Polpo touts itself as a Venetian bacaro in London. I’ve never been to Venice, so far be it for me to say how authentic it may or may not be, but frankly it looks just like an enoteca to me… It serves the Italian equivalent of tapas, “cicheti” the kind of small, taster dishes you’d find in any good wine bar in the major Italian cities.
The place is always buzzing and you can’t book, just bowl up and don’t expect to find a quiet table. The one really authentic Italian element to this place is the noise level, and that’s without the massive family christening parties with screaming babies.
I visited in the quieter hours after three, with a vague hangover that needed nursing. One Aperol spritz later and I was struggling to decide on only three dishes (these are hard economic times) from the menu as it frankly all sounds good. I began with Spratti in Saor – marinated sprats in a citrussy, salty sauce served on small crostini. Gone in a flash, they whet my appetite perfectly. C. had the wild mushroom piadina, which was stuffed to the gills with a variety of funghi, although the bread was a touch chewy and dry.
For some reason that confounds me, I opted to follow with cotechino, essentially a type of sausage made from pork, fatback and pork rind, usually stuffed into a pig’s trotter. I’ve yet to meet an Italian who eats this outside of New Year’s eve where it is considered traditional and symbolic of good luck. It was probably since I’d missed out this New Year on my pig’s trotter helping that I felt a twinge of nostalgia. It was, in fact, delicious. Nothing like the squidgy, boiled-to-misery salted mush I’m used to having in a drunken state towards midnight on the 31st, but delicate and handsomely flavoured with pine nuts and savoy cabbage and mustard.
C. had the pork belly, with radicchio and hazelnuts to balance out the sweetness and add bite. Equally tasty.
The big mistake? The fritto misto. Not that it was bad, it was crispy enough and not terribly greasy. But after narfing through all the rest, the portion just didn’t seem so small anymore and the squid, inevitably, had that rubber band texture that I couldn’t really stomach after pig’s feet and, yes, another Aperol spritz.
Neverthelss, between the two of us, we pretty much polished our plates. No sign of a venetian either in the kitchen or in the bar though, which made me wonder at the tenuous connection to the city of water… But the wine list told another tale, with a great selection of big and lesser-known northern Italian producers. Shame the hangover had me stuck on the Aperol, but I shall return to get my nashers round a Tocai soon…
Prices are around £3-£6 per dish, three dishes makes an ample meal.
41 Beak Street
London W1F 9SB.
020 7734 4479.