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Restaurant with a French connection transports diners to Venice

Berwick Street’s iconic Polpetto – launched in 2010 above the French House pub – still beats much of the competition hands down

30 November, 2018 — By Tom Moggach

Polpetto’s stone-baked whole San Pietro with olives, Trebbiano, braised artichoke and cime di rapa

THE tentacles of Polpetto restaurant now stretch far across London. Launched in 2010 above the French House pub in Soho, the name translates as “little octopus” in Italian.

This infamous destination, the diminutive sister of the first Polpo in Beak Street, helped launch the vogue for shabby chic casual dining. Many of its trademarks are now ubiquitous: small plates; bare brick walls; rough paper menus; no reservations for dinner. But it’s more than the sum of its parts. The original Polpetto was a genuinely thrilling and sexy place to eat out.

The vibe felt informal but every detail was carefully curated, including the ravishing staff – many sporting extravagant tattoos.

The co-owner, a clever chap called Russell Norman, has since opened four more Polpo restaurants around the capital.

Polpetto, the more experimental of the group, moved to Berwick Street some years ago.

It’s recently enjoyed a mini revamp, with fresh dishes and new touches to the interior.

Does it still sparkle? Step inside, through heavy red curtains, and you’re struck by the warm lighting, turned daringly dim. This was a refuge from soggy Soho outside.

The low ceiling, covered in faded and embossed metal panels, adds to this sense of cosiness and time travel – this restaurant transports you to the faded bacaro bars of Venice in its heyday.

A marble bar stretches along the left, opposite a strip of funky metal tables set with fresh flowers. Here you sip cocktails and nibble ciccheti (little snacks) as you wait for your table.

Their strong negroni is still among the best: a stir-up of Beefeater gin, Mancino Rosso, Cinzano Rosso 1757 and Campari. It does cost £10, though.

Anchovy butter crostino, £2.50 a pop, beautifully demonstrates their winning ethos to food: first-rate ingredients served with simple panache. Here it’s crusty bread, a thick square of butter and a plump glistening anchovy with fine pedigree draped on top.

The main dining area is now divided into booths, which adds a frisson of intimacy. Black and white vintage photos cover the walls.

Highlights from our meal included light, fluffy gnocchi with Tuscan sausage and sage and hand-cut tagliatelle made with chestnut flour. Bitter flavours are key to the Italian winter. We swooned at the vivid colours of tender chargrilled squid with green puntarelle, red Treviso radicchio (both types of chicory) and a punchy balsamic dressing.

You’ll find rabbit, cuttlefish in Chianti, crispy pizzas, artichokes braised in vermouth, and puddings such as pear sorbet or saffron panna cotta.

Not all perfect, mind you, but this is a menu with so much to like.

Always on trend, the drinks list also stars more low intervention, biodynamic and natural wines.

It’s fair to say that Polpetto is not as glamorous as in its early days. You’ll find a few more tourists; young waiting staff with fewer tattoos. But this iconic restaurant still beats much of the competition hands down.

Polpetto
11 Berwick St, W1F
020 7439 8627
www.polpo.co.uk

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