Thursday, 25 April 2013

Polpo: octopricey

A great night, but Polpo's not a great restaurant

Back when i was trying (failing) to become a music journalist I did a rather cringing stint at the brilliant, a music website for people with discerning but "acquired" music taste. I turned up all fresh faced, eager to impress, with a list of bands that the great John Doran needed to hear.

It turns out he had heard of all of them, and proceeded to explain why each of them were "absolute shite". John and I didn't agree on a thing, but he taught me the most important lesson any critic, or indeed person, can ever learn.

"Most things you review are going to be average."

So if you use that as base for reviewing restaurants you will walk out a much happier man, whatever the experience. If it was crap, you can rightly vent; if it was brilliant, you are sated and delighted; if it was average, you can say "That reminded me of Polpo", and then smile.

The man who founded Polpo is an ex-Ivy man and it shows. He knows how to create a mystique, an identity. More than ever, restaurants are about restaurateurs not chefs, about atmosphere not food. Polpo is a testament to that. The bar downstairs where we waited for our table had loud trendy music, a tattooed barmaid who makes mean and alcoholic cocktails and the walls are slowly, artfully falling down. They told us we'd have to wait 45 minutes for a table, then found one after 20 - somehow managing to make us grateful.

They sat us so close to our fellow diners we were bumping elbows and poured our (very nice) wine into tiny little tumblers. The menu is simple, so simple you're not quite sure what you're ordering. I was also bemused by the fact that my pizzette cost "7.5". What currency was never made clear, nor how I could halve it, short of biting a coin in half. In the end they charged us £7.50 - which seemed a bit steep given the size.

Anyway, our Fiorentina pizzette was absolutely delicious, and we also ordered a slightly bland but nonetheless enjoyable mackerel tartare (how you make raw mackerel bland is beyond me, so props to the chef), some very moreish spinach and ricotta balls and slices of lovely oily focaccia. Sadly the dish I was most looking forward to, the ham hock, as salty as licking Lee Evan's face and almost inedible. You shouldn't need to season a  stew around ham hock, let alone with a whole brick of salt – although at least that explains why the cheapest cut on a pig somehow cost £9.

Still, I was so stuffed the better half and I decided to share a pudding. And it was a damned bit of luck we did, given that the nutella pizzette - which we ordered despite the carb fest of the mains and more out of curiosity than hunger - was bigger than the plate. It was also literally buried (and I write this with a great big smile on my face) with nutella, nuts and I think popcorn, but it was never too clear. Anyway, it was the first true bit of invention and, like all good inventions, filled a gap you didn't even know existed. Like a new lover you never knew you were missing.

So it seems that Polpo is a great pizza restaurant and a fun bar, where good food doesn't seem to be the focus. Not quite the Venetian Bacaro they were aiming for. The problem is that at £80 for two, it's not quite the humble, community restaurant Bacaros are meant to be. I'm sure the owner would point to Soho rents rather than any greed on his part. But then my answer would be don't make your community in the W1 postcode.

The fat man claps his hand, but unusually he's not really sure why.
Polpo on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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