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Tuesday 15 December 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Polpo


I thought there would be nothing else to add to the media frenzy surrounding “Polpo”, the new Italian darling and makers of cicheti or small-eats, or tapas or whatever-you-wanna-call-it in Soho. It’s been blogged and highly praised by just about every food blogger in London – but after my disappointing meal there last Saturday, I thought I would put pen to paper and dare to differ.

First impressions were excellent – the décor was charming, the front-of-house staff very friendly and the place nearly full and buzzing with a beautiful and trendy crowd at 5:45pm.

We started the evening by ordering a couple of their breads, “White Bean Bruschetta” @ £4 and “Wild Mushroom Piadina” @ £4.80, followed by a selection of “cicheti and crostini”. The white beans had been cooked in rosemary and were very aromatic and perfectly al dente, a good Italian version of beans on toast. The “Piadina” was similar to a crepe and was filled with fried wild mushrooms. Both breads were nicely prepared although the portions were ludicrously small. We ordered two portions of each, and struggled to share them among the five of us.

Our selection of “cicheti and crostini” included “arancini” @ £1.50, “anchovy & chick pea crostini” @ £1.10, “potato and parmesan croquette” @ £1.20 and “salt cod on grilled polenta” @ £2.10. 

I love Italian “baccala” (salted cod), and cook it frequently at home – I have made a similar dish of flaked salted cod with parsley, garlic and olive oil over grilled polenta a few times at home. These intensely flavoured ingredients should balance beautifully with the blander polenta, and when well made this dish is truly heavenly. Polpo’s version however was very disappointing – the polenta was cold and soggy, and the salted cod completely tasteless. We ordered three pieces and we all agreed they were rather poor.

The “arancini” were tiny and very uninspiring, and so were the “anchovy & chick pea crostini” and “potato and parmesan croquettes”. I tried a bit of each, and struggle to find anything at all to say about them. Completely “passable” comes to mind.

The more “substantial” meat and fish dishes that we ordered included “Slow Roasted Duck” @ £6.10, “Calves Liver, Onion and Sage” @ £5.90, “Grilled Flank Steak with Mushroom” @ £6.90, and “Fritto Misto” @ £6.60. We also ordered a portion of “Pork Belly, Radicchio and Hazelnuts” @ £5.70 but it never turned up.

Two of these dishes were good – the calves liver was well cooked, although not as delicately flavoured and soft as it should have been, while the “fritto misto” (deep fried whitebait and seafood) was crisp and utterly delicious.


The flank steak was beautifully presented but in my opinion lacked seasoning, and the slow roasted duck was unexciting. It was served in a pool of tomato sauce and did not look terribly appetizing. All portions were very ungenerous.


To accompany the above we also ordered a portion of “Roast Potatoes and Rosemary” @ £3.70, “Grilled Polenta” @ £3 and “Fennel, Curly Endive and Almonds” @ £3.90. These were all well made and flavoursome, but again the portions were minute.



For pudding, we had a few “Affogato al caffe” @ £2.60 each (vanilla ice cream immersed in espresso coffee), “Flourless Orange & Almond Cake” @ £4.40, and “Honey & Walnut Semifreddo” @ £3.80. The affogato tasted just right - both the ice cream and the coffee were of high quality. 



The orange and almond cake was light and delicious, and I enjoyed it  immensely. I did not try the semifreddo but John seemed impressed with his choice.


The wine list was impressive and reasonably priced, with bottles of white and red starting at £15 through to £38. Polpo serves most of its whites and a few reds in 250ml and 500ml measures at no extra cost. A bottle of 750ml will cost £15 while 500ml & 250ml measures will cost £10 and £5 respectively. This is a nice thought,  and the flat pricing structure should encourage wine drinkers to try different wine combinations to accompany their cicheti.

My dinner companions were old friends from a wine club I used to belong to in Dulwich (Dulwich Wine Society), and therefore our wine choices were good but rather pricey. We had a couple of bottles of Gavi (white) @ £30 each and two of Piemonte Barbera (red) @ £21 each. The total bill came to £208, including service, or £42 per person. The general consensus was that it was a disappointing and expensive meal and some of us were still peckish at the end of it.

Verdict – A clear example of style over substance. Good deep fried fish, good desserts, excellent wine list but tiny, ridiculously tiny portions.  Some of the dishes were seriously disappointing for a restaurant currently the subject of such hype. I am not planning a return visit.

Polpo on Urbanspoon


  1. Wow...the size of that semifreddo is just taking the piss now...

    Sounds like you had the same kind of experience that we did on our visit!

  2. I know, I just cannot understand what is going on in that place, a serious case of style over substance! I should have taken your word for it!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  3. I was at Polpo with Su-Lin so obviously I agree. We had such an average meal it was unbelievable. I was actually a bit shell shocked at how disappointing it was.

  4. Hi Helen,

    I completely agree and cannot understand to this day why people feel this is such an amazing place. I could even forgive Polpo for their tiny portions if the food was that sensational, but it wasn't, so we just got little of very mediocre food!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  5. Despite some of the bad things I've heard about Polpo, I'm totally in love with that cute little semifreddo cone, although the price would put me off.

  6. Hi Abi, I know what you mean, my friend John did an ace job at modelling it! ;0)
    Indeed the desserts were the best part of the meal!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  7. Interesting to see this, there are a couple of restaurants I really want to go to next year (once I have paid off the debts of doing New York to London for a while) and Polpo was half on the list... I thought it might well be like Hix (style and fluctuations in substance) but your review has thoroughly convinced me to try elsewhere...

  8. If you were to visit Polpo, I would suggest the fritto misto and possibly the pork belly (which never arrived for us), I heard it is very good. If you stick to a cheaper bottle of wine, it might be even a worthwhile experience... you will probably need to go for a good chips later!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  9. As a friend of mine says "Nicer than it is good." I found the food uninspiring as well. I wouldn't mind the small portions if they were well executed.

    This makes me a little aggravated at the London blog community. Why are they hyping up mediocre food?

  10. i rather liked the food but the queue was ridiculous! 2 hours, then they tried to sit us at the bar after the long wait. Too beautiful to care about the level of service i think. One of our mains didnt arrive so we had to write it off too.


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