Am I the last person in London to go to Polpo? It feels that way. When it first opened I waited a little for the hype to go down before visiting. Just under a year later and it still hasn’t so I bit the bullet and joined the queues to get a table. We waited for an hour on a Friday night, but aided by a small carafe of wine (Polpo’s wines are cleverly served in a quarter or half carafe as well as bottles) it wasn’t hard to pass the time standing up near the bar. For the record we drank the Poeta chardonnay which was fairly dry and understated and so good that we ended up ordering a succession of the small carafes. Luckily the pricing does not penalise you for such indecision and a quarter of a carafe is priced as a quarter of a bottle (£6 in our case) and so on.
Broad bean bruschetta
Polpo is supposed to be a Venetian bacaro or wine bar, although I feel that the Italians would not be quite as orderly or as patient in waiting for tables as the British. To be honest, I can’t really remember anywhere quite like Polpo in Venice. Still, I’m not complaining as authentic or not, Polpo is fantastic. It looks like it has been tucked away in Soho, or even Venice for years with water lapping at the pavement and pigeons pestering the pedestrians. There is a worn mosaic floor by the bar, weathered brick walls, beaten metal on the ceiling and low hanging light bulbs dangling by strings. Bistro tables and chairs are packed in closely in the small dining room to try to accommodate Londoners seemingly unceasing appetite for some Polpo action.
Fritto Misto
There’s a reason for the crowds, the place has atmosphere in spades with a slightly frenetic but relaxed feel, service is personable once you get a seat, the prices are affordable and most importantly the food is fantastic. The menu is your place mat. It is divided into chicheti, the small portions of food served in bars in Venice, then more prosaically bread, meat, fish, cheese, vegetables and dessert. Asparagus spears (£5.50) with flakes of Parmesan and a light brown coating of anchovy butter was spring fresh.

Fried and seafood have to be two of my favourite things so I couldn’t got past the fritto misto (£7). Light and grease free, Polpo’s version did the classic Italian dish proud. The cuttlefish and ink risotto (£6.50) was a brilliant midnight black but the flavour was somewhat muddied. More refreshing was a salad of soft white swirls of fennel contrasted with crunchy leaves of curly endive and flaked almonds (£4).
Making a strong argument for being dish of the night was the broad bean bruschetta (£4). Slices of bright green bean were the perfect complement to creamy ricotta and a hit of mint. Almost as good was the pork belly (£5.50) paired with wilted, bitter radicchio and crunchy hazelnuts, an inspired combination.

Pork belly and radacchio
I really enjoyed Polpo, it reminded me a lot of nearby Bocca di Lupo (where apparently the chef used to cook), although a more casual and inexpensive version. It’s just a shame it’s so popular. Sadly, Polpo’s buzz, cooking and prices means I don’t think there is any chance of it being any easier to get a table any time in the near future.
Details: 41 Beak St, Soho W1F 9sB (Ph 020 7734 4479) Tube: Oxford Circus
Damage: Reasonable
If you liked this you might be interested in my review of Bocca di Lupo or if you feel like cooking Italian at home, try this recipe for Osso Bucco.

Polpo on Urbanspoon


  1. I’m SO glad you loved Polpo – me too! How good is the food. It’s still one of my fav places to eat in London, and I’m a Bocca di Lupo fan too. It’s easiest to get in to Polpo at pre-theatre times, but then half the fun is the buzzing, jam packed atmosphere later in the evening.

  2. Nope, I am the only person (now) who hasn’t eaten at Polpo. But after your review it is moving up my list of places to eat.

  3. Great photos – when I ate there, I couldn’t get my photos to come out (partly bc I refuse to use flash and it’s so dark in there).

    I remember having a great time, though the tables are packed pretty tightly. And I think the non-veg dishes were generally better than the veg ones when I was there (admittedly almost a year ago).

    Too bad there are still queues!

  4. No, you’re not the last – I’ve yet to go! Mea culpa! 😉 But plans are afoot. I love that first dish with the broad beans, and the pork belly sounds divine. You’ve whet my appetite!

  5. I’ve not been there either. It looks very good (I love those broad beans) but alas I cannot imagine I will get to go in the near future unless I do it as one of my dinner with crayons posts!!

  6. I’ve not eaten there yet, but the dishes look great!

  7. Greedy Diva – I agree the buzzy atmosphere was half the fun and it is handy to have some places up your sleeve that take you with no bookings for those nights you are just not organised.

    D – glad I am not the last one!

    An American in London – Yes it is pretty dark in there but luckily we were near the front of the restaurant.

    Jeanne – enjoy – sorry I can’t make it back there with you

    Sarah – it might be a hard one with kids because of the sheer popularity and need to wait

    Heavenly Housewife – they were

  8. I still haven’t been to Polpo! I’ve tried many times but the queue has defeated me. I think it will have to be a midweek late lunch soon.

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