Set in Southbank’s popular River Quay precinct, Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar offers second to none, uninterrupted views of the river and ever changing city skyline. A quick peek at their website seemed to confirm it as a perfect location
for a Sunday afternoon lunch with family from out of town. “Popolo” means people in Italian and according to the good people there, Popolo is more than just a name, it’s “a motto” dedicated to the fine art of sharing an intimate meal, “en
famiglia”. I called to make a booking for our large party of 10 but it seems as though everyone else in Brisbane had had the same idea. They can accommodate us at 11am and we will have to be out by 1pm. That worked so we arrive promptly.
As expected, the restaurant is already buzzing and half full. We are quickly led to a long table near the front with the best of the best view in town. We started by ordering a round of bloody Mary’s and the kids order soft drinks as we all settle
in to have a good look at the menu. The drinks appear as we are happily bantering away. In what seems to have become the spiel du juor in Australia and North America, the server explains that [for whatever benefit to the diner they care to
point out] the dishes will NOT arrive together…. so please don’t expect that standard of service even if each of you were to order Piatti Grandi (‘main’). I understand the concept of sharing especially for the starters when everyone wants just
a taste of each dish. In fact it very much suited our group and it does lend a casual ambiance to Popolo that is very much in keeping with its splendid location. But let’s face it – bringing out food to suit an informal kitchen, is a food service
business model that lowers back of house overheads. To imply the mode de service is designed – as some places do – just to provide a superior dining experience, is in my opinion incorrect. But I digress. We ordered a heap of different
Picollis and Grandis with a bottle of Mumm, the only champagne on the menu for our celebration and hoped for the best. The first of the Piatti Picolli arrived with a nice cold bottle and we all eagerly dug into the Calamari Fritti (fried
calamari), Polpette (pork, veal and ricotta meatballs), Sardine in Saor (sardines, olive oil, white wine vinegar, confit onion, pine nuts, currants and pear) and Fromaggi Arancini (gorgonzola, taleggio, parmesan and roast pumpkin risotto
balls). Sadly, what looked mouthwatering on paper and on the plate did not live up to its promise. The calamari was light and crisp but it lacked seasoning, something a squeeze of lemon and a dip in the herb aioli simply couldn’t fix. The
arancini was gluggy with little hint of any roast pumpkin or the different rich complex cheeses. Surprisingly, the sardine loving half of the table reported they lacked flavour and that the mix of currants and pear in the dish simply didn’t help.
The meatballs were delicious. Ample crusty bread allowed the rich tomato sugo to be mopped up by the hungry teenagers at the table. The pizzas arrived as the Picollis were being finished off. The Margherita topped with sugo, buffalo
mozzarella and basil was delicious in its simplicity. The crust crisp to perfection. The Pancetta (topped with sugo, fior di latte, rosemary and pancetta) was also cooked perfectly with the addition of rosemary and pancetta giving it a lovely
salty flavour that went perfectly with our cold crisp bubbles – second bottle ordered. Bad news arrived in that there was not another bottle of champagne to be had and it was still before noon! Slowly the Piatti Grandis began arriving and our
hungry crew began serving up the Cacciucco (seafood and fennel broth with prawns, clams, mussels and fregola) and Ravioli con Zucca e Ricotta (pumpkin and ricotta ravioli, pumpkin purée, amaretto crumble, grana padano). The seafood in
the Cacciucco was fresh and perfectly cooked with the fennel broth adding just the right flavour without overshadowing the seafood. The Ravioli was cooked al dente and the pumpkin and ricotta filling was nice and creamy, though amerreto
crumble was a bit too sweet. The Pollo alla Diavola (‘Devils Chicken’ roasted half chicken, oregano, paprika, lemon, chili and cauliflower) was up next. Sadly, while the meat was cooked just right there was nothing devilish about the seasoning
of the chicken with little hint of the herb or chili. All other dishes finished we were tempted to cancel the one yet to arrive. But the Bistecca (salt and pepper crusted Wagyu rump pepperonata and grated horseradish) was worth the wait.
Tender, juicy and the salt and pepper crust added just the right kick to bring out the Wagyu flavour. Just as we were enjoying our last bites of the Bistecca, we were kindly reminded that it was time to move on for the next sitting but the back
patio lounge had been opened up for us for our dessert. The little ones downed a couple of scoops of blood orange sorbet before we all went for a stroll along the picturesque riverside. Our lunch may have been over but we still had the rest of
the afternoon to enjoy the beautiful Queensland sun.
– Brooke Baxter