If you like Polpo (which I do) you’ll like its new sister restaurant Polpetto. If you don’t you probably won’t, not least because it’s even more cramped. But it is a clone, so much so that I wondered for a moment if the menu was identical.
Not so said owner Russell Norman pointing out that only a handful of dishes are on the Polpo menu including pizza bianco and ham hock and parsley terrina. But it’s the same Venetian-inspired small-plates-wine-by-the-glass-formula - noisy and buzzy (even on day 1). Only the location on the first floor of the legendary French House in Dean Street is different and even then it's still Soho.
Overwhelmed by the choice we handed the task to him and got bombarded with plates to try.
My favourite was a brilliant osso buco (below) with perfectly cooked saffron risotto, “not very Polpo” as Russell put it (on the grounds that it was a bigger than usual helping rather than it was untypical in style). I also loved the roll of salty smoked swordfish stuffed with lemon and dill ricotta, cured pork shoulder and pickled pepper pizzetta, fennel salami and fig bruschetta and duck and porcini meatball. (Yes, singular. Order more than one.)
Not everything hit the mark - for me at any rate. Marinated sardines, pinenuts and raisins, the classic Venetian (sarde in saor) is one of those dishes that just doesn’t travel - or at least not in this rather messy incarnation. Ditto the cuttlefish in ink although I liked the combination with white polenta (which needs to be ordered separately).
The fryer was having an off day. Zucchini fries were soft and pallid and a heavenly sounding crispy soft shell crab with parmesan batter disappointingly soggy and short on parmesan.
But that’s what soft openings are for and the prices (50% off) reflected the fact that the menu was being put through its paces. The Polpo gang are pros and I’m sure they’ll iron out any inconsistencies. Polpetto is already better - and more welcoming - than most Venetian bacaros. I suspect it will be just as hard to get into as its older sibling. *Sigh*.
Polpetto opens next Monday, August 23rd. You can only book at lunchtime (020 7734 1969). And, as I say, it’s tiny (28 seats).