Sunday, 22 August 2010
Polpetto is going to be lighting up the blog rolls over the next few weeks. While you may well yawn at the monotony, I can't resist chipping in with my 10 cents worth. If you've been, you'll understand.
Russell Norman opened Polpo, a Venetian style bacaro bar, in Soho around a year ago - I was immediately a fan. Polpetto is a smaller offshoot, following the same style, in teensy room above the likeable French House watering hole. I've given you the low down on Polpo already, but basically the approach of both restaurants is to offer a wide range of small plates of traditional Italian food - cicheti, crostino, pizzettas, plates of meat, fish and vegetables - for sharing or hogging all to oneself. Originally the plan for Polpetto was to mostly replicate Polpo's dishes, but in fact Polpetto's plates are generally different to those offered at it's big mama's tables.
Polpo's decor screams New York, and Polpetto's does too to a lesser extent. It's the exposed brick work, rustic mirrors, minimalist design. There's a patterned copper ceiling and big windows overlooking Dean Street. The bar area at the Polpo mothership, where the waiting hordes gather, gives it an extra buzz - but I was at an early evening time slot during Polpetto's soft opening on Saturday night, so it's too early to say if it will generate the same electric atmosphere. It well might - it's certainly already gained a passionate following, and will certainly be packed to the rafters in the weeks and months to come.
Over an Aperol and soda apertivo, a complimentary anchovy and chickpea crostino had a little bit too much of the sandwich shop tuna salad about it to really knock my socks off. I love anchovy, but it didn't appear to me here as a distinct flavour among the tahini and chickpea mix.
Our pea, mint, fennel and ricotta salad was gorgeous. Zingy and fresh this was an ode to beautifully contrasting textures and complimentary flavours. A highlight.
Another highlight - a generous portion of tender rare steak flank, sliced thickly, and smothered with a luscious white truffle cream and rocket (pictured top).
Oh, and then yet another highlight - the panzanella. A vibrant mix of red and yellow tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, white wine vinegar, oil, garlic, crunchy chunks of toasted bread, garlic and a hint of garlic.
The soft shell crab with parmesan batter and fennel salad was decent enough but I wouldn't order it again - the crab was lovely but nothing special. I couldn't taste the parmesan in the batter and the fennel salad was a little lost in the lemony cream such that it lost much of the flavour and bite that I love about fennel.
However, all was exalted to another level again with the fabulous pigeon saltimbocca, pudgy, rare and bloody, wrapped in prosciutto and bedded in a creamy cushion of sublime white polenta.
Then, a ballsy glass of tiramisu and a dainty, mellow pannacotta served with blackberries and an elegantly tasty almond biscotti. Wonderously, belly laughingly good.
There are wines by the carafe and mini wine glasses (not the Polpo tumblers).
Polpetto opens officially tomorrow (Monday 23 August 2010). I was lucky enough to get through on the busy lines to secure some seats for the 50% off soft opening this weekend. Normally it might not be fair to review a place during its soft opening. But I love the Polpetto/Polpo concept, the passion behind it, and the casual, easy eating, quality food. When it's this good already, I'm happy to recommend it early on. Without a 50% discount on food our total bill would have been £32 per head including apertivo, wine and service. I rate it as good value, even if much of the food appears to be ready made for rolling straight out of the kitchen (eg. the desserts).
Just don't go along swept up too much in the anticipated hype that it's the best place in the universe and everything is perfect - if you can resist succumbing to that, I'm certain you won't be disappointed.
Polpetto, Above The French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 5BG
(Tel: 020 7734 1969)