With no real way to make a reservation unless you have 7 friends all free on the same night, Gloria asks of you just one simple thing: wait outside on a slim Shoreditch pavement, in a queue that is at times deeper than the restaurant’s famous 10-layer lasagne.
During the London winter, this is easier said than done, but unlike some queues in the capital, you will find yourself in good company at Gloria. Lining the curb is a mixture of East London cool and dark-haired European types, and most glorious of all, you will hear the odd “mamma mia” as Italians speaking their mother tongue exasperate at the growing length of the line.
Once you’re through the door, Gloria welcomes you in for dinner like any traditional, bustling Italian signora would – with heaps and heaps of food, handmade in her own kitchen, and drinks being poured until the early hours.
Gloria contradicts so many of the current restaurants in London, eschewing any efforts of minimalism and sleekness, instead adopting interiors and exteriors which are deliberately shabby and over the top. Whilst standing in the queue, we take refuge under the frilly yellow awnings, with seemingly untamed green vines climbing the walls and around the wide terracotta plant pots lining the restaurant front. Stepping through the door we are transported to seventies Capri, and everything is quite gloriously over the top. It’s all Italo-exaggerated: the pink velour banquette seating, the large squares of burnt caramel and cream floor tiles, dark lacquered wood on the walls, and ceremonial plates hanging from the curtain rail.
Rattan seats are placed around white-topped tables, with low-set, candy-striped chaise lounges on the other side. Sitting at odd heights, friends huddle close to talk over their plate-filled tables, occasionally erupting into laughter, only to lean straight back in for more. Gloria is like the setting of any classic Italian film, with secrets and stories being shared whilst families break bread and the most buttery burrata. The decor is very 1970s, but still manages to feel cool – perhaps in part to the bubbly young serving staff who seem to all speak at least a little Italian; and perhaps in part to the so retro it’s cool playlist. On the evening we are dining, songs range from Italo-disco to Kelis to Whitney Houston.
And yet, despite all the pomp and fanfare, Gloria takes food very seriously. We are told that everything is made here, ‘e basta’ when we arrive – meaning ‘and that’s it’. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s delightfully simple where you might expect it to be anything but. And the same goes for drink. There is a private wine room which stocks more than 3,000 bottles of Italian wine. The menu features a healthy selection of more than 40 delicious barolos, and yet remains accessible to all budgets with bottles of trebbiano and ever-popular sangiovese available for just £23.
Take the time to try a cocktail at the bar before being seated – the raucous bartenders recommended the punchy ‘Limoncello Spritz’ (vodka, Amalfi limoncello, Prosecco, mango, peach) and for something a little smoother, the ‘Look Me in the Eyes’, a blend of three rums with almond hibiscus syrup and lime.
Navigating the menu is a lesson in Gloria’s tongue-in-cheek humour. The spiciest pizza is aptly named the Robert de Nitro, but you should order the Brexitalia Truffle for a true taste of Europe. Fresh black truffle is grated over fior di latte, mushroom carpaccio, black truffle cream and parmigiano – the richest pizza on the menu and definitely one to share.
If you can stomach more bread, there is the fluffy Foccacia della Nonna, but your appetite might be better spent on one of the many starters. For meat-eaters, there is the San Daniele 19-month ham, or the duo of Tuscan salamis, one truffle and the other fennel, made with love by the Gombitelli brothers. If it’s come from the motherland, Gloria tells us so. For cheese-lovers, the Pappa Pomodoro Burrata is a must: 250g of burrata to go around the table, filled with homemade pesto and served with the chef’s pappa al pomodoro, which is bread soaked in juicy fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and a kick of garlic.
The main event is not just one dish, and more of a series of showstopper plates. The Big Mamma Carpaccio is one of them, arriving at the table with its own dedicated stand because the ovular plate is too large for the table. It’s a stretch of high-quality beef carpaccio, with peppery leaves, parmesan, and hazelnuts that could feed three or four people. A spectacular spaghetti carbonara (for a minimum of two people) arrives steaming in the whole round of pecorino cheese, with crispy guanciale and a lot of pepper, and not a hint of cream like so many carbonaras in London.
For a sweet close to the night, our waitress tells us the nocciolata pizza is a popular choice for groups, and encourages us to order it despite being a party of two. We consider it, along with the chocolate fondant ‘paradiso’ pudding, but end up returning to an old faithful: ‘Il Tiramisu’. With no further description needed, our square of tiramisu is served just like at home, straight from the cold pyrex dish onto our plate, dished up at the table.
The menu is big, the restaurant is loud, and tries hard to impress its crowds of visitors. Yet despite what you might expect, the simplest dishes turn out to be the most memorable ones, as tends to be the case with good Italian restaurants. Whether for the food, the Instagrams, or the atmosphere, an evening at Gloria is a kitsch, gold-tinted, endless Napoli summer, and more than worth the wait.
Gloria is open daily – and there are no bookings for dinner.
Address: 54-56 Great Eastern St, Hackney, London EC2A 3QR
Image credit at the very top of the article: Jérôme Galland/Bigstock.com