Friday, 16 October 2009

Polpo, Soho


Purely in terms of a concept perfectly pitched to the jaded, trend-chasing diners of London, Polpo appears to have everything going for it. You've tried tapas before, sure, haven't we all. But what's this - Italian "tapas", based on a Venetian bacaro - bitesize (often literally) portions of Italian food, each little more than a couple of quid and presented with a shockingly reasonable Italian wine list. The room is romantically lit (ie. you can barely see your hand in front of your face) but whereas in other restaurants this only serves to annoy, in Polpo it seems to fit with the clandestine Venetian style, like you've discovered a hidden gem of a bar near St. Mark's Square. You almost expect to hear the gentle lapping of the canals beneath the buzz of the crowd. Polpo has everything going for it, then. Everything that is, apart from the food.


First to disappoint were the arancini, deep-fried risotto balls. Bland in colour and taste, these weren't so much under seasoned as completely un-seasoned, and were like eating wet plaster of Paris. My crostini of chicken livers was just a slice of toasted baguette with what for all the world could pass as a supermarket paté - uniformly smooth, timid of flavour. And I wasn't just unlucky - the other crostini had similarly poor feedback from my friends at the table last night, a "horrible" cheap black olive in particular spoiling an otherwise OK salt fish and polenta offering.


The larger dishes were similarly cack-handed. Octopus salad had the opposite problem of the arancini, being unpleasantly salty; pork belly with raddicchio and hazelnuts had some fine flavours but the inedibly chewy rind on the meat itself was distracting; slow-roast duck with tomatoes was boring, under seasoned yet again and with none of the flavoursome fat that duck can offer; only a dish of cuttlefish cooked in ink was worth the asking price - rich in flavour and balanced with a pleasant tang of the sea.

By this point we were becoming thoroughly dispirited but ploughed on gamely through another handful of boring dishes. Mussels and clams were yet again under seasoned, not very fresh, and a good half of the mussels were closed (albeit smashed apart). Turnip tops flavoured with chilli and garlic were not bad I suppose but at nearly £5 for the bit of the turnip (hardly an expensive vegetable anyway) you normally throw away is extracting the Michael somewhat. And I have here in my notes "Fennel, bobby beans, cobnuts" but can't for the life of me remember eating it. Which probably tells you all you need to know.


What's even more frustrating about my meal last night was how much I was looking forward to it, based on the opinion of many people whose opinions I implicitly trust. It's baffling - perhaps last night the usual chef was ill or otherwise unavailable, as I came away with the distinct impression nobody was tasting any of the food leaving the kitchens - nearly everything was incorrectly seasoned. But still, part of me really wants Polpo to work. Despite everything, it's still a gorgeous little spot for a very reasonably priced drink, and the service and welcome from all the staff was perfectly friendly and professional. Sort out the problems in the kitchen and you're onto a winner. Until then, I'm staying away.

4/10

Polpo on Urbanspoon

15 comments:

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Crikey. Hope for everyone's sake that it was just a one-off duff night...

Ollie said...

This place has been incredibly well-marketed, and its ethos does seem right for the times - but quite a few reviews have echoed what you say. It's cheap and lively and the food is perhaps a bit better than you'd expect, but it's hardly the best thing in town. 4/10 seems quite generous for the text you've written.

Lizzie said...

I'm really disappointed that you had a bad time. I loved the food and indeed the place; I can only imagine that the chef was off or having an off day because we usually have similar tastes.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Went a couple of weeks ago and it was dreadful.

My mussels and clams were far from fresh, to the point that I didn't finish

I think people get a bit carried away by the fact that it is cheap. very good to read somebody not believing the hype

Lizzie said...

Is it cheap, Anon? I managed to spend £25 on a light (but delicious) lunch.

Krista said...

Ouch. Was planning on dropping in next Friday but I'll try for Hix instead.

Oh and dude...saw your tweet about your photos...try using the indoor setting maybe? Not sure if iPhone has one?

Niamh said...

Wow! I've not read all the reviews, clearly, but everything I've read has been good. A bad night in the kitchen, hopefully. Shame.

Su-Lin said...

That photo of the duck is exactly what I remember it looking like. You've captured it perfectly!

Chris said...

Ollie: Yes, I suppose it did read more like a 3/10, but I have a feeling the kitchen may improve and there's still a part of me that wonders how me and Lizzie had such different experiences.

Krista: No indoor setting on the iPhone! No flash, no focus, no zoom either...

Greedy Diva said...

Sounds like Polpo is having some teething problems - such a surprise as I had such a fabulous night there.

Mariel said...

Can I be your date the next time you go out?
:)-
Hope you are well!
Love, Table Fuel :)

Helen @ World Foodie Guide said...

My turnip tops the evening before your visit only cost £3.80 & they were pretty good. Highlights were anchovy & chickpea crostini and the polpette.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked. I was there yesterday evening and it was excellent from start to finish. The dishes where top class. I will be back, you guys had bad luck.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked. I was there yesterday evening and it was excellent from start to finish. The dishes where top class. I will be back, you guys had bad luck.

Anonymous said...

We went recently and I'm afraid things haven't improved, 3 years on.

I can still taste the anchovy and chickpea crostini sometimes.