You know what really grinds my gears? More than supermarket cashiers that
bellow NEXT PLEASE when I’m still fumbling around with my change, more than people on their phones jabbering about supper on the bus home when I’ve forgotten my chav-cancelling headphones, and even more than Victor off Ultimate Big Brother? More than bankers, bouncers, Ryanair or Virgin Media?
Waiting. I’m not a patient man. I prefer guestlists, getting there early, bookable slots. I don’t like standing about. So the second ever night of Polpetto’s no-booking service, following an unprecedented volley of gushing reviews (from Gourmet Chick to Greedy Diva, The Grumbling Gourmet, Twelve Point Five Percent and beyond) was probably a bad choice.
(Polpetto means “baby octopus” and is the second venture from Russell Norman, former director of Caprice Holdings and man behind Polpo, the exceedingly popular Italian bacaro all of five blocks away that had even AA Gill showering the stars. Why he chose a second venture on the doorstep of the first is one of those mysteries only restaurateurs know the answer to; the practise is particularly prevalent in this part of town – the Flat White coffee shop used their early profits to create Milk Bar, a near-identical offering all of 100 paces away [if you’re au fait with Soho’s back alleys, which I am, but don’t read into that]).
And when I arrived, soaking wet from the forehead down thanks to Otarian’s useless, napkin-sized, Made From Recycled Materials! umbrella (a chocolate teapot kind of promo item from the sanctimonious veggie restaurant that ironically makes itself the least eco-friendly thing I own by falling apart after one use) I wasn’t in a dallying mood.
We were seated within twenty minutes. And we spent those twenty minutes drinking The French House’s Breton cider halfway up the stairs (for now an extra boozing space in the cubbyhole venue). And when we left there were three empty tables. It seems the hype around Polpetto isn’t as gargantuan as I’d first thought.
Which, as you can probably guess, is ludicrous. The place should be stuffed to the rafters 24/7. Offering Venetian chicheti, small, bite-sized plates at diminutive prices, both Polpo and Polpetto present the chance to gorge like a Roman while spending like a Glaswegian and we did the honours. Swordfish sliced and curled round dill ricotta at “2 1/2″ (£2.50) was a slippery, slithery treat while chopped chicken liver crostino (£1.50) had just enough crunch on the base and grit in the topping.
Cuttlefish in its own ink with gremolata (£6.50) was like nibbling velvet and the least traumatic wrestle with a member of the Cephalopoda family I’ve ever known; it had bite but didn’t bite back. Although when I unearthed a bulbous bit with five truncated tentacles protruding through the gloop my squeamish side kicked in and I had to have it taken away. The dark ink stains on my napkin were a little off-putting too.
A pea, mint, fennel and ricotta salad (£5) came fresh, lively and unctuous, osso buco on saffron risotto (£8) was a fist-sized chunk of meat collapsing over sticky rice and Polpetto’s signature polpette were three bulbous pork meatballs, chewy and dense like the gonads of the gods. My only complaints were that the marrow honeypot in our osso buco was far too small – we ended up switching forks for knives for fingers to get at the fatty prize – and grilled focaccia and olive oil was neither that grilled nor that doused in olive oil.
Downsides then. While the décor yet again demonstrates Norman’s eagle eye at a reclamation yard, the 28 covers are placed a little too cheek by jabbering jowl, and I learnt more about Tania’s wedding invites on the table next to me than how my own fiancée’s day had been. What else? Well, the wine’s served in thimbles (which has ruffled a few feathers) but I’m going to stand up for them on this one. As abvs and glass sizes grow continuously hangovers follow suit, so anywhere that forces you to drink more slowly is ok by me. What’s wrong with a shot of Sangiovese after each dish anyway? It makes the whole thing more ritualistic. Especially after a litre of Breton cider.
London, it’s time to welcome your new favourite Italian with open tentacles.
Price per head: £21.50
Soundtrack: I actually forget; food must have been good. Chit chatting was the order of the day.
Clientele: Foodies and a surprise helping of old people at our end.
Some beautiful pictures (as ever) as London Eater