Polpo Notting Hill. Yummy, mummy.
I haven’t been to the original Soho Polpo. Like a foodie version of too posh to push, I’m just too old to stand in line. Not to mention impatient. And even though I am generally to be found right up there on my high horse about the no booking thing, I thought that it might not be entirely rammed in Notting Hill, given its size.
This is number four in the chain that is Polpo, the others being in Soho (the mothership) Smithfield and Covent Garden. The brainchild of that most astute of restaurateurs, Russell Norman, he not only captures the zeitgeist, he often creates it.
Polpo NH is a roomy, double-fronted restaurant, with a long bar on the right and a few tables outside, should you wish to sit and breathe in some carbon monoxide and study the local bus stop, whilst you eat. Al fresco dining on busy roads. I am afraid that I don’t find myself brimming with excitement at the idea of sitting outside, on a grubby, busy pavement in Central London, with passersby nosying into my dinner.
Polpo is described on its website as a bàcaro, a Venetian word denoting a “humble restaurant serving simple food and local reasonable wines”. Local wines might be pushing it a bit for W11, but it is fairly low-key, more of a café really and none the worse for that.
And on my first visit to the restaurant, dining solo, it was, rather unexpectedly, half empty. I realised later that there was a World Cup match on that evening. Don’t expect me to tell you which one, that would be beyond the call of duty.
I had that old standby, fritto misto, together with a bruschetta topped with ricotta, broad beans and mint. Broad beans on the menu require to be ordered. It’s the law. Both dishes fine, not memorable, but not bad at all. I thought the tempura batter on the fritto misto needed salt.
It’s one of those places that are fairly well-suited to a solo outing, even if they do shove you to the back, where it is so dark that you need to use your camera torch to read the menu, thereby drawing attention to your alone-ness not to mention your age and deteriorating sight. But a solo visit did not allow me to do justice to the fairly extensive menu, so when my friend S invited me to come and visit her new flat and go to Polpo, on the ground floor of very same block, it seemed like karma.
The menu, a piece of paper doubling as a table covering, had changed a little from my earlier visit, a few weeks before, as they use what’s seasonal, though some things appear to be staples, fritto misto being one. Again, not enough salt, or indeed any discernible in the batter. We also ordered mackerel tartare, with carta musica (thin crispbread) and horseradish, for S – I wasn’t keen – but it wasn’t the dish, it’s just that I don’t love raw mackerel, a little too pungent but please don’t let me put you off, S loved it. Also, arancini, fried rice balls, gooey risotta-y rice on the inside and crisp on the outside; moist and tasty pork meatballs with fennel, in a spicy tomato sauce; bruschetta with mozzarella, white peach and pea shoots, which was delicious – two narrow toasted slices of country bread, cut in half, with the freshest cheese and fragrant chunks of peach, this was my favourite dish.
And to follow, S had a light pannacotta with macerated strawberries and basil, the herb making the strawberries seem more interesting. Simple but effective. I had decaffeinated affogato, ice cream with an espresso to pour over the top. I am not sure why I have never asked for that before, given that it’s a perfect end to a meal when you want a little taste of sweet without the commitment of a full-blown dessert. Possibly the fear that they will serve me full fat coffee and I will be listening to the World Service till 4 am, when the caffeine finally wears off.
Good things: friendly efficient service, not afraid to admit they’d forgotten about our wine rather than make an excuse, reasonable prices for the amount of food, great atmosphere.
Not so good: air conditioning unit seemed to be faulty on our visit so we both felt like we were having a hot flush, table too small for the plates – they pack you in here, music and noise a little more than is entirely comfortable for someone over 30.
I suspect that this will be a big hit in the ‘hood. The Yummy Mummy brigade will enjoy the small plates and local trustafarians will like having a Soho vibe on the high street. I was surprised at the location, I’d have thought that the natural home for Polpo would have been somewhere along the Portobello Road, but I’m glad it is here, underneath S’s flat. I think she is too.