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41 Beak Street
Russell Norman’s original take on a Venetian bácaro has spawned siblings and imitators across the capital, but Polpo’s queues still start early, whether you’re after a hit in the overflow Campari
bar downstairs or a berth in the warmly lit dining room. The genre-defining mix of ‘rough edges’, brick walls and deliberately scuffed plaster, with brown-paper menus and glass tumblers atop worn
tables feels too ‘cool’ for some, but great-value small plates win over most punters: try gooey arancini or anchovy-and-chickpea crostini, followed by rich meatballs on spaghettini or cuttlefish in
a silky black-ink risotto – a dish that enjoys an evangelical following. Carafes of house wine(served in three different sizes) keep the bill from climbing, as do competitively priced all-Italian
bottles. On the downside, ‘brusque’, scatty service can sometimes rub customers up the wrong way, however.
To celebrate the Year of the Woman, SquareMeal is running a series of interview profiles with top female chefs. Read here about Marianne Lumb’s colourful career as a private chef and the benefits of operating one of London’s smallest kitchens.
StreetSmart - London restaurants
41 Beak Street
020 7734 4479
Piccadilly Circus Tube Station 363m
Oxford Circus Tube Station 403m
Beak Street 14m
Regent Street 113m
Mon-Fri 8am-11pm Sat-Sun 12N-11pm (Sun -4pm)
The Campari bar is a completely private space located in the basement of Polpo Soho. Seating up to 30, its cool décor is particularly suited to evening events.
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 3
Reading reviews of Polpo and their menu it looked like exactly the kind of place I would love and I was very excited about the prospect of our meal there. However, the service turned the experience into somewhat of a disaster. I met a friend for a catch up an hour before our reservation when the rest of our party were due to arrive. We asked Polpo if we could sit at the bar and were sharply told 'no, it's for food only' when I said we were eating in an hour the front of house pointed to the corner and said we could stand there if we really wanted. We went to Vinoteca for a lovely glass of prosecco instead. We returned to Polpo, were shown to our table, the restaurant was nice and buzzy and the menu looked great. We ordered a variety of dishes some of which were great (cuttlefish risotto) and some of which didn't live up to expectations (steak and white truffle cream – a large plate of rocket with a few slices of tough steak). The service throughout was pretty poor, we struggled to get attention and the staff were pretty brusque. The main problem was with the bill. When we eventually got hold of someone to ask we were brought the wrong bill, after another wait we were brought the right bill but with things on it we hadn't had. There was another wait as this was corrected (now 30 minutes from when we first asked). When we got the right bill I commented that we'd waited for half an hour for it, our waited then picked the bill and walked off with it. After another few minutes we asked what was going on and were told he'd taken it to his manager to remove the service. At this stage we would have paid service rather than having to wait further. 45 minutes after we requested our bill we were allowed to pay it with no apology for the issues that had arisen.
Food + drink: 4
Polpo is one of my favourite places to eat in London so I'm sad at the service bashing it's taken in some reviews. I don't know what others expect but on our recent visit we got menus given, questions answered, orders taken, drinks and food delivered and when I smiled they all smiled back. Yes, you have to wait for a table, but you know that already, and yes, food is sometimes plonked down, but they are delivering multiple plates to multiple tables so if they stopped for a chat at every opportunity you'd probably have cause to complain about slow service. I think the slightly rough edges are in keeping with the generally authentic, rustic, Venetian food and atmosphere. No danger of falling in a canal at the end of this meal though, which is lucky, because by the time you've drunk 2 hours worth of cocktails in the cosy downstairs bar waiting for a table and then tucked into the wine list you will probably be a bit wobbly on your feet. I have been for several dinners with friends (including a quiet one up at the bar), once on a second date (highly successful, we are now engaged) and most recently for Saturday lunch, at which my friend and I were seated immediately, hurrah! Being greedy we worked our way through a couple of dishes from most sections and whilst the meatballs were indeed good, it was trumped by the fried fish mix and, a meat-free unexpected highlight, the artichoke and tomato bruschetta. My only disappointment was the cuttlefish in black ink risotto because normally I'd give this 10 out of 10, travel miles for it, wait hours for it and trumpet it as simply the best dish in all of London but it lacked the usual al dente bite and saltiness so gets just 9 out of 10 this time. It all adds up and lunch for 2 (with couple of glasses of prosecco and coffees) came in at £66, not bad value for this quality of food but you could easily spend more in the evening. I'm not sure whether it is called Polpo after the signature octopus dish or because “polpoxo” ("fleshy") is what you'll become if you can't resist return visits.
Not quite sure I understand all the negative comments on service here. It's loud and it's brash – but it's meant to be. Why come here if you want ‘smart service’? And surely everyone must see what incredible value it is. Where else in central London can you eat truly delicious food with a glass of wine for less than £40 for 2. The meatballs are always divine, the pizzetta perfect. My only complaint are the tumblers for the wine – but at least that encourages me to stick to house white and so keeps the cost down.
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