Popolo: Slick and Single

At Popolo the simple pleasures of Southern Italy are housed in a hip new space by Neil Bradford Interiors, as Belinda Aucott reports

20 Jul 2012

Tired and stressed? Popolo will soothe the senses. From the first whiffs of wood fired pizza to the hints of ripe coffee studding the air, Popolo provides instant relief from a cold hard day.

Impeccably dressed male waiters cruise the floor; divine smells waft from the kitchen and there’s a pleasant hustle, bustle going on. Everyone is watching each other’s food and on my third visit a truffle trader at the next perch even asks me to advise her on what to eat.

Situated directly behind Neild Avenue, Popolo is the latest NYC style eatery to join the emerging precinct of Rushcutters Bay. Slick and simple, the fantastic food and fast service has helped it make friends with the neighbours.

The modern space caters to a worldly audience who enjoy Southern Italian fare that’s never too fussy or rustic.  

Simple dishes like Polpo – braised octopus with green olives and house-made bread –  or Pizza Maruzella with capers, olives and anchovies, are both a ‘must try’. ‘I’m back in Italy,’ says your tongue, ‘Oh, yeah, give me more’ it pleads 

While you sit and sip your wine from the all-Italian wine list you will notice nothing out of place. Nothing juts out at you, nothing offends.

According to the interior designer Neil Bradford this elegant house ‘feel’ is no accident. Popolo was conceived as a space or stage on which the theatre of dining could be performed.

“I think the ambience of a restaurant is people sitting down to dine. It’s not about tricked up interiors and trimmings. When a restaurant is full, you don’t need all that,” says Bradford.

Best known for his work in residential interiors like the Residence on Hyde Park, as well as notable addresses like the Hotel Lindrum Melbourne, Bradford is a shy and retiring designer who dislikes talking about his work.

He came to the Popolo project after striking up a friendship with the owners Flavio Carnelvale and Fabio Dore at Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point.

The biggest challenge was how to ‘warm up’ the space and create a sense of ‘comfort’ inside a glass box.  Working with a canvas of concrete and glass Bradford’s first move was to pick a palette of dark colours and materials that could absorb some of the building’s natural light.

The use of a long leather banquet along the back wall, a dark red fabric for the wall’s upholstery and traditional café furniture helped him manage the brightness while also clearing up the acoustics.

“What you find here is classic and ageless,” says Bradford. “It won’t need to be updated for 10 years, because there’s nothing in it to date or degrade,” he says.  

Bradford points out the Foscarini concrete pendant lights (from Space Furniture), the mottled axolotl finish on the wide bar (warmer than stone to sit at) and high backed Thonet barstools (that you can really lean back into at the end of a long day).

“You have to find the capacity in the budget to use the best quality furniture you can, because any less quality doesn’t stand up to the rigor of constant restaurant use,” Bradford insists.

Popolo