The question of whether any sequel is better than the original is one that plagues film buffs. Yes, the Godfather Part II is certainly up there with the Godfather and arguably Rocky 2 is better than the original, but Godfather Part III or, heaven forbid, Rocky 4. Spare me both.
So how does Russell Norman Part IV hold up? Has he jumped the shark?
It is perhaps a little unfair to compare Polpo with either Polpetto or Spuntino, as all are really quite different in style. Da Polpo, on the other hand, is essentially a remake of Polpo, with the same styling and a very similar menu, but transported from bustling Soho to bustling Covent Garden. I had the joy of trying Polpo one day and Da Polpo the next, so can give a good feel for how they compare. And they are very comparable, although this time with subtle differences.
DP has the same distressed feel, same bare wire lights and same laid back feel as P, but some things have changed. Clearly when opening P, Mr Normand couldn’t afford matching tables and chairs. I kinda liked that. Now, eighteen months and four restaurants later, at DP he can, so they do.
The menus too compare, with dishes and wines being the same on each, but with some at DP that are new, and with a range of pizzetta beyond the blanco that you get in P. Prices too are beyond fair, wine comes by the glass, carafe (both small and large) and bottle and the staff all friendly: no set uniforms here, adding to the atmospheric nature of the place.
We went for the soft opening, so food was half price. It also meant that the team wasn’t operating at full capacity, with tables left empty for far longer than will be the case once fully open. That isn’t a complaint mind, as I was happy to wait, cocktail in hand, for the table to be deemed ready for us.
And when we were ushered to our seat, the formula from each of P,P&S is repeated: no set starters or mains, but bite size dishes then meat, fish and veg options, all similar sizes and all brought as cooked. Without exception, they were lovely: not haute cuisine, but finely cooked, and all hit the spot. The chilli and garlic prawns was probably the best of the dishes we tried, but the white anchovy pizzetta, the lamb and mint meat balls and asparagus with butter (that's scrambled to you and me) egg and parmesan were all terrific too. Another departure from P is the gelato cones at DP: an excellent way to round off the meal, rich chocolate gelato, proper ice cream cone.
It is a brave move to come out of the comfort zone of Soho, where the passing trade is going to have a much higher percentage of locals, to Covent Garden which is as heavily, if not more heavily, filled with restaurants, and where the passing trade is going to be very much more tourist lead. Is Covent Garden ready for this? I really hope so, as it is another excellent addition to the London restaurant scene.