East London’s restaurant of the moment, Gloria is a contender for the city’s most unapologetically over the top new opening. The first overseas venture from the Big Mamma group, with seven restaurants in France, Gloria occupies the former Red’s True Barbecue site on Great Eastern Street. Having already received rapturous acclaim since opening earlier this year, the restaurant draws long queues, thanks to a no-bookings policy for groups fewer than six, and plans have already been announced for a second London restaurant from the group, Circolo, slated to open later this month.
From the street, Gloria is unmissable with its lemon façade and countless plants. Inside, that flourish of flamboyant maximalism continues with the 160-cover space’s eccentric décor. Upstairs, the main dining room is designed to evoke mid-century Capri, festooned with marble surfaces, a mirrored bar, closely-packed tables, various antique furnishings, plush banquettes and houseplants. The windowless basement space is fitted with a sunken open kitchen, a mirrored ceiling and a carpet so garish it’s a wonder that J.D. Wetherspoon hasn’t yet seized it. The service at Gloria is similarly charming, lending to a decadent – ultimately enjoyable – dining experience.
The theme continues with Gloria’s menu: a large white card with red print which outlines a busy melange of dishes with dishes often named with occasionally tiresome puns (YouPorn pizza, ‘Filippo’s Big Balls’, ‘Mr Big Cannelone’). Much of the kitchen’s brand of Italian comfort food is really very good, nonetheless, utilising almost 200 different ingredients sourced direct from Italy.
As for the drinks selection, a wide selection of exclusively Italian wines is available, with a prominent focus on Barolo. A number of riffs on classic cocktails are also served, including an interesting play on the Negroni, embellished with porcini mushroom wine and truffle foam – a favoured ingredient here. To accompany the Trophy Negroni, a recent lunch began with a board of Parmigiano Reggiano cubes; plump, mild green Cerignola olives; and fruity black Taggiasche olives. Another simple produce-led dish showcased wafer-thin slivers of salty San Daniele ham complete with an accurate menu description: “everything about this ham is perfect”. Puglian burrata, on the other hand, was an exceptional cricket ball of milky cheese with a soft, creamy centre, embellished with extra virgin green olive oil and ribbons of slightly sweet roasted peppers. Simple Italian comfort food at its most alluring.
A trio of crocchè (Italian croquettes) were a particular highlight: a gloriously insalubrious marriage of black truffle béchamel spiked with lardons of guanciale, cloaked with breadcrumbs and plunged into seething oil then showered with Parmesan. ‘Filippo’s Big Balls’ (named after Gloria’s chef), on the other hand, were fist-sized meatballs with an oozing pecorino core, slow-cooked to practical perfection and served in a rich sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, finished with wilted spinach leaves. One of many pasta-centric mains, Gloria’s pasta al tartufo was served in a vintage copper pan, harbouring tangles of fresh mafalda pasta which clung to a satisfyingly licentious sauce rampant with black Molise truffle, mascarpone and button mushrooms to complement the truffle’s intense earthiness.
Various extravagant desserts are available, including that famously excessive wedge of lemon meringue pie that’s become a social media darling of 2019. Instead, we opted for the “crunchy punchy” chocolate mousse. A comparatively light dessert: the airy mousse was silky and restrained by the softest whisper of salt, crowned with a wafer studded with hazelnuts and desecrated coffee beans, each working in sweet harmony with the mousse. Finally, a new opening that lives up to its palpable hype.
Header photograph: Jérôme Galland
Gloria can be found at 54-56 Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3QR.