Choosing to go to a hugely popular restaurant that doesn't take bookings, in the heart of Soho, on a beautifully warm evening where the streets were packed with people enjoying a last stab at a summer wouldn't normally be advisable. Somehow though, despite all this we managed to get a table at Polpo relatively quickly.
Quickly, but not immediately, so we first took advantage of the bijou basement Campari bar. Our pre-drink at the nearby Alphabet Bar proved to be a mistake, as we each tucked into two of the most deceptively lethal cocktails I have had in ages. Lethal but delicious all the same; well mixed and presented in cute little glasses. Don't be fooled by the size though.
I went for a 'Sidecar' (Vecchia Romagna - an Italian brandy, triple sec and lemon juice) and the Grumpy One had an 'Old Fashioned' (Four Roses bourbon, orange zest and bitters) - fitting I thought, as we were celebrating his 45th birthday.
By the time our table was ready, we were both a little sozzled to say the least. And ravenous. So we trotted upstairs to the restaurant proper, fitted out in a welcoming slightly down-at-heel, downtown New York, shabby chic sort of way. I particularly liked the ceiling, tiled with rusted tin panels.
Polpo, if you don't know, is a Venentian bacaro - which is essentially Italian tapas. Dishes consisting of small plates designed to share. We chose 7 dishes between us, which turned out to be the perfect amount.
Highlights for me included the anchovy and chick pea crostino (the balance between the salty anchovy and the chikpea was perfect) and the runner beans with red onion and pecorino. Who knew runner beans could be so fricking sexy? They were dressed to perfection and worked brilliantly with the pecorino. I couldn't get enough of them. In fact I would go back just for that dish alone.
The grumpy one wasn't that keen on the wild mushroom piadina. I thought it was delicious - but having now moved onto to white wine my ability to find fault with any of the dishes was diminishing by the minute. Anyway he thought the bread to crispy, for me that is what I liked about it. We both liked the mushrooms though.
As I don't eat meat I didn't try the calves liver but the feedback from the Grumpy One was good. I think I remember the word succulent being uttered. He devoured the chicken liver crostino before I had even had the chance to see what it looked like.
We left room for dessert and I decided to throw caution to the wind and order the one item on the menu I didn't recognise, a sgroppino - expecting someting interesting to tickle my taste buds. I got a sorbet; which was actually delicous, refreshing and light but still just a sorbet. The Grumpy One went for his 'favourite' - the affogato al caffe - and then realised it wasn't the one with the nougart! He still polished it off though and I only just managed to get a taste.
Polpo has a concept I like very much - small Italian dishes, well made, well priced (the meals with cocktails, wine, water and service was a very reasonable £90) and delivered in a friendly and welcoming environment. I'll definitely be back - once I have tried their sister restaurants Sputino and Polpetto.
Polpo. A bacaro in Soho.
41 Beak Street
London W1F 9SB.
020 7734 4479.