You’ll have seen the cheese wheel carbonara on Instagram, heard about the 10-level lasagne from excited friends, and read about the mountainous lemon meringue pie in restaurant reviews. A new trattoria is in town, and it’s been subtly taking over your social media feed as well as your Friday nights — if you can get a table, of course.
I say subtle, but Gloria, Shoreditch’s hottest locale, is anything but. An opening party where chefs pour limoncello into guests’ mouths, straight from the bottle? Check. Shamelessly 1970s kitsch decor, plus a brilliantly naff playlist that keeps weekend diners dancing until 2am? Check. A (ridiculous, but delicious) menu of near-unconquerable, carby, creamy wonder? Check.
Gloria is loud, proud and attention-seeking. And attention it’s got in spades: on one hand, the Insta-crowd’s enthusiasm shows no sign of waning and nearby office workers return religiously for their pizza; on the other, some have called it gaudy, overdecorated and gimmicky. Nevertheless, its nightly queues are testament to the chatter and, while the menu is its main draw, there’s more to this place than just pasta. ‘We’re not just feeding people,’ says Victor Lugger, Gloria’s co-founder. ‘If you want to feed people, there’s Deliveroo. It’s about an experience; the people. You can go to a sh***y restaurant, but if it’s with great people, you might have a good time.’ And Lugger and his business partner Tigrane Seydoux are great people, capering around the restaurant as we chat, bantering in Italian with their staff and offering me pasta (it’s 11.30am). During the shoot, they jump up and down on sofas, feed each other spaghetti and lark around with a blowtorch. It’s not hard, in short, to work out why Gloria is off-the-wall fun.
As founders of the Big Mamma group, Lugger and Seydoux, both 34, have form: they’ve set up eight restaurants in France, including La Felicità, the largest in Europe at 4,500 sq m. Gloria is their first UK outpost, but they’ve another restaurant hitting the capital soon: 280-seater behemoth Circolo, which opens in Fitzrovia on 28 June. It too will be an Italian place but this time it will riff off memories of Seydoux’s wedding in Sicily, ‘with everyone drinking spritz and all these big dishes of food’. It’s a huge project — there are more than 20,000 bottles of booze lining the walls, a 3,000 sq ft planted ceiling and a 60-seater terrace. As Lugger puts it, ‘if Gloria is an acoustic concert in your garden, Circolo is Glastonbury!’ The boys’ track record, however, suggests they’re more than up to it.
From Strasbourg and Monaco respectively, Lugger and Seydoux both grew up around food. Lugger’s father used to work in Italy, bringing back San Daniele ham and grissini. Seydoux, meanwhile, is part of a dynasty that includes actress Léa and billionaire co-chairman of Pathé, Jérôme. Seydoux’s father, Jacques, ran restaurants in Monaco, and was instrumental in Alain Ducasse’s journey to three Michelin stars. But how do two French business graduates launch a string of Italian restaurants? ‘When we started six years ago, my grandmother said: “Do you need two guys with a business degree to launch a pizzeria?” But we’re passionate about it,’ says Lugger. To them, Italian food brings back the best memories: ‘Childhood, holidays, great moments with our family and friends, being by the sea.’ As a result, it took them ‘like, 10 seconds’ to decide Italian food was their calling.
Judging by the reviews, the public agree, but the pair aren’t fussed about the hype. As Lugger puts it, ‘If we like it and it works for us, it probably works for everyone.’ Certainly, they’re not bowing to the clean-eating trend that’s dominating much of the capital’s restaurant scene. ‘That’s not us,’ says Seydoux. ‘We want generosity, authenticity. Besides, I’m convinced that our food is healthy — it’s great, fresh produce.’ All of Gloria’s ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, or direct from small suppliers in Italy. ‘That taste and charm is unique,’ says Lugger, adding, somewhat dismissively, ‘If you’re into 100 per cent vegan, gluten-free food, there are a thousand restaurants doing that.’
There definitely aren’t a thousand restaurants doing what these two do. Their team is nearly all Italian (in London, 67 out of 76 are from Italy; and they’re the biggest employers of Italian people in France). The ‘Filippo’s big balls’ on Gloria’s menu — meatballs with a melting, pecorino cheese middle — are an eponymous tribute to one of their chefs. It’s the kind of camped-up joke you can imagine them loving. ‘We’re not looking to be fun ourselves,’ says Seydoux. ‘We’re looking to have fun.’ He’s the quieter of the two, handling HR, the staff and operations, while Lugger is the ‘nerdy, foodie guy’. Together, they’re a formidable duo — which may explain why they’ve decided to come to London at a time when they say starting a restaurant here has never been harder.
‘We didn’t open here because it looks good on a spreadsheet,’ says Lugger. Seydoux adds: ‘Four or five years ago, it was a dream; we were looking at London and thinking it was like climbing Everest.’ Lugger has recently moved to Hampstead Heath with his wife and two children (not wanting to ‘end up with all the French people in Notting Hill’) while Seydoux lives with his family in Paris, popping over every fortnight to meet with the UK team.
For them, London represents diversity and togetherness, which chimes with the Big Mamma mission. To Seydoux, it’s ‘gathering people, wherever they come from’; for Lugger, ‘London is like a big party, whereas Paris is more like a members-only club.’ They’re keen to emphasise that Big Mamma is all about bringing people together. Is there a political bent to all this? I’m thinking of the hand-painted banner, reading ‘Brexitalia’, strung across Gloria’s frontage on opening night, and the fact that the company describes itself as ‘zero per cent Brexit-compatible’. ‘It was a choice from the heart,’ says Lugger. ‘Especially on the eve of Brexit, giving a smile to people and gathering them? Yes, I think that’s a good objective when we wake up in the morning.’