I suffer terribly from food envy. I gaze jealously at what others have ordered wondering what their dish taste likes. It is not that I choose badly for myself, I guess it is just that I have fickle tastebuds. The more taste experiences the better. So perfectly suited to my fickle tastes are any cuisines where it is customary to share dishes.
Italian food is a favourite of most Brits but it is often associated with heavy pastas and other than take-away pizza, doesn’t encourage a sharing atmosphere. Unless of course you decide to dine at Polpo, the Italian tapas restaurant tucked away on Beak St, in the heart of Soho.
Marketed as a Barcaro or Venetian style bar, it is actually much more an Italian tapas restaurant offering fusion of new world style with old world Italian flavours that takes advantage of seasonal ingredients.
It’s New-York district style interiors with exposed brickwork walls, wooden floors, wire-rubbed wooden tables are the perfect compliment to its urban location and invite the usual Soho mix of über-fashionable media types, entrepreneurs, local entities and young hip interns.
The narrow site makes full use of it’s small floor space with a rustic bar just as you walk in, and while I expected to feel crowded and hemmed in, I was pleasantly surprised that once we were seated, I forgot that there were others seemingly crammed into this small space in Soho.
While the menu can seem a little confusing to the uninitiated, once it is explained, it is straightforward. Our waiter recommended we got two dishes each so we took his recommendation and got a good mixture from different parts of the menu.
One of my favourites was a simple dish; the broad bean, ricotta & mint bruschetta (£4.50). The bread crisp on outside soft in the middle and was complimented by the velvety ricotta with mint and beans providing just enough flavour.
From the meat section we chose a plate of cold meats (£11.50) – ham, proscuitto, salami which was served with a light salad and mozzarella and the grilled sliced flank steak with white truffle cream (£7). The steak was served medium rare and the sauce had just the right earthy umami flavour to bring out the flavour of the beef. We also opted for the seasonal veal Osso Bucco with saffron risotto (£6.50). The veal was melt in the mouth soft while the saffron was not too overpowering so you could enjoy the other flavours.
We also chose fritto misto (£7) a delectable combination of squid, octopus, prawns and whitebait and mozzarella pizzaiola (£6) – proper buffalo mozzarella which begs to be pulled apart and is creamy yet springy in texture and full of flavour with tomatoes have been part roasted to really bring out the flavours.
We were too full to try out any of the desserts – though still pretty please that we had managed to put away quite so much in a lunch sitting – and settled for simple coffee and tea to round of the meal.
The service was impeccable with the waiters being knowledgeable and friendly and there just when you needed them without the feeling that they were hovering over you (which they certainly had no time to do as the restaurant was heaving!)
Polpo is a gem at the quiet end of Beak St but something this good is hard to keep a secret so it is best to book if you want to go for lunch. In the evening they don’t take bookings so expect to queue but I think the food is worth the wait!
And all those who are prepared to wait in line to get into this spectacular restaurant will be happy to know that their second restaurant Polpetto will be opening above The French House in Dean St on August 23rd while third venue Spuntino, also in Soho, will be opening in October.
Polpo – 41 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB – 020 7734 4479.