41 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB www.polpo.co.uk – now Polpo’s Aperol Bar
A bacaro in Soho that goes by the name of Polpo.
That sounds a bit like a tongue twister but for a while, it felt like the name on everyone’s lips. Its bijou space is always adorned with the beautiful and youthful crowd, lounging by the bar and often heard laughing out loud. But down in the basement was more of a gem, a private room for those that aren’t so fussed about being seeing with them. (There I go again with the rhyming.)
Ever the curious George, Polpo was filed under “investigate immediately”. And as luck would have it, such an occasion arose without too long a wait. (Just as well now that the Private Room is closed and will be transformed into a cicheti bar from February 2011.) It was a private party in the private room with a customised menu and an impossible number of courses. Ok, so five isn’t that many.
With ten different dishes on the menu, you could be forgiven for thinking you had a choice, but it was just their clever way of creating an illusion. Because course after course the cichetis arrived without request and you made your choice on the table. Besides, with the occasional obscure name thrown into the mix, it’s quite impossible to know until you have it in front of you.
The first course was a selection of anchovy and chick pea crostino; Mortadella, walnut and Gorgonzola; and potato and Parmesan crocchetta. As with tapas, you just helped yourself according to taste. It was a good selection but not a very inspiring start. We also seemed to have an unusually high number of vegetarians amongst us and it’s just as well there was plenty of vegetarian friendly things to have. The unlucky lactose intolerant diner? Not so much.
The next course was more like a short interlude, a palate cleanser, a platter of pizzetta bianca. Not unpleasant and not unusual.
A third course is made up of mackerel tartare with horseradish and carta di musica; and fennel and curly endive salad with almonds. The food is at last getting interesting. I think this might be my favourite course actually. Surprising given that the next course contains steak but the mackerel tartare really packed a punch and the salad was fresh as a daisy and oh so juicy.
With menu alone, the fourth course would have been my favourite – polpette; grilled sliced flank steak with porcini cream; and roast potatoes and rosemary. It’s simple, effective and promises to be filling. And it was good. Not for those vegetarians of course but for everyone else, it was good. But it was also very safe and on balance, that mackerel tartare wins out.
The final course was equally prosaic, the tiramisu pot. It did allow ample time for the carafes of wine to kick in and certain ladies to make eyes at the waiter with the “beautiful cheekbones” who has been more than helpful all afternoon. And much like that flirting, the meal was enjoyable, good even, but uninspired.