Thursday, 10 November 2011

Restaurant review: Polpo


"Father, who had been to Venice once previously, claimed intimate knowledge of the streets and canals of the city. Predictably therefore, we spent a good hour trying to navigate our way from St Mark's Square to the Rialto Bridge and failed miserably, ending up back at our starting destination, cold and hungry..."  

Don't you remember the days when Italian restaurants were all the same? Well no neither do I. But I've seen enough mafia films to know what they should look like: pepper grinders, checked tablecloths, ragu alla bolognesemozarella in carozza and lemon sorbet served in a frozen lemon. Suddenly though, in the last 18 months a rash of new Italian places has flooded London. Serving unfamiliar regional dishes (try the Sanguinaccio at Bocca di Lupo and you'll know what I mean), on small plates, in buzzy Soho joints. This invasion prompted every critic, blogger and foodie out there to get their knickers in a twist trying to get a table, write a review, be seen and gush over how great they all are.

At the vanguard of this new wave was Polpo, which is a Venetian style bacaro on Beak Street in Soho.
Venetian inspired it may be, but unfortunately I can’t necessarily vouch for its authenticity.  My only experience of Venice was with my Father, when we had the best part of the day to spend in the city before a flight home. Father, who had been to Venice once previously, claimed intimate knowledge of the streets and canals of the city. Predictably therefore, we spent a good hour trying to navigate our way from St Mark's Square to the Rialto Bridge and failed miserably, ending up back at our starting destination, cold and hungry. On that occasion lunch wasn't a memorable affair and I can't even remember what I had, certainly nothing like the cicheti they serve up at Polpo.

So what of Polpo? Well the concept (if indeed there is one) seems to be to create a sociable place, serving up small, tasty plates of food which are easy to share, cheapish northern Italian vino and all at a reasonable price. To this extent I'd say they've hit the nail on the head. VD and I had a nice time and it's a fun place to head to after work on a Friday night, sink a couple of Campari and Sodas and scoff a plate of fritto misto.

Most of the food we had was pretty good, some was excellent - the flank steak with porcini cream, the fennel salami with pickled radicchio and the aforementioned fritto. Some wasn't so good - the grilled focaccia and the anchovy and chickpea crostino both tasted less than fresh and the polpette (meatballs) turned up lukewarm. But even if some of the food doesn't quite cut the mustard, the friendly service is also pretty slick, so you soon forget it in favour of the next course.

What I don't quite understand is the adulation with which Polpo was greeted when it opened. The overall standard of the cooking, although pretty decent, isn't as good as places like Bocca di Lupo or Terroirs for example. I think Londoners were probably surprised and delighted to find a restaurant that didn't want to rip them off, served good food and had a bit of something about it. After all, isn't that what we all want in a meal out?

7/10

Polpo, 41 Beak Street, London, W1F 9SB

020 7734 4479

Open: Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Sunday for lunch only

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