Dinner in Soho: Vinoteca and Polpo
Polpo has been on my wish list for the past year or so. I’d read so many raving reviews and heard from so many people goo and affordable it was, I had to go. And so I went a few Saturdays ago with Rob.
Now this doesn’t mean I had not attempted to go before. On the contrary, last summer my sister Jo had arrived at Polpo in Soho at around 18:30 to stand in a queue and reserve a table for six (one word of advice, I wouldn’t go to Polpo in a large group as the chances of waiting double time for a table are much higher). She had been told to wait an hour, which wasn’t too bad since she could sit and have a drink by the bar while waiting for me and others to arrive. I legged it there straight after work, got there at 19:30 which is when we approached the rather sour looking waitress and asked if our table was ready. She gave us a disinterested look and said no, we had to wait another hour. So we promptly left, irritated and put out. Instead we went to Vinoteca a few doors down, a little pricier perhaps but with a range of interesting wines and sharing plates. And, most importantly, charming waiters who made a real effort to squish the six of us around a small table. I liked it. Apparently you can even reserve tables (but only upstairs).
But my summer experience did not actually put me off Polpo. I was curious to see just why people were willing to wait in a cramped bar downstairs for at least an hour and why this place was always teaming with people, even on a Tuesday evening.
Knowing that Saturday was probably the busiest day to go, Rob and I arrived in the Soho branch early at 18:30 and were duly sent to the downstairs bar to wait for our table. While it was very full downstairs it had a happy atmosphere, infectiously so, and despite being squashed against the bar by a group of Aussies, Rob and I happily drank our cocktails (caipiroska, £7) and started on the house wine (very drinkable). So the waiting wasn’t that unpleasant. And since these days it seems that every ‘cool’ (and affordable) restaurant in London has a no pre-booking, first-come first-serve policy, waiting for a table now seems to be a very natural thing to do.
Polpo’s interior is a funky blend of a vinoteca (Italian wine bar) and a trendy New York cafe. A little rough round the edges which adds to its charm. Wooden tables as close to the next as possible, dim lighting, a mixture of clientele, shrieks of laughter from a boisterous woman in the corner. It is a place where you get in the mood for a night out.
The food is Venetian, tapas style. We were recommended to choose at least two or three plates per person. I was not particularly hungry, since we’d already had a starter downstairs (crostini with chicken liver pate – rather good). So we ordered two plates each to share: lamb and pistachio meatballs, goats cheese and grape pizzete, the seafood platter and grilled pumpkin. The food came quickly, the portions were good and we were pleased with our order. The meatballs are a recommended option (filling and good value) as are their pizzetes (sort of like a large bruscetta, the grape and goat cheese worked so well together).
The bill came and I wasn’t surprised by the price. While individual prices for these dishes look low, they certainly add up. Recession Restaurant? Not so much. Enjoyable? Definitely.
53-55 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB
41 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB
There are now multiple Polpo restaurants around London (Notting Hill/Chelsea/Farringdon/Covent Garden)