My eyebrows were raised.
I must say I heard praises for Russell Norman’s bacaro-style restaurant Polpo and I have been to his Polpetto, which I talked about in my previous post. After much persuasion and coercion, I convinced my other bib to join me at Polpo last Sunday. When we arrived, we were greeted by the staff–ermmm, in a hoodie and jeans? My left eyebrow was raised.
I admit I was being a snob, really. There was absolutely nothing wrong with having staff looking like my neighbour about to go walk his doggie when I was about to be charged 10% for service, though I must say he was courteous enough to pull the dining table out so my other bib could easier slide himself onto the sofa at ease, and seeing him being so helpful, I un-raised my left eyebrow. I should also add, the ambiance wasn’t too bad–bar at the front, white brick walls, one long red leather sofa, wooden tables, adequate natural light peeping in from the glass roof and the patio. Modest, but mindful.
The menu at Polpo was a little bit more extensive than Polpetto. You could also find similar dishes, such as Pizetta Bianca and Pickled Octopus. A-H-A!!! That was the opportunity to test the strength of the two kitchens
After a few minutes’ waiting, our £40-something bottle of Pignolo arrived with a splash on the table, as another of our neighbour-waiters was pouring it into our glasses. Instead of changing the tiny paper table mats, he opted for kitchen towels to dry up the excess. He didn’t forget to apologise in a gesture not too dissimilar to, say, “Sorry, mate.” Ermmm, I wasn’t asking for a world-class service, but wasn’t he supposed to take the service of any sort more seriously? And this time …..
I raised my right eyebrow.
Appetisers landed nicely on our table. I ordered Arancini, Prosciutto & Fig on Toast, and Moscardini. The latter was Polpo’s version of the Pickled Baby Octopus I had at Polpetto. The latter looked identical–sorry I didn’t have a picture–but tasted different. I blasted the other one for being too vinegar-y, and ironic as it might sound, this one was lacking in vinegar!
I didn’t pay much attention to the Moscardini. Why would I when I had this mind-blowingly crispy Arancini with warm strings of cheese inside? These Arancini were AAAAA+++++ I couldn’t think of better Arancini anywhere else in the UK. The ham and fig toast was decent, too, but a sort of an easy dish you could quickly fumble up at home. O! And you could see my Moscardini in the distance
Next to be devoured was this Spinach, Parmesan and Soft Egg Pizetta. There was so much topping I felt it was a real steal, especially when I compared this to the Pizetta Bianco the table next to us were having. Both dishes were similarly priced. The perfectly cooked spinach was enhanced in flavour and creamy texture by the Parmesan touch and very indulgent soft-baked egg.
As I was halving this Pizetta and admiring the luscious egg yolk, my right eyebrow was eased ^_^
We cleaned these plates very quickly, just a few minutes before our “pasta” course arrived. And there they were steaming hot right in front of my very eyes. The first was Risotto Nero with Cuttlefish; the latter was Duck Ragu.
But–not again–my neighbour-waiter didn’t take the empty plates away. Meaning? We had to eat with two massive bottles–one wine, the other water–four glasses, two of our plates, two newly arrived dishes, and two already and visibly finished plates. And our table was actually not very big. I was waving for somebody to take the plates away so I could enjoy my meal. My eyebrows–yeah! both of them–were tickling.
Luckily our saviour neighbour-server arrived in time. The tickling sensation stopped and I tucked into the Duck Ragu. It was yummy! The pasta–Strozzapreti or so it’s called?–was very close to perfection. The peppercorn added a mighty kick. I was impressed. However, when I turned to the squid ink risotto, it was far from good. The rice was way too undercooked–I love rice cooked al dente but I thought this one wasn’t like that!–and funny enough, the cuttlefish slices were overcooked, while the gramolata was evidently scant, not enough to lift the whole dish up. I was really disappointed because the similar dish of cuttlefish cooked in squid ink I had at Polpetto was just TOP-NOTCH. As you might expect, my eyebrows had gone up …
The last two dishes were served in no time. I was apt enough to wave my neighbour-waiter with empty plates. Yes!! I succeeded; the plates were taken away!! Too bad we were not given fresh plates for this new round of food as our old ones were totally smeared in black squid ink. Flavours–whatever I ate from now on–would be so awfully mixed up
The restaurant got very packed now and I thought I might as well improvise by putting a very small portion of this Cod’s Cheeks, White Beans dish on one corner of my dirty plate.
Well, I didn’t actually have to put much of it on my inky plate really. The dish was plain bland, with beans undercooked and the cod’s cheeks over-fried. We left the beans, but grazed over the overcooked fish, feeling bad for this beautiful animal that had died for us.
Our dish of Pork Belly, Radicchio, Hazelnuts was, with an exception of the chewy and slimy skin, nice. The pork was tender and there was enough flavour in the sauce to make us want to finish it. One of my eyebrows came down (-__^)
So we cried for desserts. I had Cantuccini e Vin Santo. It was decent–anything that came with a big alcoholic shot would be great, really! And my other bib had this Flourless Orange and Almond Cake, Mascarpone. It was fantastic. The texture of the cake was sublime; the flavour very zesty, refreshingly light. My eyebrows were both at their natural level.
Actually, there was another cause I could raise my eyebrows for.
The teaspoons with which we were given to use for our desserts.
This must be a Russell Norman thing because they did the same at Polpetto. I could forgive this if the place were just opened a month ago and didn’t properly source the cutlery. Maybe I was just being an arse?
Overall, my meal was, just like what I experienced at Polpetto, adequate. Despite amazing potential, they seemed to have lost touch with little detail at both venues. To me, there’s one thing about having a restaurant that makes dining feel they don’t have to take themselves too seriously–no protocol, etc.–but there’s another about having a restaurant which doesn’t seem to take themselves very seriously, which is what I feel, through my constantly raised eyebrows, at both Polpo and Polpetto. Too bad when their dishes hit right, they were sensational. I can see, with a bit of refinement, Polpo and Polpetto could both easily become our new local restaurants. Bill-wise, by the way, it was decent. Deducting our bottle of Pignolo, we paid just below £50 between the two of us.
On our way out, my neighbour-server didn’t come over and pull the table out for us. We did need it this time as the restaurant was packed and there was hardly any gap–no more than 20cm I was sure!–left between our table and those next to us. Perhaps the server sensed the animosity from us? Never mind, it’s rather unlikely I would be going back to Polpo for a while.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
41 Beak Street
Tel. 020 7734 4479
NOTE: Despite the bigger venue, I feel as equally squahsed as at Polpetto.