Thursday 11 March 2010

Polpo - London

Last autumn, Polpo opened in the eye of a veritable hurricane of social media led positive publicity and superb heavyweight reviews. Here at casa Essex Eating, this didn’t go unnoticed. But, as one who is always fashionably late, (some might say painfully so), I must admit to being one of the few food bloggers left in London who had yet to visit…. that’s right, past tense ‘had’…. I’ve now been, and I’ve tried. (Err otherwise this would be a pretty rubbish review, non?). So sit back, read on and I’ll tell you about my visit.

Polpo is unusual in London, insofar as it’s what’s known as a ‘bacaro’. An eatery specific to Venice, it’s a form of working mans pub where small plates of snacks, known as Cicheti are served. Think Venetian tapas and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

The restaurant is also unusual in another way. There is a ‘no booking’ policy in the evening, which I found to be quite refreshing – upon arriving, you can stand and have a drink at the bar whilst waiting for a table to be vacated, it’s all very pleasant and means that rather than plan an evening days in advance, you can just drop in on a whim. Superb.

Arriving on a Saturday evening Polpo was visibly busy, buzzing and packed with the general hum of happy diners conversing. Making my way to the bar, I enquired about a table and was told, there would be up to a thirty-minute wait. Fair enough. Putting my name down on the waiting list, I ordered a Moretti, and “E”, my dining companion ordered a Campari spritz. (Which, she proclaimed to be excellent).

Exactly eight minutes later, we were approached to tell us our table was ready. Not bad going at all on a Saturday night. Threading past the bar and other tables, through the beautifully distressed (white Victorian style tiles, exposed brick, bare light bulbs), into the extremely dimly lit restaurant proper, mood lighting with the emphasis very much on mood.

Sitting down at a small table for two, it was cosy…. very cosy. Our neighbours being mere inches away. Looking down our table produced the optical illusion that made it appear, rather than sitting at individual tables, my fellow diners and I were sitting at a long communal table. Which is fine by me, in my opinion it all adds to the atmosphere.

Ordering a carafe of wine to share, we quickly decided that as the ‘Cicheti’ section of the menu was so reasonable £1 - £2 per item, we’d order everything, the lot…. just to try it. Along with this, we ordered some rather nice bread, cured ham and split pea risotto from the Meat section. Mussels and clams from the Fish section, grilled zucchini and rocket salad from the vegetable section …it all looked so good…. at this point our waitress stopped us and said “Actually guys, I think that’s enough”. Foolishly we listened to her ill advised, but well-meant interruption and stopped ordering.

After a short wait, up came our ordered Cichetti – all of it on one plate.

Prosciutto, mozzarella di bufala
Rocket and walnut pesto crostino
Chopped chicken liver
Anchovy and chickpea crostino
Salt cod on grilled polenta
Potato and Parmesan crochetta
Salami and pickled radicchio grissini
White anchovy, tapenade and egg.

Small but perfectly formed tasters - no more than a couple of bites each, most of the proffered snacks were seriously lovely, the Arancini in particular were superb, as was the chopped chicken liver. The white anchovy tapenade and egg, was a favourite of ‘E’ which in her opinion packed a real flavourful punch for such a small bite. I wasn’t keen on the Salami and pickled radicchio grissini, I couldn’t discern much apart from dry grissini to be honest. And the salt cod on grilled polenta consisted of tasteless salt cod on unpleasant fridge cold, grilled polenta, utterly bland due to being over chilled.
But, despite a couple of duff Cichetti – there were many more hits than misses and both myself and ‘E’ were more than happy with what we’d tried.

The larger plates we’d ordered arrived. My cured ham and split pea risotto was incredibly good, unctuous and rich – exactly as a decent risotto should be.

‘E’s Mussels and Clams, were also excellent – with some incredibly large meaty Mussels filling the shells.

From the vegetable section, the grilled zucchini and rocket salad was superb. Coated with fried breadcrumbs the whole dish was delicious.

Ploughing our way through that lot, the waitresses earlier warning of our gluttony whilst ordering came back to haunt us, but probably not in the way she expected. We’d eaten everything ordered, were still hungry and could happily eat more. What to do? Order more savoury dishes or move onto the desserts…. and order three to share?

Honey and Walnut semifreddo arrived in a novel manner, scooped into an ice-cream cone. The initial taste was loaded with honey, but subsequently it was less flavoursome. It was the least successful of the three desserts we ordered.

Flourless orange and Almond cake with mascarpone was altogether more pleasing, light, moist and tasting strongly of orange. Very nice indeed.

