Polpo was one of the first of its kind to embrace the scruffy-chic interior, with the exposed walls, paper menus and hipster staff. But unlike the many places that have gone on to imitate this style, there is a reason for it here. The inspiration comes from the small Venetian backstreet bàcaros, which are humble little restaurants that serve simple food (I’ve read the intro in the Polpo cookbook- definitely one for the shelf). But this is very much Soho’s interpretation of a bàcaro, and despite the deliberately worn-out decor, it is anything but humble. Several years after opening, it still remains as busy and good as ever, and it is still one of my favourite spots in Soho.
Sticking with the whole informal bàcaro vibe, they don’t take reservations for dinner and you aren’t allowed to go elsewhere once you’ve put your name down. I get this from a business perspective and wouldn’t mind it too much if it wasn’t for the fact that the Campari bar downstairs resembles a war bunker. Crammed in there with fifty other hungry punters all staring desperately at the door for their name to be called out, makes rubbing shoulders with your neighbour a little bit too literal. At least the cocktails are good.
To start things off we had Ricotta, Squash and Sage Crostini (£3) which were lovely rich and creamy bites. I’d have tooth-picked them up all night if they’d have let me. Be prepared for some piss-poor photos, it’s really dark in there.
To keep the flow of dishes going the Arancini (£3) soon arrived. They were a little stodgy, and some way off the heights of the truffle risotto balls at Cafe Murano.
Next up was the Spinach, Parmesan and soft Egg Pizzette (£8), which is my favourite dish here. The creamy egg yolk is great to mop up with the pizza crust. Tonight it didn’t have as much of that parmesan hit that I remembered, but I was still licking my finger and rubbing it across the plate.
Then came the Cuttlefish and Ink Gnocchi, Gremolata (£8) which was a little bit citrusy for my liking, which is strange for me given I bloody love lemons. My partner on the other hand absolutely loved it and she doesn’t usually like citrus flavour. Work that one out for yourself.
The Lamb & Pistachio Meatballs (£7) had a lovely smooth texture and were fine, but I didn’t really get much of the pistachio. I was hoping for a little crunch inside the meatballs, but this was missing.
The Split Pea and Ham Hock Risotto (£7) was a generous portion and there was plenty of the ham in there. The risotto rice was cooked in a way that I’ll never achieve at home, and for this price why would I ever bother trying to again.
The Pork Belly, Radicchio and Hazelnuts (£9) was perfectly cooked, and the crackling and nuts gave each mouthful a real crunchy goodness, and it was soaked in an intense meaty juice. Delicious.
We were still hungry so we went for the Anchovy and Green Olive Pizzette (£7), which could have had a little more of both ingredients on, but only because we were greedy to have more of that salty hit they both give.
The bill came to £93 with service, and the bottle of red we had for £27 took up a good portion of that. It was fine but the house wine here at £18 is really worth ordering. The service was friendly as ever, although we did ask three different people for olive oil and it never showed up. And tonight I thought they could have been a little bolder (or more generous) with the flavours. Apart from that it again left me feeling happy. It’s just the perfect little restaurant, and despite so many others imitating this style, it still manages to feel entirely original. I’d recommend it to anybody who hasn’t already been.
41 Beak Street, London