jazzed up just enough to be creative, but never overdone. Respect for great ingredients is integral to Popolo’s cuisine.
It was the olives and labne (£6) that brought me to Popolo – I had to see whether the fuss was justified, or just Instagram hype. And I’m happy to say, this simple dish lives up to the claims. Masterfully executed with perfectly balanced flavours, juicy green olives and chickpeas deep-fried in a golden crumb crust are piled on a pillow of creamy labne livened with a floral house-made dukkah. The combination of olive tang and light, silky yoghurt is heavenly.
Even a simple bruschetta (£5) is taken to new heights. Warm datterino tomatoes are crushed into springy sourdough, touched with garlic and salt.
Another famous Popolo dish is the agnolotti (£12.50). Al dente pasta parcels are filled with a sweet, tender pulled pork cheese in an umami, velvet porcini mushroom butter.
More perfectly cooked pasta comes in the form of ravioli (£10.50) plump with a delicate squash and artisan ricotta filling, and lavished with a butter sauce infused with woody sage.
Middle Eastern flavours inspire a plate of grilled octopus with za’atar (£13.50). Charred tentacles have a crisp exterior encasing succulent white meat. Beneath is an intensely smokey aubergine purée flecked with herbs, roast turnips and earthy beets.
The grilled bavette steak is glorious and fantastic value (£13.50). Utterly tender, blushing pink beef drizzled with fragrant with parsley, oregano, chilli and garlic chimichurri sits upon bitter cavolo nero blanched in olive oil and cubes of sweet celeriac.
Top wines from Italy and beyond are carefully selected, including a characteristically fruity Nero d’Avola, Ciello Rosso from Sicily (£5/glass; £25/bottle) and a robust yet velvet smooth 2013 Cabernet-Syrah-Merlot blend from the Jané Ventura vinyards in Lower Penedès, in Spain’s Catalonia region (£6/glass; £30/bottle).
26 Rivington St,
T: 020 7729 4299
Open for lunch 12:00-15:00 Tues-Sat; open for dinner 17:30-22:30 Tues & Wed, 17:30-23:00 Thurs-Sat; closed Sun & Mon