Saturday, August 6, 2011
The Bitter: Very small tables; seating for 28 in a space the size of a large living room; no bookings taken in the evenings; probable queues
The Sweet: Lovely small plates of cicchetti; friendly staff; fantastic people-watching opportunities; wine by the carafe; no bookings taken in the evenings
This is probably the thousandth review of one of either Polpo, Spuntino, da Polpo or Polpetto to be found on someone's blog, so I'll try to keep it short.
Polpetto is the first of these restaurants I have been to, and it came highly recommended by many. It's certainly a trendy place to say you're going - usually met with an appreciative 'Ooooh!' quickly followed by, 'you'd better get going, they don't take bookings in the evenings'. It's tiny, seating only 28 diners, although it felt like maybe they'd managed to cram in more than that last night. We walked in at five to seven and luckily nabbed the last table, sandwiched between beautiful Soho couples on the banquettes at the back.
Our waitresses were friendly punk rockers, some sporting a pierced septum, one with Ramones t-shirt, all with tattoos. There was none of this 'cooler than you' rubbish that you get at many a trendy London nightspot. The service was fast and unfussy, and we were left to pour our own water and wine. I enjoyed that. Wine, by the way, comes in carafes - brilliant - of either 25, 50, or 75cl. A 25cl small carafe (about 2 glasses) of house white was £5.50, which is unheard of in this part of town.
The menu is concise,with four main areas : breads, fish, meat and vegetables/salad. The Mister and I ordered one plate from each area, starting with brown shrimp w/braised baby gem and Devon crab with trofie (Ligurian pasta twirls, I now know). Both were tasty but the pasta dish won out, with a red chilli and parsley garnish, it was just the right side of too salty and managed to be decadent in a really simple way. Next up was our bread: baked ricotta bruschetta & grelot onions. Two pieces of toast arrived with a beautiful caramelised whole baby onion on top. They were oily and sweet and cheesy and soft and crunchy all at the same time. I used mine to mop up the remains of the sauce from the brown shrimp. Dee-lish.
We also ordered the chargrilled zucchini, pecorino and honey and a bistecca served with rocket and fennel. The steak was a very upmarket minute steak, soft and perfectly beaten out, free of any fat and entirely delicious, but a little small for the price of £9. The zucchini, by comparison, was a huge overflowing plate which was well worth £4.50.
Small plates do fill you up, it seems, and we were sated by the time we were asked about desserts, but I'd heard they were excellent here, and it seemed churlish to share a pudding (in Soho?! Never!), so we ordered both the tiramisu pot and the pannacotta with blackberries. Boy, was I glad we did. The tiramisu was about as authentic as they come, with a heavenly dark cocoa dusting and very alcoholic sponge at the bottom. It was gone in about four spoonfuls. The pannacotta was light and sinful at the same time, with the most amazing red topping from the fruit. Espresso served in a small glass was thick, rich and moreish, finishing off everything perfectly.
We enjoyed the the small plates, and the ambience, and couldn't fault the service. Still, it struck me that if you could get here by 6pm with a big group of friends and take over the entire place, it could be one of the best nights ever. As it was, crammed in next to Soho's beautiful people, it was still pretty good... even if those tables did make my arse feel positively enormous.