Carol Godsmark reviews Circolo Pizzeria, Southsea

Circolo Pizzeria in Osborne Road, Southsea
Circolo Pizzeria in Osborne Road, Southsea
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Circolo, meaning circle in la lingua bella d’Italia, is the appropriate name of the newly-opened fashionable pizzeria on Osborne Road.

Owner Gianni decided to take on the mantle of restaurateur, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Augusto Verrecchia, who opened Portsmouth’s first ice-cream parlour in Guildhall Square in 1933.

It closed in 1970, but for those who like a bit of retro nostalgia some of the vintage ice-cream bowls and other items can be seen at Portsmouth City Museum.

Gianni took over the former butcher’s shop last year for his new business and discovered a treasure trove of old tiles. He had the good sense to keep these blue, green and white gems and found other retro items in secondhand shops, auction rooms and at vintage fairs.

But his prized possession must be the marble worktops saved from his grandfather’s ice-cream parlour.

Sit at one of the smart communal wooden tables, at the bar or at the marble wall counter on colourful stools. A mix of hanging lighting and trendy garage lighting adds to the casual, appealing look, as does a fine back wall with its foodie-travel design and a must-have Gaggia.

A few basil plants add colour and Mick Jagger provides the belting, attractive (to me) music.

Circolo’s pizzas, made from fresh dough, are cooked in a stone-bake oven and most pizzas are priced around the £10 mark.

Classic Margherita, Napoletana and Americano pizzas are available alongside Circolo specials including Feast Like An Italian and the colourful Piccante al Pecorino, billed as ‘Imagine the saucy heat of a red hot 1960s Alfa Romeo Spider speeding along the Amalfi coast,’ a combo of tomato sugo, spicy salami, mozzarella, pancetta, red onions, happy peppers (hot), jalapenos and slivers of aged Pecorino cheese.

There are pasta dishes too; a burger (which seems out of place here); salads (including La Comasca, chargrilled chicken, pancetta, avocado, tomato, poached egg and mixed salad leaves tossed in house dressing) and antipasti from £4 including courgette ribbons in olive oil with pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano.

You can also nibble on dough balls and marinated olives.

Desserts are all £4.50 (tiramisu, chocolate mousse and others).

The wine list is all Italian and available by the glass, bottle and – eureka! – by the carafe. A rustic Sangiovese was fine.

The Circolo pizza, a huge eight-wedge feast, included strong goat’s cheese cut by over-enthusiastic use of caramelised onions, tasting more English sweet than Italian gutsy. More spinach would have been welcome and the pancetta was muted.

Overall though, it was decidedly enjoyable and impossible to finish, but the rest made a fine lunch the following day.

Apart from the decent food, it’s the beenie-wearing owner, a charming natural-born restaurateur, that will make this tiny 26-seater work.

Circolo and Southsea Coffee Company have raised the bar in this part of town, making it a far cry from soulless chains.

My bill? Just over £18, not including a tip.

Circolo Pizzeria, 78 Osborne Road, Southsea, PO5 3LU (023) 9234 9079. Open 11.30am for lunch and 5.30pm for supper.

Disabled access: Narrow entrance but otherwise fine.

How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade - Circolo is by Palmerston Road. On-street parking available.

Ratings (maximum *****)

Food ****

Service *****

Atmosphere *****