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.
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.