At about 7pm last Thursday, I was sitting down at a table at Polpo, the latest must-try place on the Twittersphere, excitedly reading through the placemat menu under my nose. The place was buzzing and lots of people were being turned away at the door. Everything sounded so good and as I was dining with three other very keen food lovers, I knew we’d get a chance to order a good sampling of what was on offer. However, at about 8:30pm, we left unhappy and still hungry. Here’s what happened in between.
While waiting for the others to arrive, a couple of us ordered nonalcoholic cocktails, exclaiming at the good value prices of only £3 each! Only when we came, we found the prices to be the exact opposite – not such good value at all. Actually, they were quite expensive for what’s essentially a combination of fruit juice and sparkling water, all served in tiny kindergarten water tumblers.
When the others did arrive, we started ticking off our choices on the menu; bizarrely, some items were listed in Italian while others were not – very strange and there didn’t seem to be any logic to it. Anyway, a crostini or two each along with some arancini, those lovely deep fried risotto balls, to start. Then a pizzetta bianca, as we’d heard good things about it. Two meat dishes. Four seafood dishes. Two vegetables. We’d order desserts later.
Our nibbly things arrived first. The pizzetta bianca was a thin 6 inch round of dough topped with cheese, onions and oregano. It was tasty but nothing spectacular. My Spratti in saor crostini was well priced and tasty enough but I was having difficulty seeing what I was eating again. The light was so low (so “romantic” others might say) that one eating companion asked how the cabbage was on my crostini. Only it wasn’t cabbage but onion. It’s not that I’m complaining about the darkness because I was unable to take proper photos but when it’s so dark that I cannot actually see what’s on my plate – does the restaurant have something to hide? In case you’re wondering what spratti in saor is, it seems to be fried sprats marinated in a tangy escabeche-like sauce. At least, that’s what my taste buds told me; it was too dark to confirm this visually. As for the arancini? Biting in one was like taking a mouthful of plain white rice. There was no salt added whatsoever and the little bit of inoffensive cheese in the middle added little to its flavour. I found myself reaching for the salt shaker.
A good while after these nibbly things, our other dishes arrived and yeah, they were a lot smaller than we’d expected them to be and we probably wouldn’t have minded if the cooking impressed. The Cuttlefish in its ink, gremolata was really delicious – excellent tender cuttlefish in a briny rich sauce. But Slow roast duck, green peppercorns, black olives, tomatoes was bland – chunks of soft duck in a tomato sauce and I couldn’t detect any green peppercorns. Mussels and clams came in a large mound but we quickly realised that a lot of it was mainly shell. I counted maybe two or three minuscule clams and half of the remaining mussels were closed and inedible. The Pork belly, radicchio, hazelnuts had good flavours throughout but it just didn’t make you sit up and take notice. The Octopus salad had the opposite problem of the arancini, being oversalted. Fennel, bobby beans, cobnuts turned out to be exactly that – thinly shaved raw fennel with blanched bobby beans, all scattered with roughly chopped cobnuts. A lovely salad that really showcases the quality of the ingredients….well, it would have been if I hadn’t been distracted by the small handful of fennel and all of three beans. The Fritto misto we ordered never turned up at all, as I only recalled this morning.
The biggest kicker of the evening though was the Turnip tops, chilli, garlic which came in the most ridiculously sized portion – that’s it in the photo below! I’m torn between calling it mean or just pathetic. And here’s the real blow: on the menu, it’s listed for £5.80. To be fair, on our final receipt, it became £4.80 but a fiver is still too much for what we received.
After all these dishes, we still had large spaces in our stomachs to fill. I believe we could have honestly ordered all that again twice over but we were tired of their food (and frightened of doubling our bill) and even gave up the idea of trying their desserts. Along with service and two of their cheapest bottles of wine, the total came to £100 for the four of us.
After reading so many good reviews and experiencing so much of the online hype about Polpo, to say I was disappointed is a bit of an understatement. The cooking in the kitchen really needs to be reviewed as well as the prices versus portion size issue. Nothing to complain about the service though – everyone was professional and pleasant and the room itself has a good vibe and is pleasing (and would be more so if the lights were turned up a bit).
41 Beak Street
London W1F 9SB
I had to add this on as an addendum to the post – we took our still hungry bodies over to Bodeans on Poland Street and feasted on a second dinner of baby back ribs and Buffalo wings!