Polpetto , a Venetian bacaro in Soho

Very often you read reviews and decide that you should pop by the relevant restaurant to try it;

but as often you find that everyone reads the same reviews and the relevant restaurant is packed by the time you make your mind up… I must say that this was our worry with Polpetto,  Florence Knight’s “new” addition to the Polpo family.

We discovered Polpo Covent garden the day of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageantat . We were trying to find a place to see the boats from and avoid the sea of people when we took Maiden Lane Street, a parallel to the Strand where you can find an incredible variety of places such as the wonderfully quaint and oldest restaurant in London Rules (still on my list of places to visit) , the Canadian Maple leaf “Pub” (which I visited once, on a Canadian evening event at a former office of mine, and did not like  ) and La Perla (a great low key place for Mohitos and nachos).

We loved our lunch at Polpo. It was unpretentious, fresh and it served delicious dishes. It seemed like the kind of place that would sit comfortably in the context of the cool east of London yet , for some reason, it was there, in one of the most commercial touristic areas of London. On that visit we discovered how brilliant a raw courgette salad with parmesan can be and we tested a wonderfully fresh selection of fried fishes (more than one variety).   We have since visited it a couple of times and we have also visited a newer one nearby my office for delicious cocktails (Smithfield).

With Polpetto, given the bijou nature of the place, we decided to plan a strategy. We decided to  have a look two weeks ago, on a sunday afternoon (3pm). Given that the number of people was acceptable to us, we decided to go back at the same time, the following week.

From the moment we arrived , every detail was noticeable , carefully crafted and felt part of this Russell Normal project that the Polpo family is.

I love food, as you have probably noticed by now and I also love design (hardly a surprise from and architect) , and I have to say that to find someone able to appreciate both in the way that he does is a cause for celebration. Polpetto is particularly clever with the use of its limited space .

The counter stools fold away, there is an area for individual/ couples where a long bench is divided by flower like tables that are essentially trays on thin metal tubes. Event the spacing on the tiling of the bathrooms is a conscious decision ! As by I now have quite an experience on the matter, I must add that the best of all is the skilful was they keep using not so expensive materials to create an overall wonderful effect.

We were ready for lovely food, after all, Florence Knight’s reputation is well known to everyone, but what I was not expecting was to be taken in a journey to my childhood though the magic of food.

The journey began with delicious bread an olive oil, house red , a bowl of mussels and scallops.

The mussels were fresh and so where all the ingredients on the dish (the fresh garlic brought the touch of spring to the table and it truly felt like we were no longer in the big smoke of London but somewhere fresh, sunny and lovely.

mussels cannellini beans

(Mussels, cannellini beans, three-cornered garlic )

The Scallops were delicious but what caught us by surprise was a clever variation of textures from a dish you may have tried before. With the introduction of crisped up cauliflower and lardo, which slippery texture reminded me of Cheung Fun Dim Sum, the dish was completely transformed.

scallops cauliflower

(Scallops, cauliflower, lardo )

Once we finished our starter sharing, the mains arrived … yes, I realise that the menu does not indicate the order on which the dishes will be served, but some how, this is how it ended up. (And just to clarify, the portions were very well thought out too.)

The veal cheeks were prepared in such a traditional way that it reminded me of my grandma’s cooking. The ingredients melted in your mouth yet you could taste them individually. The Mediterranean journey had just began. (We chose to have new potatoes on the side and they were a delicious , waxy and flavoursome accompaniment to this dish)

veal cheeks

(Veal cheeks, white wine, fennel )

But my favourite has to be, must be, the Beef shin pasta.

Shin is a cheap cut of beef that is perfect for ragu. I know this because my mom taught me that kind of information as I was growing up , when I asked why she would choose not to buy the same cut of meat for every dish. My mom was the hunter gatherer, of the family, the ingredient expert and my gran was the chef. Gladly, I could learn from both!

Transforming a cheap cut of meat into a dish as delicious as this one requires true skill. The ragu was flavoursome, deep, rich and fresh tasting. Not greasy. It worked in perfect contrast with the fresh pasta which tasted home made in the best possible way. Pasta is made out of egg and flour, yet, too often one cannot taste the egg. This was pasta that tasted of egg and flour.

beef shin pasta

(Beef Shin Ragu Pasta )

Overall, we were so impressed that we began to plan our next visit.

We spoke to the waiter, who was extremely lovely and attentive all the way through (yes, even service was great) and he explained that they only take bookings at lunch times. When asked about Saturdays, he said that saturday evenings tend to be very busy, and that only at 9pm you begin to find opportunities to get a table (noted). Sunday lunch times, as we had observed , were a quieter period. So if you want to travel to Italia and go back home on your Oyster, a weekend visit could be your chance!

Photographs by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate (Taken with my phone)
Text by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate

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