There’s a fun little place in Soho that fuses European bacaro and tapas influences to create exciting small plates of Venetian history. Polpo takes its inspiration from the osterie and dintorni of Venice and there’s a warm ambience when I arrive for lunch.
The restaurant has a small and unassuming entrance which leads deep inside to reveal the serving counter at the rear where there are shelves holding oils, wines and jars of olives and crunchy biscotti. The dining room stretches back like a bowling alley and at the front there’s a small bar you can sit at which curls away from the redbrick wall and looks perfect for luncheons, sipping espressos and picking cold meats.
The first thing I noticed upon entering is that Polpo smells of toast. Not burnt toast but nose-tingling doughy bread from the ovens. We sit down at our table to find the menu is our tablemat, this could be messy I thought. And was.
All the dishes are ingredient led and this plays a vital part, as the majority of the portions are small, therefore easier to pick through and highlight faults. Rather than tackle a main course and feel yourself being sick in the mouth with greed or having chosen a wrong dish, here you can indulge yourself with four, six, eight small dishes and sample a wider variety, dipping in-and-out at your convenience. Most dishes are under a fiver, which means you can stuff your face for around a tenner.
Asparagus, taleggio and prosciutto were a tasty beginning with fine slithers of soft cured-ham and tall, fresh asparagus, and at £2.00 was a steal. A crunchy crostino with zingy walnut pesto and rocket hit the mark and was only £1.00 – seriously good pricing. Two small dishes in a Soho restaurant for £3.00 is just absurd. This is freshly prepared sunny European grub in Soho, and cheaper then a Happy Meal. The chopped chicken liver crostino was rather general but cost a nominal, £1.50.
We ordered a good refreshing broad bean, ricotta and mint bruschetta for £4.50 and a tasty calf’s liver with onions and sage for £6.00. Some more asparagus, this time served with an anchovy butter and mature Parmesan, was £5.50. Cuttlefish in a moody black ink risotto stained the tongue, and was a little too runny and muddy, but held some beefy cuttlefish to pick out, and for £6.50 was well priced and far off brummagem.
A hot and creamy chocolate pot was served with doughy, spiral esse (Italian biscuits) for only £3.50 and was small but perfectly formed, and the warm, runny chocolate down the throat was oh! so dreamy.
It’s a clever way of fusing Spanish tapas influence with authentic Venetian dishes and projects a rather sophisticated dining experience, perhaps the best introduction you can have to this rustic trattoria-style in London. The emphasis is on style and the customer rather than on haute cuisine and rinsing Londoner’s of cash, and this can only be a good thing. Situated in the heart of Soho its always going to attract an eclectic mix of gobblers, from the media-based workers to the evening couples, weekend tourists and those lucky Soho inhabitants who’ll find it a great neighbourhood restaurant.