Saturday, 11 June 2011

da Polpo

Russell Norman's winning formula of Italian bacaro eating has just spawned a fourth offspring: da Polpo, in the heart of Covent Garden. The slender and unimposing green frontage sits on Maiden Lane, a cobbled street that belies the surrounding touristy hubbub and is home, too, to the wonderful Rules (London's oldest restaurant: visit during game season, and seek out its famous cocktail bar).

Inside, da Polpo's unpretentious and pared down decor reflects that of the original Polpo in Soho. Modelled on Venice's wine bars, the brick walls are bare, the tables small and candlelit, and the bar prominent.

There for an early lunch, we had the place to ourselves, and a convivial welcome. Moretti and refreshing MGM virgin cocktail (lemon juice, elderflower liqueur, and ginger beer) in hand, we contemplated the placemat paper menu. It offers small Italian sharing plates: cicheti (snacks), pizzette, vegetables and salads, meatballs, 'plates', and tempting desserts.

Food-loving twitterers @londonfoodie, @sarahlovescake and @KaveyF recommended the Gorgonzola pizzetta, spicy pork and fennel meatballs, and the spinach, parmesan and soft egg pizzetta, and I'd heard people swoon about the Nutella pizzetta.

Dry focaccia was disappointingly free of char and olive oil, but all was forgiven when the pizzetta arrived.

Zucchini, chilli, mint pizzetta £6. Incredibly thin and crispy base, and a perfectly attuned topping. Heavenly, and the best dish of the day.

Grilled asparagus, buttered eggs and Parmesan £7.50. Rustic and uncomplicated. More butter than egg, but all the better for it.

Heritage tomato salad £5. Another highlight. Rarely do tomatoes satisfy - like sweetcorn and avocados, they lose their sweetness as they linger on supermarket shelves - but these were oozing goodness, sitting in a perfectly judged dressing.

Classic beef and pork meatballs £4.50. These hit a dud note. The meat was ground too finely, and quite dry. Any subtle meatiness was drowned out by the pungent tomato sauce. A weak dish.

Chicken liver crostino £1.50. The second of our two meat dishes, and sadly forgettable. The bitterness of overcooked liver overwhelmed any offaly sweetness.

Arancini £2.50. Fab, and great value. Warm and soft deep-fried risotto balls. Perfect comfort food.

Da Polpo might not be pushing the boundaries, but they cook to please. The hits outweighed the misses, and we emerged content, planning our return visit. Norman creates spectacular meat dishes, particularly ragus. I'll refrain from judging all da Polpo's meat dishes until I've had a chance to try more, particularly the pork and fennel meatballs which came so highly recommended.

Spuntino, Norman's third establishment, is getting rave write-ups, and may well be the jewel in Norman's crown (American classics such as sliders, mac 'n' cheese). I'll check it out soon.

Our bill for two (four dishes each + booze) came to £47, including service. Not bad at all, and I'll certainly return.

Da Polpo takes daytime bookings - nighttime, it's a free for all.

da Polpo on Urbanspoon


  1. ito eats tells it like it is once again....matches my experience there to a tee

  2. Lovely review. Short, sweet and to the point. Thanks too for the mention! Robyn x

  3. This looks great. I'll have to remember this one when I'm in London.

  4. Great pithy write up. When we went I loved the meatball smash- worth checking out if you head back. Nb, Spuntino is pretty great for brunch on a weekend- avoid the crowds and start the day with truffled eggs on toast. Indulgence squared.

  5. Gorgeous photos and totally jealous of your trip. I've not yet been to da Polpo but absolutely love Polpo and Spuntino so it's next on the list. I even had a go at the pizza and meatballs myself to satisfy the cravings I was getting from reading all the da Polpo reviews (recipes here

  6. Snoopermodel: Thanks!

    All That I'm Eating: definitely, and make a bee-line for Spuntino while you're at it.

    Tori: I will give the meatballs another try, so many people have recommended them. Truffled eggs on toast for brunch... I'd have to try their cocktails too, whatever the hour.

    Thelittleloaf: Thanks, I'll check out your recipes.