I seem to be eating in a lot of small rooms above pubs recently. First there was Meateasy, now Polpetto nestled above The French House in Soho. Polpetto is located just a stone’s throw away from Polpo, its larger, older cousin. With room for just 28 covers, reservations are essential at lunch time although the Euro Hedgie and I managed to snag a table without one by turning up shortly after opening at midday, although only for an hour and a half. Reservations aren’t taken for dinner, so turning up early in the evenings is especially essential.
The Venetian-inspired menu consists of small plates designed for sharing. The lack of any large tables is therefore a shame, especially as the quality of the food is generally superb. The highlight of our meal was undoubtedly the cuttlefish cooked in its own ink along with greens and sweet onions, a dish also available at Polpo. I’m used to the meatier, slightly rubbery texture of Chinese-style cuttlefish, so the flaky, fish-like texture here was a divine revelation. The ink itself was vaguely reminiscent of a Chinese-style black bean sauce and it was all perfectly complemented by the intensely sweet onions.
I love you, cuddlefish. Remember to wipe the black ink from your lips though.
I was also delighted by the braised ox cheeks served with polenta bianca and olives. The tender meat melted in the mouth and went well with the smooth, white, creamy potato-like polenta bianca. I enjoyed the fruity accent added by the olives, although the Euro Hedgie found they added a touch of oiliness he wasn’t entirely fond of.
Braised ox cheeks with polenta bianca. Who knew polenta came in a white variety?
Zucchini fries sounds odd and the Euro Hedgie was worried it would turn out to be an oily, flavourless mess, like the version at Byron at The Intrepid Fox. Fortunately, Polpetto’s version successfully preserved the butter-like creaminess of the vegetable strips encased inside a thin, crisp, but not too oily, envelope of batter. A moreish success.
The Euro Hedgie isn’t especially fond of artichokes, but I am. Like a complete newbie, I was ignorant of the difference between globe artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes. I was therefore surprised by the Jerusalem artichoke served with radicchio in a truffle vinaigrette. Instead of the fleshy, slightly fibourous texture that I was expecting from a globe artichoke, I was pleasantly surprised by the potato-like texture of the roasted Jerusalem artichokes. Combined with the radicchio, it was a refreshing companion to the braised ox cheeks.
The sole disappointment for me was the chopped chicken liver crostini. Apart from a slight salty hit, it didn’t leave much of an impression.
The Euro Hedgie was slightly disappointed by his 250ml mini carafe of Barbera Volpi house red wine. Although he drinks like a drowning fish, he doesn’t think of himself as an oenophile so his thoughts on the Barbera Volpi was just a non-commital ‘meh’.
We were tempted to order more, but the friendly and efficient waiter advised us that we’d already ordered more than enough. After some rumination and digestion, we agreed and took in the rather spartan decor of zinc-topped tables, exposed brickwork and slightly mottled walls. Charming, in a grungy sort of way.
In a twist of fate, from our vantage point above Soho’s Dean Street, we spied the Flame Haired Squelchie and her Viking Sidekick stomping, we later found out, their way to Polpo. I knew there was a reason I liked you Squelchie.
I like Polpetto. A lot. The food is delicious and reasonably priced, proving that small plates can fill you up without breaking the bank, while the service is friendly and efficient. Although I’m probably being too generous in not deducting a star for the cramped quarters and the lack of dinnertime reservations, I don’t care. Five stars!
Address: Upstairs at The French House, 49 Dean Street, London, W1D 5BG
Phone: 020 7734 1969
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 12.00 to 15.00 and 17.30 to 23.00.
Closed Sunday and Bank Holidays.
Reservations: accepted for lunch only, must call between 10.00 and 18.00
Total cost for one person including free tap water: £20
Updated 20/2/2011 – new star rating graphic added