Sunday, 7 March 2010

The pleasure of Polpo..

Polpo is a busy and bustling Venetian style ‘bacaro’ in Soho, which serves light plates of regional food and wine, and was once home to the painter Canaletto. Having read so many excellent reviews and, on a few occasions, pressed my nose to the window like a Victorian waif to peer inside, I leapt at the invitation by @R_McCormack and @Tehbus to go for lunch.

Arriving fashionably late (I now realise what that term means… London Transport!) I was greeted by Russell, he of Polpo and @polposoho, who took me down toward the back bar and offered me a drink as I met my fellow tweeters. What was so good about the whole experience (apart from the food Russell, apart from the food) was the feeling that we were just picking up a thread of conversation, as if we had known one another for years and could go on talking until the sun went down; a real treat.

So what did we eat? Let’s start with the appetisers we shared: Two perfectly formed mouth sized balls of Arancini served skewered on a long cocktail stick. Golden crispy coated rice mixed with cheese that pulled away in chewing-gum fashion as it was bitten in half. Crunchy skinned fondue soft centred balls, given texture by the rice; richness and lightness.

White moussed puffs of creamy salt cod, a nebulously light taste of fish on a golden disc of polenta; softness, lightness, fishiness atop the gently resistant-to-the-bite grilled polenta. I should say salted cod, because of the difficulty in shipping in salt cod from Italy. Either way, the chefs have worked on interpreting and translating day-to-day cod into the salt cod before us; clever stuff.

The non-fish eating member of our table allowed me to dive into the salt cod (why does “swim with the fishes” come to mind? This is London, not the Bronx) in exchange for the prosciutto and mozzarella.

Round 2 (Now I have the theme to Rocky in my head), the plates. I don’t normally get excited about Fritto Misto. I guess it is because it seems like an easy option rather than going for something more creative, more unusual; different. However, I am glad it was chosen. I really enjoyed the sunshine yellow, lightness of the batter and the melt in the mouth squid; the soft and sweet prawn meat, and crispy crunch texture of the fish; more-ish, greedy temptation.

A salad, well, it’s a salad right? Not quite. Aniseed flavoured shaved fennel, curly leaves of endive; a bitter sweet blend of flavours, mixed with slightly perfumed almonds. That is a cleansing salad!

Pork belly, a clear favourite; meaty-succulent sweet and tender enough to pull apart with the fork; contrasting textures of softness and crunchy hazelnuts and crisp peppery radicchio.

A fresh yeasty based Pizetta arrived, cooked to perfection (for me) egg with runny yolky richness, subtle cheese flavours and garlic perfumes cut clean by spinach.

In my greed and praise for the other plates I almost forgot this, and how could I? A deliciously rich flavoured terrine of tender, dark rabbit meat, refreshingly light, crumbling under the knife onto the thinnest of French toasts; pinky meat flecked with sweet apricot and subtle herbs.

Embracing the Venetian theme, the gastronomic carnival continued. Round 3 (ding ding): The ox tongue and lentils was an ‘out there’ choice, something I was curious about but needed to taste. Nor was I disappointed. Meaty-firm slices placed fallen Domino style (did you spot that reference?) on a slightly minty lentil bed. Velvety pulses, tender meat, and a fresh flavoured herb brought extra life to the dish.

Blackness brought a deliciously Gothic end to our choices from the squid ink; liquorice smiles bringing levity to the conversation. Cuttlefish, simmered slowly, so very slowly in its own ink given an almost electric charge by a tangy gremolata. @R_McCormack and I were in two minds about this (well for this course, there were only two of us eating!) Whilst the joy of cuttlefish ink is found in the deep, rich, earthy brine quality that lingers on the tongue, coating the mouth with its long finish, the lemon zest adds another dimension, keeping it fresh and light; which I liked. This was served with a side plate of soft polenta drizzled in olive oil.

And so we stopped; the huge selection and our expanding waistlines brought an end to the feast. To ensure we were steady on the road, my tweetamies had Affogato al caffe. Like a flashback from the 70’s with Coca Cola floats, the gelato, rich and egg yolk yellow-cream was placed on top of the espresso to melt and dissolve into the drink. I looked on with envy.

This was such a good experience, made great by the food and conversation. I am looking forward to returning. Thanks to Russell and the Polpo team, and of course my tweeter friends.

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