Apparently Polpo is a bàcaro which is a Venetian word to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food. That may be the intention when Polpo first opened, but this small chain has now become one of London’s most desirable foodie hangouts. It recently received some free publicity by appearing in Jay Rayner’s list of top restaurants. And he knows a thing or two about food.
Its first venue opened in Soho in 2009 and now also has restaurants in Covent Garden and Smithfield. They don’t take bookings in the evening which has its good and bad points. A great thing about this is it doesn’t pander to exclusivity and therefore the restaurant keeps its informal edge. However, you may be waiting a while for a table on busy days, but at least the drinks are good.
It is easy to see why this restaurant is loved by many. Venetian food is normally rich, creamy and always sumptuous. Luxury is the main staple here and is a far cry from the fresher, tomato based dishes of southern Italy.
It is – yet another – small plate venue. This craze that has swept the UK might be a nightmare for some who struggle with sharing, but for me, it is a great way to try different dishes. What I also like about it is that restaurateurs have bound themselves to offer up more than one vegetarian offering. The rise of the small plate trend equals taste, experimentation and above all: choice for us herbivores. Long may it continue!
Without a risotto dish in sight, the menu has plenty for vegetarians. I opted for two dishes that were found on the specials board including the wild mushroom pizzette, gnocchi with gorgonzola as well as fennel, almond and curly endive salad. Since it was a baking hot July lunchtime, it was only right to kick off the meal with a bitter yet refreshing Campari Spritz. Even the olive floating in the bottom of my glass was wonderfully juicy.
My gnocchi, while creamy and rich wasn’t sickly. The gorgonzola was a subtle aftertaste rather than dominating and overpowering the other flavours. The wild mushroom pizatte was garlicky and laden with mozzarella while the salad was refreshing light and crunchy.
The restaurant has simple, understated decor with Burano style vintage lace hanging in the windows and from the lampshades. Its scrubbed walls help give it that slightly warn, tired Venetian look.
For such a popular and ‘on-trend’ restaurant, it is remarkably well priced – especially for vegetarians (which is often the case!). I would recommend having about three dishes per person, and they come in at about £8 each. Our waiter was friendly and helpful and brought us over a copy of the cookbook to have a peruse over (which, we promptly bought).
Overall, Polpo is a fantastic little restaurant that lives up to the hype. However, if you are going in the evening, expect a wait but make sure you order yourself a Campari while doing so.