If you’ve been keeping your finger on the pulse of the London foodie scene, you’ll be aware of the carnival that followed the recent opening of this latest Italian venture to hit Soho. It has been a couple of months since it’s opening and it is ever so busy. They do no take evening bookings, and my first visit was a non starter that resulted in a return visit to Koba. That was eight pm on a Thursday night. We eventually infiltrated the bacaro on a Monday night literally by beating the queue to it at 6.30 pm.
No pastas, wine was involved but not the glasses and Mark was entertaining our growing bromance.
One of the weirdest problems with social media and it’s ability to spread the word, is that sometimes, the word gets repetitive. Content homogeneity turns the ‘London Food Blogging Scene’ into abit of a bore really and eversince Marina (of Metro) planted the seed in my mind – firstly with her Bocca review – and then her Polpo review; I have to say, it leaves me with little motivation to repeat much of the gush that my peers have not already showered on restaurant X. On the other hand, I feel an obligation to piggy back on the wave of trend (mostly for your reading pleasure) but also that it is futile to resist the temptations to capitalise on traffic gains.
The dilemma, oh the dilemma. I usually use the ‘critic/blogger review links’ in Urbanspoon to decide whether it’s worth adding more hot air to the interwebs (I’ve not still applied at Harwood Arms or Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, yet.) and in the case of Polpo, the bloggerati had long since endorsed it. You’ll find no less than ten blog posts about it. This will be the eleventh, at least as measured by Urbanspoon. There is a point to all of this (of course there is), aside from me satisfying my appetite and understanding what the fuss is all about; Mark had raised an interesting point when he mentioned of the notorious lighting inside the 18th century building (once home to a Venetian painter, allegedly.) and the difficulty people have had in capturing memories within it. Ah-ha. A challenge – taking shots in the dark.
Starters – CHICHETI – were salt cod on polenta (£2.10), Prosciutto & mozzarella (£2.10) and two arancini (£1.50)
I’ve never been to an ‘authentic’ Bacaro in Venice, so I had to google this. Basically it’s a wine bar that serves tapas sized dishes to share. We kicked off proceedings with a nibbly selection, of which was mostly good. The salt cod on a tempur-like polenta and a capable arancini with an oozingly appetising centre of risotto and cheese. Bit pricy for party sizes, but tasty.
The menu is very clearly divided by it’s types, and the restaurant served them as progressive courses as well. After lubricating our system with the chicheti, we moved swiftly to sample the breads. We tried the pizzetta bianca (4.20) ; and the crudo, mozzarella & rocket panino (£4.90).
Wine was Primitivo, Fiori 2008 at £18, the third cheapest option, I can’t remember much of it, young and forgettable I suppose. I couldn’t say that the ham & cheese panino was the best I’d ever had, it was simply a bite sized ham & cheese panini no better (or worse) than what’s out there; the mini white pizza on the other hand, was delightful, baked with rosemary, onions and cheese, I detected tangy hints on the palatte and it was as if the pizzetta was infused with mango juice, was it just the wine goggles, or can others who’ve been confirm this?
Before we take things further, I just want to talk about the restaurant ambiance and give some reasons as to why it rocked my world. There isn’t anything unique about it, it is simple, stripped down and many people were just letting their hair fly like the wind. Perhaps a reason for it’s apparent success thus far is due in part to it’s rather strategically conceived concept. Moderately priced, Italian, cool, unpretentious, easy food to share, trendy etc. I really liked the atmosphere in there, I could almost act my age.
We march ahead to the meat & veg: In focus are the polpette (£4.80) and out of focus are the English Beets (£3.60). And in the distance, is Mark getting his jiggy on for dinner.
“What are polpettes?” We asked. “Why they are our meatballs.” said the waitress who delivered personable service throughout the night. As far as meatballs go, it was alright. The sauce was sweet rather than spicy, the meatballs were chunky but I’ve had better. Next: Pork belly, radicchio, hazelnuts (£5.70) and the Fritto misto (£6.60).
Now we’re talking. The pork belly was simply luscious and the juicy mouthful was a nutty yet subtle flavour. I really enjoyed the representative from the fish menu – the fritto misto was a variety of deep-fried seafood. The batter was a powdery mist that gently covered the seafood, simple but effective.
Our meal culminated with the grilled sliced flank steak & flat mushrooms (£6.90). Still bloody & juicy, the steak was a little chewy but flavourful. Bit of salt and bit of mushrooms, and everything was just pukka. (He really needs to bring that back.)
Puddings were honey & walnut semifreddo (£2.80) and a decadent hot chocolate pot & essi (3.50) which I slowly sipped into the night…
All in all, it was an agreeable experience. Taking into account all the bells and whistles, Polpo has an attractive vibe about it that makes it a very suitable after work place to meet up, hang out and eat reasonably priced food. Our bill came to just under £77, which is just about right for the amount of food we had I suppose. We did walk away feeling satisfied, and I suppose that’s the same reason why half of London are flooding the gates at the latest Venetian bacaro to hit Soho.
The Gist of It
Polpo official website £35pp
41 Beak St, Soho W1F 9SB
Tel: 020 7734 4479
Tube: Picadilly Circus