Sunday, 9 May 2010

Polpo: A Venetian bacaro in London

Polpo opened last year amidst fevered blogger excitement - so many blog reviews were there that I assumed I must surely be the only blogger not to have visited. I hadn't been put off by the hype so much as the very mixed reviews - whilst most people liked the restaurant overall, the feedback on the dishes suggested a lot of inconsistency with choices being very hit or miss. And some of the photos suggested it was very dark indeed – and I do like to be able to see what I'm eating.

However, on finding a fellow food blogger, Laissez Fare, who had also not been, we made a date to meet for lunch one recent Friday and see, and taste, for ourselves.

Polpo is modelled on a traditional Venetian bacaro, offering a range of simple but tasty small Italian dishes. Not quite the Italian tapas, but similar… and great for people like me who prefer sharing lots of smaller plates to eating just one main dish.

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Unlike a real bacaro though, Polpo know most guests aren't looking to eat standing up at the bar, and there are plenty of tables, reasonably well spaced out. On a sunny spring day, the interior isn't dingy either, though we're seated by a large ground floor window letting in lots of light - I can imagine a much cosier, darker ambience of a winter evening or down in the basement.

Keen to avoid the inconsistency I noted in many blog reviews, I had, before leaving the house, climbed to the height of anally retentive preparation (and then some) by copying and pasting the menu into an Excel sheet into which I added Yay and Nay comments against the dishes from 4 representative bloggers whose opinions I trust. Thanks to their feedback we ordered some stellar dishes and even the weakest was certainly not a dud, by a long shot - just a dish we didn't like quite as much as the rest.

We took our friendly waitress' advice on how many dishes we needed to order. For two people, she suggested 2-3 in total from cicheti, crostini and breads, 4 from mains (meat or fish) plus a vegetable or two. In retrospect, I'd suggest no more than 4 in total from mains and vegetables together and maybe an extra cicheti or two.

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I asked for her suggestions on a soft drink too and enjoyed my cute little bottle of San Bitter Red. Laissez Fare opted for a half litre of house white.

Before too long, our nibbles arrived.

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One order of arancini (£1.50) gave us two little balls. The rice inside was creamy and soft, more so than arancini I've had in Italy. A fairly mild flavour, but that's as it should be for this classic snack.

The chopped chicken liver (£1.30) came generously piled onto a small toast. Cut into two it gave us a few tasty bites each. The kitchen had wisely elected not to mess about with the raw ingredients and let the flavour and texture of the chicken liver carry the day. Very moreish.

For me, the most expensive of our cicheti, the salami and pickled radicchio grissini (£1.90) was the biggest let down. The tiniest grissini I've ever seen, wrapped in a sliver of meat and an even tinier bit of leaf, the entire thing would have been a pretty measly mouthful for a pound let alone nearly two – I felt this one was a bit of a rip off!

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From the Meat section of the menu we ordered two dishes. The rabbit, sage and apricot terrine (£6.10) was fabulous. The amalgamation of rich, meaty rabbit, sweet apricot and the aromatic herby taste of sage worked surprisingly (to me) well!

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The pork belly, radicchio, hazelnuts (£5.70) was probably the least favourite main for both of us, though I liked it more than Laissez Fare. The meat was soft and tasty and I rather liked the unexpected combination of pork and sweet hazelnuts, but, whilst I can understand the idea of using the bitterness of the radicchio as balance against that sweetness, I didn't like it myself.

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We also ordered two dishes from the list of Fish dishes. The fritto misto (£6.60) was superb. Fresh, light, crisp – it was everything a good Venetian fritto misto should be, and took me straight back to enjoying such a pile of deliciousness in a tiny place on Burano and another in the Castello district, during my two visits to Venice. This was one of my favourites, and I suspect I ate more than my fair share, sorry Laissez Fare!

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The cuttlefish in it's ink, gremolata (£6.20) was also great. Decadently rich and unctuous sauce, soft cuttlefish - it tasted a lot better than it looks in my photograph!

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From the vegetables, we ordered the roast potatoes & rosemary (£3.70) as I couldn't resist! They were lovely – perfectly sized, beautifully cooked with a soft, fluffy interior and crunchy exterior – but, with everything else we'd ordered, they were too heavy and we'd probably have been better off with a salad.

Shockingly, full as we were, we decided to go for desserts and it didn't take long for the suggestion of sharing one between us to get thrown by the wayside!

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Given the unanimous admiration from bloggers, one of the desserts we chose was the flourless orange & almond cake, mascarpone (£4.40). Oh my, such moist, velvety softness, subtle yet delicious and served with mascarpone drizzled with orange syrup and crunchy candied orange zest strips. A triumphant dessert!

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As was the galani pick-me-up (£4.00). A layered tower of thin, crunchy biscuits and coffee mousse, drizzled with chocolate sauce, what I particularly liked was that the coffee mousse was not too sweet - like a very, very lightly sweetened latte macchiato. Very refreshing!

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A quick espresso later and it was time to wrap it up.

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With service, our bill was just under £30 each, but you could eat a hearty lunch here for less, we had at least one main dish too many, possibly two, though we did a pretty good job of demolishing most of them!

It was a lovely lunch – great food in great company and friendly and helpful service too. I shall definitely be going back!

Polpo on Urbanspoon

11 comments:

Not Quite Nigella said...

What a wonderful time you had! And I like how you shared everything. We do that too- after all it's about maximum sampling :) I'm with you on bitterness, I see why tehy do it as others don't mind it but I don't like it myself!

Foodycat said...

I've only been there since Easter as well! Glad you ordered the cuttlefish - I was tempted but went with some white beans instead!

noodlecapricciosa said...

any tips on how to get a seat? It always seems so crowded!

Kavey said...

NC, we went on a weekday lunch, so no problems... I can't remember now whether we booked (or even if they take bookings). Sorry!

Gourmet Chick said...

Can't believe you took a spreadsheet with suggestions on too funny! Sounds like it worked well though.

The Grubworm said...

We popped in for a late afternoon/early evening meal and found they weren't doing hot dishes which was a shame because I think they would have been great.

We thought the cicheti were good, particularly the arancini and an anchovy/quails egg thingy. From the cold mains, some were good, but two dishes that sounded interesting with hams and breads were basically toasted sandwiches and not great ones at that.

But, I would go back, not least because things like the cuttlefish look fabulous. I'd just make sure to go back when hot food was on.

Laissez Fare said...

Hi Kavey,

It was great meeting you, and it really was an enjoyable lunch, with a lot of good and a few stellar dishes. I retuned again about a week later with my wife and we had an equally nice time. I do like it there. Will post my review this week with any luck.

Best regards,

LF

Laissez Fare said...

Oh, and by the way, noodlecapricciosa, I booked the table. I called about a week before-hand and it didn't seem like a problem. As far as I remember, they take phone bookings for lunch but not for dinner, but that may have changed.

Best,

LF

Louis Anthony Woodbine said...

A great post that reminds me of the wonderful lunch I had with Tehbus and R_McCormack (see blog for my post)... so good to see that it gets the thumbs up every time as it should... must go back again soon...!

Nordic Nibbler said...

Now that's the sort of pre-restaurant preparation I like to do! Will have to give Polpo a try when I'm next in London - I may ask to borrow your spreadsheet though :-)

Kavey said...

Hey NN - hey, it worked! ;) Sadly, I didn't save it - I copied and pasted the menu from their website, spent about 10 minutes running through about 4 or 5 of the many Polpo reviews (those I had most enjoyed or felt most accurate) and made notes against the menu items and then printed, closed without saving! Oops!