It seems like half of London went to Polpetto for its opening weekend. They had to seat people in shifts with diners eagerly turning up for a 3pm lunch slot or a 6.30pm dinner just to get the chance to be one of the first to try Polpetto out for the barginous price of 50 per cent off. As Polpetto is the little sister restaurant to my restaurant of the year, Polpo, I certainly didn’t want to miss out.
Opened just around the corner from Polpo, Polpetto is literally housed in the upstairs room of a pub. The place is tiny, half the size of Polpetto and without the bar area. Our waitress told us Polpetto won’t take bookings for dinner but will take peoples names and mobile numbers so they can have a drink at the pub downstairs while they wait for their table to turn up. Cue gold mine and the sound of cash registers ringing for the downstairs pub. Although smaller, Polpetto has the same look and feel as Polpo with dangling unadorned lightbulbs, a pressed tin roof and brown paper menus that serve as place mats. It has also adopted the same admirable wine pricing system where wine is served by carafes and bottles with no price differential so if you decide to go for one carafe, then just one more and damn you may as well have just got the bottle. Only a handful of wines are on offer but we enjoyed our carafes (ahem!) of very fruit driven and almost spicy Sangiovese (£11 for 500ml).
Polpetto offers the same style of food as Polpo, Venetian chicheti, small plates for sharing, but offers a whole new set of dishes. Chilli and garlic prawns (£7) had been helpfully shelled and were swimming merrily in a tomato sauce with a chilli kick so good that MTV boyfriend and I were scooping up the sauce with bread long after the prawns were devoured. Chickpea and anchovy crostini was complimentary and tasted almost like a chunky hommus with the added richness from the anchovies.
Swordfish and dill ricotta (£2.50) was a sliver of almost translucent, shimmering smoked sword fish rolled around creamy and blowsy ricotta. You need to order a few of this one because it is tiny. Osso bucco (£8) was a dish of rustic beauty. A hunk of tender, slow cooked veal hugging the bone on a bed of fantastic saffron infused risotto. I also loved the panzanella (£5) with its jumble of brightly coloured, sweet tomatoes drizzled with oil and crunchy pieces of toasted torn bread.
From the dessert list the blackberry pannacotta (£6) was creamy and fragrant with the tartness of the blackberries acting as a perfect foil to the sweet, airy pannacotta. Sgroppino (£5.50) was a tiny alcoholic milkshake made with strawberry and lemon sorbet and prosecco. The fizz and lightness from the bubbles made it a fun, almost playful dessert.
There was the occasional chink in the armour of Polpo’s perfection, the fig and salami bruschetta (£2.50) was a giant portion of bread but it did not seem to have been toasted and had none of the lovely garlicky flavour you expect from a bruschetta. The heaped salami tended to overwhelm the sweetness of the two small figs. The batter on the soft shell crab (£7) was perhaps a little on the soggy side but I loved the combination of the crab with creamy thinly sliced fennel which added moisture and a hint of aniseed to the crispness of the crab.
It would be hard for any restaurant to live up to the hype surrounding such an opening but Polpetto did. I was pleased Polpetto had its own distinct personality and style rather than just turning Polpo into some mini chain of restaurants. I do probably still prefer Polpo because it is not quite as squashy and has the lovely bar area as well. Still, putting aside the buzz of a new restaurant opening, what stays with you is the atmosphere of good food being enjoyed in a convivial way with a minimum of fuss.
Details: 49 Dean street, Soho W1D 5GB (Ph 020 7734 1969) Tube: Oxford Circus
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of Polpo or this recipe for osso bucco which is pretty similar to Polpetto’s version.