da Polpo is opened. We were in.
I couldn’t help thinking if restaurateur of the year Russell Norman ever took a holiday. A couple of months ago he opened an American themed bar Spuntino to great acclaims. Now we have, on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, da Polpo. A baraco-style eatery with its focus on comfort Italian food. Den-like and made to look run down. Many vintage map of Venice the mother of all inspirations. Open all day! While Spuntino is cult-like, da Polpo is relaxed, casual yet bustling. Unlike Russell’s first ventures Polpo and Polpetto, da Polpo is a big enough restaurant to make diners feel more at ease. I could definitely picture obese tourists squeezing their way in for a taste of Russell’s big, meaty balls after seeing Shrek the Musical :-p
The menu is sectioned in the same manner as Polpo and Polpetto. Spotted some few Soho favourites, such as Pizzete Spinach, Parmesan and Soft Egg, being relocated to Covent Garden. The highlights here are balls. Massive balls of any kind. Traditional meat & pork; spicy pork; lamb; or even chickpeas! You’ll get three in one dish, have them with spaghetti and as a smashed sandwich.
Before that.. the nibble. (Free) focaccia. Courgette, rosemarry arancini (2 for £2.5). Chicken liver crostini (£1.5). The rice balls were oozing cheese and herbal aroma. Crusty texture. Highly recommended! The liver is very, well, liver-y. No mousse, no foam. Solid comforting offal flavours. Good acidity from roasted tomato to fresh up the piece.
Followed by Pork Shoulder & Pickled Pepper Pizzeta (£6) and our first sets of balls: Lamb & Mint (£5) and Chickpeas, Spinach & Ricotta (£4.5). Decent mini-pizza. Felt decadent. Perfectly cooked base. Very stringy cheese. Feisty pickled flavours which I thought they could have done with a little less as it overpowered the shoulder a bit. Russell’s balls were mahoussiivveee!!! Lamb balls were gorgeous. Bouncy with an uplifting touch of mint. Twice the size of the ones I had at Jose but more or less for the same price and in WC2. Nuff said. The chickpea ones tasted good. Could do with more meatball-like texture. At the moment it was rather too creamy.
And the inside? .. Chickpeas followed by the lamb!
A little bit of waiting for the highlights of Fristo Misto and Piadina Meatball Smash both at £8. Fristo Misto was this golden mountain of deep fried sea items – squids, prawns and sardines. Greaseless and very light batter. Not the crispiest (I think Opera Tavern is the best at deep frying stuff in Covent Garden). Seafood tasted fresh and not one bit overcooked. It was a great dish but risks becoming not so special as many other restaurants in the area are doing it, too.
What’s the meatball smash? Russell told us it was a dish devised by hunger. Half way between a sandwich and a colzone pizza, in my opinion. Basically Piadina flat bread (aka the pizza base), cheese and meatball – all toasted for a cheese-melting effect and smashed!!
Here you could choose which balls you’d like having them mushed. We went for the Spicy Pork with Fennel.
And it was the best thing I had eaten this week. Fennel aroma clinging to my tongue. A perfect marriage of flavours with chilli. Pork balls mostly tender. (We thought they were the best of all we had today. Highly recommend them!). Big dish, it was, and could easily become a main if you were greedy or a lone diner.
Desserts.. did not read interesting.
I went for the Presecco-infused, peach slush puppy called Bellini Sgroppino (£6) on the menu. Half way between an iced drink and a palate cleanser. Very peachy and could do with boozy aggression. The Tiramisu pot (£4.5), which I thought sounded boring, became a revelation. Light. Velvety and the sponge was just to die for. I couldn’t think of any better tiramisu in London. Could do with another cup.
The other bib was having ice cream cone (£4). Three flavours to choose from including chocolate, coconut and dark cherry + frozen yogurt. I tried and felt an impulse to get one for myself..
Interestingly enough, we both ended up with four ice cream cones…
50% off until 1st June + two of our dishes were comp’d as they were (only slightly) delayed + 4 ice cream + Nero D’Avola = £50
If you didn’t eat a month’s worth of balls (and half a year’s worth of ice cream) like us, your indulgence would surely be billed between £20-£25 per person.
What do I actually think of da Polpo?
Great buzz during this soft opening, thanks to the airy space and the enthusiasm from the front of house. Tremendously comforting food. The meatballs could easily become the market breakthrough. Overall, da Polpo is not as a complete, quirkily embellished package as Spuntino. Dishes, gorgeous as they were, are less memorable and less indulgent. Typing this I couldn’t help thinking of the Mac & Cheese. But that alone wouldn’t hinder the success here one bit. We saw diners – kids, teens, adults – leaving with smiles and we saw the front of house sending them out with smiles. That surely is a big hint at great success.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
6 Maiden Lane
Tel. 020 7836 8448