For our next dinner out whilst the kitchen undergoes renovation, last Tuesday I tried my luck at very late notice and managed to bag a table at Polpo for the very same evening. There had been a cancellation and I was booked in for 2 at 7:30, perfect.
Upon arrival however, I discovered the chap on the phone (who had been very polite) had booked me in for 7:30 on Friday. We were asked to wait at the bar, rammed with diners waiting to be seated (including Mark Hix and Stephen Terry), I was almost ready to admit defeat when owner Rusell Norman led us to a table. He left Caprice Holdings not long back and this is his bash at a solo venture. Phew.
I was pretty excited about trying this place so expectations were high. I liked the vibe immediately, relaxed, dark, romantic, buzzy and cool, the waiting staff have just the right amount of nonchalance, I loved it and couldn't wait to sample the dishes.
To begin with we sampled 3 starters, the idea is to order a series of small plates so the starters are all very reasonably priced, less than £3 and are very small, more like appetizers or nibbles really. We had fig and proscuitto, salt cod on polenta and an anchovy and chickpea crostini. We halved each and it was a good start indeed, it took us all of 2 minutes to devour the lot, worth noting that the polenta was perhaps a little on the dry side but the cod was excellent and the anchovy and chickpea was an interesting mix.
We had a selection of mains which were all served promptly as we finished with the starters beginning with the pork belly with radicchio and hazelnuts.
This was deliciously fatty, the meat succulent and incredibly flavoursome but I found it to be far too salty. The pairing of radicchio and hazelnut is rather masterful, the bitterness of the leaves and the crunch of the nuts working brilliantly to complement but not overpower the pork.
Apologies for the darkness of the pictures, in order to recreate that oh so Venetian atmos us bloggers must forgo a decent snap. Next up was the grilled sliced flank steak and mushrooms. Again I thought the meat was rather salty, not as much as the pork but still, seasoning seemed a bit heavy handed. The steak was nicely cooked with the mushrooms providing a nice contrast in texture on a bed of peppery rocket.
We also had a fine tomato and tapenade pizzetta, again high in salt but tapenade by it's nature is pretty salty. There were a scant few slices of tomato, I was underwhelmed by this to be honest, I thought the base would be crispier but it was in fact rather doughy. Not hugely memorable. The fish dish, mackerel tartare with horseradish and cucumber was great but perhaps a little under seasoned. I do not recall getting much horseradish in the dish but I thought in all it's a well conceived and fresh tasting plate of food. It looked pretty too, served alongside a flatbread.
We also had some beets, which were very good, and some parmesan and potato croquettas. These were nicely cheesy and crisp on the exterior with a fluffy piping hot centre. I'm yet to try a croqueta that beats those at Barrafina and these sadly did not, though they are valiant contenders.
We were tempted by desserts trying both the honey and walnut semifreddo, served cutely in a cone, and ciambella, a sponge cake covered in cream and a chocolate sauce. The 'sponge' (described as such by the waiter) was pretty dense and drier than your average sponge. The sauce was the great thing about this dish, delightfully rich and naughty.
I've read some other mixed reviews of Polpo but our experience was good overall. The closeness of the neighbouring tables did mean for uncomfortable maneuvering at times, particularly when toilet breaks were needed but, like the lighting, arguably it adds to the experience.
I will eat here again, but I'll leave it a couple of months in the hope that some of the teething problems are ironed out. With the booking mix up and the incredibly over salted meat, the evening was a tad disappointing however, some dishes were great, and it was excellent value for money, at under £30 each for all the food and a carafe of red.
41 Beak St, Soho