Is it just me or does anyone else get really disappointed when they go out for a bad meal!? I’d had this on my list of places to re-visit for ages and although it was far from bad, it really wasn’t half as good as I remember. I don’t know if my taste has changed, if I bigged it up in my head or whether I’ve just been to a hell of a lot of other good food places since I first went but I was a little bit disappointed 😦
Polpo is a little Venetian tapas place in the heart of London (Covent Garden) and it has all the charm and decor of a typical bàcaro, with wooden tables, stone walls, paintings, tiles and brown paper menus. We first went on a Friday night after work over two years ago now. It was really busy and you can’t book a table for dinner so we had a long wait, but finally we got a table tucked away at the back of the restaurant. The waitress advised us to get 2-3 dishes per person but I still remember us not being able to decide (shocker, I know..) and ordering 8! They were so busy rushing around that they brought us two of the bruschettas we’d ordered by accident without realising and we didn’t question it (or get charged :P). I didn’t have Instagram back then, and believe it or not, I wasn’t really into taking photos of food back then, or photos at all really. I have a couple of photos of the food we ate, but they’re terrible!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😛
I can’t remember exactly what we got now, but I do remember some of the dishes (from looking at the ugly pictures!), including the flank steak which came with wild mushrooms and a rocket salad, crab and chilli linguini and the spinach, parmesan and soft egg pizzette.
This time we didn’t fancy queueing so I booked for a late lunch – the latest you can book is 4pm, and it’s still surprisingly busy despite it being such a strange time to eat. Then again, Londoners seem to have meals at all times of day, and any place in Covent Garden is always sure to be busy, especially on a Saturday. We got a cute corner table, though as with most popular restaurants in London we were practically sitting on the laps of the couple beside us and I’m pretty sure I must have been close to sitting in their food when I squeezed out to go to the toilet! We got a huge range of dishes to share again – arancini, potato and parmesan crochette, cured pork shoulder and pickled pepper pizzette, broad bean, mint and ricotta bruschetta, meatballs with a polenta crust, milan style chicken, caponata and the cod cheeks special.
The arancini was amazing – but then how far wrong can you go with a ball of fried carbs!? They were perfectly fried – crispy on the outside with a cheesy, creamy risotto in the middle.. and they even had a melting cheese centre! The meatballs also had a lovely crispy crust, courtesy of the polenta coating. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meatball itself though – I’m probably not the best judge as I’m not a big fan of meatballs at the best of times, but there were some chewy, gristly bits which always puts me off!
The pizza was smaller and thinner than I remember it to be. Obviously it was never going to be a soft and chewy sourdough crust so that’s not a fair comparison.. but it was a lot smaller than the one we got the first time we came. The toppings were nice but it certainly wasn’t anything special. The bruschetta was also a bit of a let down. The crusts of the bread had a hint of olive oil which was delicious but the centre of the bread honestly tasted like bland supermarket white bread. Ricotta is never a particular flavourful ingredient but combined with the broad beans (and distinct lack of mint) the whole thing just tasted quite soggy and tasteless.
The special was pretty good – the cod cheeks were perfectly seasoned, the lentils were tasty and the salsa verde was delicious. The chicken milan was distinctly average though. A couple of very thin piece of chicken, dumped on top of each other, dripping with grease with a lumpy white sauce slopped onto the plate. Although the taste is more important than how the dish looks, I think that presentation says a lot about the style and quality of cooking. I automatically judge my food on the way it looks when the dish arrives and I feel that restaurants should take pride and put effort into the aesthetics of their dishes. The camponata was also far too greasy for my liking – I had to fish for aubergine in a sea of oil 😦 It too was ugly – and yes it’s hard to make roasted vegetables look appealing, but even a nice plate or bowl would’ve been nice! The crochette never came.. but we didn’t bother to chase it up.
We were debating a dessert but the only one which caught my eye was the nutella pizzette and given the price/quality of the rest of the meal we eventually decided to go elsewhere for dessert. After wandering around Covent Garden for a while, we headed to Soho for Crosstown doughnuts! We also decided to give Hummingbird bakery a second chance but that too was a little disappointing – I went for the red velvet cake and the salted caramel cupcake as I couldn’t decide on one (shocker I know). They look pretty but I find them a bit too sweet and personally I just don’t see the hype!
Overall, I have to admit that the quality wasn’t half what I remembered it to be. It’s also very pricey – possibly not if you order a more ‘normal’ amount of food than us but I was shocked at how much we paid for such little food. I know that tapas places are often more expensive as more effort goes into preparing many small dishes than one large dish.. but many of the small tapas dishes are almost the price of a main course in other decent restaurants – eight pounds for a very small and thin pizza is slightly ridiculous, given you can get a huge sourdough pizza elsewhere for less than that. I do think it’s a nice place to go, particularly in a large group where you can share a lot of dishes, but I probably wouldn’t go back again.
Would I recommend it? Probably not
Worth going out of your way for? No
Would I go back? No