It's taken me a while to get around to writing about this one, so I hope my memory won't betray me.
Back in October I and another food enthusiast/book editor, who often try out new culinary enterprises together, wandered into Soho after work to eat at Polpo, the new Italian-Viennese joint that's secured short-term (and hopefully long-term) success with many generous and gushing column inches in the national press. When we visited they were taking bookings, but it's now first come first served. Our waiter explained why they scrapped reservations: apparently it's more egalitarian and they believe it will give Soho locals and Londoners the chance to use it as a neighbourhood restaurant, somewhere you can drop in on a whim. This seems fair, but I'm not looking forward to the queues - this is why I've never made it to Barrafina. And is it fair on out-of-towner's, who'll probably not risk the commute without a guarantee of a table? But then, is this simple joint the kind of place people book months ahead?
On our visit, we were given a warm welcome by Russell Norman, the new proprietor and former manager at Zuma and the Ivy Club. The distressed bare walls and rickety wooden tables certainly gave the place an unpretentious feel. Having sadly never visited the bacari wine bars of Venice, I can't claim this resembles the real deal, but it was certainly buzzy and jolly.
Small plates for sharing, much like Spanish tapas, is the concept (the chef is from Bocca di Lupo down the road). We shared 10 plates: Arancini, Figs with mint, Salt cod crostini, Fennel salad, Slow roast duck with peppercorns, olives and tomatoes, Grilled polenta, Spinach with chilli and garlic, Roast beetroot, Tomato and tapenade pizzetta, and a Honey and walnut semi-freddo. With most dishes costing less than £4, our final bill, including wine, came to a very reasonable £46. This is simple fare, and the ingredients were most certainly top notch. The chicheti and pizzettas were the most delicious of the lot, the arancini the most pedestrian (though we could hardly complain at £1.50 a pop).
Unfortunately, the tables surrounding us were occupied by the kind of people who eat at a place because it's trendy and 'the place to be', not because of the food. One poncy toff dared challenge my vegetarian friend, telling her what she was 'missing out on'. Prat.
Irritating fellow diners aside, the food and service is welcoming. Nothing to set the world on fire, but a great place to meet up and hunker down for a few hours of decent wine, grub, and gossip.