Every Detail Matters

Every Detail Matters by Ann Elliott

I was bowled over by my first visit to Circolo Popolare last week. I had read a bit about it of course but was unprepared for how amazing it was from an interior perspective. It was a riot of colour, bustle, noise, shimmering glass, authentic Italian crockery and dripping flowers. Not a piece of space was wasted or unadorned. Every corner had been thought through to the nth degree. It was a dazzling, mind-blowing Instagrammers dream (or nightmare perhaps). Where to start? Where to stop?

I remember going into TGI Friday’s for the first time (or Frankie & Benny’s for that matter) and feeling then that same frisson of excitement at experiencing a game-changing environment – one that would set the pace and standard for others coming along behind it. Mr Fogg’s did it for me too. I’m sure Chamber of Flavours and Secret Cinema would do so too if I was on the ball enough to secure a ticket.

The food was good on my first visit and great value for money. In fact, it was so good I chose the same dishes again when I went back to experience the madness afresh just six days later. There’s more than enough to think about in this environment than complicating it with menu decisions. The food was almost immaterial.

As Marina O’Loughlin said in her review in The Sunday Times: “So there you have it, sensation-seekers: let’s all embrace Circolo Popolare (pronounced ‘cheer-colo’, Italian for a kind of social club), a huge, elaborate, wonderful, extravagant, campy gimmick. An opulent joke. I go with two pals, if possible even trickier customers than I am, and we have the jolliest time. They’ve played us like piccolos, but we’re weirdly happy to let them. Welcome to the circus, to the restaurant where the food simply doesn’t matter at all.”

As we were leaving, my guest asked me if I thought the restaurant would be there in five years? Would it stand the test of time or would the glitterati simply have moved on to even shinier, glitterier, even more Instagrammable places (if that was even possible)? To my utter surprise (and his) I said: “No”. Where on earth had that answer come from? I had loved every chaotic part of it I thought, so I had to come up with some plausible explanation for my implausible comment pretty quickly.

And then it came to me. It was not quite “all fur coat and no knickers” – it wasn’t that insincere. It was more “all that glitters isn’t gold”. One of our four dishes was virtually inedible, instead of soda and lime I was given tonic and juice, there was a noticeable disagreement between a guest and a team member at the door as I came in, I had to ask twice for the drink I wanted and there was no loo paper in three toilets. These were tiny, insignificant, small-minded, petty details that had burrowed into my unconsciousness but patently surfaced when questioned.

The most enduring and successful restaurants, pubs and bars are consistent with brilliant operations at the heart of that consistency. They deliver time and time again. Their attention to detail is phenomenal. They sweat the small stuff. Getting food and drink right is not the small stuff nor is having loo paper. If a restaurant isn’t able to ensure every detail is perfect time and time again when it’s new and fresh, then how will it survive the test of time? If each team member isn’t drilled in the art and science of consistency from day one, then what will they be like on day 101 – what will have gone by the wayside then?