On 4th July 2020, a day touted by many as ‘Super Saturday’, England’s bars, cafés and restaurants reopened. It was probably the biggest and most symbolic move to ease lockdown so far; more so and no more deserved than for the hard-working, furloughed to hell hospitality workers. Although we didn’t go out on the 4th itself due to other commitments (hairdressers were reopening too so guess where I was?), I did pass by the eateries on West India Quay and was overjoyed to see their terraces full, and queues of eager diners waiting outside, happily marinating in hand sanitiser.
The next day, it was our turn to cheer in the return of hospitality, and where better to go than our favourite Italian restaurant, Gloria. I have already exalted the praises of this fabulous trattoria on T.F.T., and its sister restaurant, Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia – a vine-ceilinged, bottle-walled cathedral of taste and good times – was one of the last ones we visited before the world went to shit.
I’m not going to go over in detail the whole ethos and background to Gloria again but will just affirm in summary that it’s a chic and kooky restaurant with a kind of Fifties Capri/retro thing going on. A ‘retrorant’, maybe. See what I did there? Anyway… it boasts a simple menu of classic Italian starters such as burrata and cured meat, pastas and pizzas for mains, and some choice desserts. Simple things done well. Very well indeed.
We were glad to discover that this casual excellence hasn’t slipped over the last few months. We queued a little to get in (we had reserved, but so had half of London) and after the clinical and obligatory hand sanitiser, we were treated to a better kind of alcoholic welcome, a complimentary flute of prosecco. We were led downstairs through those thick drapes and the “seduce and destroy” neon sign, knowing that from first impressions alone, we were going to have a great lunch.
We chose drinks that matched our personalities; a classy glass of Montepulciano for her, and a “Colada me Later”; an oversized, awkward piña colada-based cocktail served in a garish ceramic grail, garnished with half a hollowed-out passionfruit full of burning Rhum Trois Rivieres for him. Our stomach pouches started to disappear at the start of lockdown, but have faired poorly as time went on, so therefore we are trying to eat lighter right now. Based on that, it was only logical that we ordered a margherita pizza to share as a starter and two plates of Gloria’s signature “La Gran Carbonara” for main course. The pizzas are superb. Best dough this side of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele on Baker Street. Out of these two choices, Gloria is probably edged out to the smallest degree but nevertheless their pizzas are good enough for The European (who was basically weaned on pizzas in Naples), who on this day, even ate the crusts (she would later be offered desserts as a reward). The carbonara divided opinion. There is no denying the theatre (it’s served table-side from a round of pecorino), and the home-made pasta is perfectly cooked and flecked with smoky guanciale (cured jowl bacon). For me, it was heavenly filth… for The European, too salty by far (she would have rather had the pan of mafalda with truffle and mascarpone but seeing as the carbonara is served for “per due” minimum, she made the ultimate sacrifice just for me.
The European stuck to her wine for pudding and left me to bury my face in a bowl of Gloria’s heavenly tiramisu. It’s serious stuff; once again served table side (the waiter made me purr with the words “one more spoonful?”) and is decadently creamy and smooth. After a couple of coffees to slap us out of the food coma we settled up and headed back out into the sunlight.
I left Gloria – and central London – full, happy but also a little nervous. The city and its wonderful places to eat and drink are only just beginning to stir, and for every outlet open, two are closed (as I write this the rough indicators are that forty percent of restaurants are now trading). Plenty of cafés are still boarded up, shops still locked up, and many restaurants sit closed and dark, or open but empty. Gloria, though busy upstairs, was only half-full downstairs, and this was a restaurant which before lockdown needed you to give them a least a month’s notice for a reservation. We booked two days prior to visiting, thus marking the first time I was unhappy with easily bagging seats at one of the hottest joints in town. We had a drink at the usually heaving Gordon’s Wine Bar on the way home; worryingly we were seated almost straight away. There are encouraging signs, such as the aforementioned West India Quay, and how I can’t get a table at Dishoom for three weeks. On the walk to London Bridge Station, South Bank’s restaurants were packed, or at least as much as social distancing allows.
At work we are pondering the same things, but professional consensus is generally of the “if we open it, they will come” approach; that the more places open, the more people will venture out, causing more to open, and so on. All I will say is that if you are fit and well, and happy to get out there, then please do, and support my wonderful industry and the equally wonderful people who depend on it for their livelihoods. For extra incentive, book into Gloria while you easily can, and discover for yourself why eating out in London can be one of the most magical things to do in the city.