But, saving the best till last – the Hot Chocolate pot and ‘esse’ (Italian ‘s’ shaped biscuits), was gorgeous, so, so good. Rich, creamy and decadent. It was everything a good dessert should be.

Coffee’s arrived, and at this point the needle zips across the record. My espresso was fine. ‘E’s Americano was bloody awful, so strong it was incredible, it tasted like the equivalent of six espressos…the accompanying small jug of milk wasn’t enough to dilute it to a drinkable level, we had to ask for more – and it was still barely drinkable. Not entirely sure what went wrong there.

But, turgid coffee aside, I absolutely loved Polpo. I had a great meal and really enjoyed what I ate. I tried a lot of different food, with a lot of exciting different flavours and that’s the beauty of it. With small plates and portions, you can roam around the menu easily, a bit of this,... a bit of that. Perfect to share.

Looking at the menu now, next time I visit (and there will be a next time), I’d order in a different manner – ignoring the Cicheti and perhaps ordering a couple of the main dishes with some of the vegetable side dishes.

Sadly, I didn’t order the Cuttlefish in its ink, gremolata dish and there were collective groans of horror from foodies on Twitter upon hearing of this oversight, it being something of a signature dish. But, it gives me another reason to go back, so I’m not too put out.

41 Beak Street

Telephone: 020 7734 4479


Graphic Foodie said...

Mmmmm. Looks like my kind of place. I could easy polish off that lot!

Hollow Legs said...

I love love love Polpo - did you try the pizetta bianca? That's also great. We shared a fair few main dishes; the cuttlefish was the best.

Dan said...

Fran - with your background, you'd love it at Polpo.

Lizzie - I did try the pizetta bianca. I think next time I go, more mains and more veg side dishes - seriously, the grilled zucchini dish was bloody gorgeous...makes me wonder what the rest are like.

scandilicious said...

Nice post Dan, you would have enjoyed the cuttlefish! We went Saturday and stuffed ourselves silly on all manner of gorgeous little plates of goodness.

Wish there were a Polpo in Bloomsbury but Soho ain't too far thankfully ;)

meemalee said...

I saw Polpo t'other day when I was at BBR - didn't realise it was just there ;)

Definitely going to have to visit - you made it sound brill!

Dan said...

Sig - Ta very much. Oh no, someone else who has eaten the did I miss it?

MiMi - It's perfect for BBR, stagger out and across the road for apres Polpo cocktails. Superb.

*Note* Just like to add that Polpo commented to me on Twitter today that they're going to check out the Americano recipe. So, good customer service.

Greedy Diva said...

Hi Dan - As per my earlier wails, I also love the cuttlefish and the pork belly dish. But all your choices look great anyway, and it's perfect you have an excuse to go back for more!

PDH said...

Is that god awful 70's club still on Beak Street? Spotting the address brings back shameful memories of being an awkward teen trying to go clubbing in Town. Polpo on the other hand sounds good!


The Grubworm said...

Impressed that they got back to you about the coffee - that does show they have an interest in their customers. As someone who almost always tries everyone else's food (whether they like it or not), this sort of food suits me down to the ground. I'll have to try out as soon as possible. Good review!

Paunchos said...

Great stuff. I can't wait to go back as well. We had exactly the same thoughts about the semifreddo and loved the almond cake.

Helen said...

I am reluctant to go back as I had a really disappointing meal there. It was incredibly hit and miss. here's what Su-Lin wrote about it

Anonymous said...

Good write-up Dan. Think Helen's right that it is a little hit and miss, but the hits outweigh the misses considerably. Pizzetta Bianca was top notch, as was the ox tongue with lentils.

Dan said...

Carly - I'll have to go back and try the cuttlefish and the Pork Belly dishes at the very least.

Paul - not entirely sure if that 70's club is still there, can't recall seeing any dodgily dressed platform and flared clad dudes in the area for quite some time, so guessing no.

Grubworm - Thanks :) and agreed, very nice of them to respond and react positively to a problem.

Paunchos - Glad we are of one mind when it comes to the Polpo desserts.

Helen - That's a shame. Interesting, seems like some people love Polpo, and some people haven't enjpyed their visits quite so much. Despite my experience being mostly positive, there were a few niggles. Overall I enjoyed Polpo and would be happy to go back to try some of the other dishes.

James - Thanks, Ox Tongue with lentils - sheesh, something else I'll need to try.

Unknown said...

I still havent been to Polpo but it looks great and I am encouraged by your 8min waiting time!