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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Polpo: Don't mention the T-word

41 Beak Street, W1F 9SB
tel: (0)20 7734 4479

"Are you Robyn?" asks the charming co-owner Russell Norman as I step through the door. Now, let's be honest: I don't usually get such a personal greeting when I enter a restaurant. But the thing is, I've finally got my ass into gear and joined the crazy world of Twitter. So @londonfoodie (moi) started following @polposoho (Russell). I tweeted that I was looking forward to finally having lunch there. And to my surprise, he replied: "please do say hello when you come in." Well golly gosh, I felt a little bit special. And indeed, Russell sat me in a primo spoto - by the window - where I had the pleasure of checking out a workman's crotch for most of the lunch-hour. Allo.
But enough about crotches and more about cicheti - which is the Venetian codeword for tapas. "These are like tapas?" my lady-friend and I asked our uber-cool waiter Robin.  "Shhhhhh," he hissed at us. "Don't say the T-word here," he said looking around with mock-alarm. "We call them sharing plates." And so there within lies ye ol' country rivalry. Spain does tapas, Italy does cicheti. Fairly unconcerned about this, the lady-friend and I went on to order the following: one potato & parmesan crocchetta (£1.40) and one salt cod on grilled polenta (£2.10) as mini-starters. Robin recommended that we order two other non-t-word tapas each. So we opted for Robin's suggestion of piadina caprese (4.80) which is a salty potato pizza (top photo) with mozzarella, tomatoes and rocket. We also went for the rabbit, sage & apricot terrina (£6.10) which was rich and succulent; the pork belly, radicchio and hazelnuts (£5.70); and the frito misto (£6.60) - which really deserves a picture: 
Finally, we threw in a side of spinach with chilli and garlic (£3.80). Robin was mega-enthusiastic about wine, and offered to choose a bottle for us. We agreed, and I secretly prayed it wouldn't cost more than £30. As it turned out, it was a delicious bottle of Custoza (white), which he described as a mash-up of grapes and told us was his favourite. It was £24, which made Robin my new hero. Once he cleared our not-tapas plates, he came back with pudding menus. As with the wine, he didn't mince his words: "Get the flourless orange & almond cake with mascarpone (£4.40). It's the best." My dining companion eloquently said: "bring it" while I had already seen my weakness walk by with another waitress. Ice cream - aka honey & walnut semifreddo - in a cone (£3.80).
The thing is, I should have listened to Robin,  'cause the orange & almond cake was actually the winner. Not being a very good loser, I felt I needed to order one more treat. And so came two glasses of L'Ambrosie desert wine. Holy sheep-dip, they were amazing. Not syrupy sweet, but fresh and fruity and a little too drinkable. But alas, we decided to quit while we were ahead and settled the bill (£98.66). We left feeling a wee bit tipsy, a very bit happy and ever-so-slightly enamored with Robin...ahem....
The great thing about Polpo is that we missed so many fabulous-sounding non-tapas tapas, which gives us an excuse to go back for more. On the next trip, I've already decided (because Robin let me take a menu home to drool over) on: broad bean, ricotta & mint bruschetta; grilled sliced flank steak with white truffle cream (oh yes!) and the cuttlefish in its ink. Polpo, I'll be seeing you soon. 

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