Covent Garden’s Polpo is the latest addition to the Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino family of dark and moody no reservations restaurants by Mr Russell Norman. The concept is the same as its predecessors – bustling atmosphere, small sharing plates, great music and tumblers of very reasonable wine. All three are exclusively staffed by hipsters whose arms double as works of inky art. There’s absolutely no bookings, ever. And London absolutely loves them.
Polpo have gone for rustic in a big way. The menu is printed on brown paper which doubles as your placemat. There are filament bulbs suspended from the ceiling with (gasp) no lampshades. They don’t seem to work that well either because it’s all dark and mysterious inside. Everything is made of wood or metal or similar we’re-not-trying-very-hard-at-all type materials. It’s très cool.
And now the food. The theme is small sharing plates of Italian origin. It’s meant to be Venetian. You’re meant to feel like you’re dining just off of St Mark’s Square, before you skip down the road to some Masked Ball or whatever it is that Venetians do of an evening. It sort of works.
Covent Garden’s Polpo is more tourist-focussed than its siblings, so there’s nothing on the menu that’s particularly weird, and there’s far more mini pizza offerings than in other branches, but there’s plenty to get excited about.
We tried the Buffalo plate, a towering mountain of cured meats and buffalo mozzarella with rocket. It tasted great and the portion was very generous, which it had to be given the price (£14!) Meatballs seem to be a big deal at Polpo, there’s a whole section of menu devoted to them, so we felt obliged to give these a whirl. And guess what? They were a big deal. Big, and a big deal.
Ham hock, white beans & greens was a little misleading, because the beans were the main part of the dish. We thought it’d be the ham. We were wrong about this and it made us sad. The beans masquerading as ham were rather tasty, though, and very rich so we didn’t feel too shortchanged. Roast potatoes with rosemary were not very special. My mum’s are better.
If you arrive at an unfeasibly early or late hour you’ll get a table with no issue. We arrived at 9pm and were seated straight away, but arrive during conventional mealtimes and you’ll face a long queue in the dark.
Gluten Free? Many dishes are, yep. Just ask.
The Verdict: Great food, good service and a brilliant atmosphere. Worth waiting for.
P.S. Sorry about the poor photography. Did I mention that it’s dark in there?