Places To Eat In London: Polpo, Notting Hill
Usually, this whole ‘Places To Eat In London’ thing is perfectly planned and co-ordinated. I know where I am eating and with whom, and I’ve requested ahead a table near the window so that the lighting in my photos will be better. I know the drill. However, there is something to be said to spontaneity. A middle of the afternoon trip to Polpo in Notting Hill was decided on over the pre-pre-dinner drinks in Westminster, and my winning formula to get an empty Russell Norman restaurant being to turn up hours before service starts held true.
The exciting thing about Polpo in Notting Hill is it is rather big compared to some of the others in its group, which also enhances your chance of getting a table. I also loved how it obviously played on its owners ethos of using the space that is already there in designing an eatery. It has such a great atmosphere.
We kicked off our menu browsing (deciding how many of the small sharing plates we could possibly eat, and which of the dishes we just could not miss out on. To be honest, I think I could have eaten practically the whole menu!) with cocktails. A classic bellini for him, and the daily special for me. Apparently he’d had better, but I was all over my mix of Campari, limoncello sorbet and I can’t remember what else. It was perfectly both sweet, refreshing and bitter, and lets me know that you should trust the bar staff with their own creations.
I started with, all to myself the White Peach, Pea Shoot and Mozzarella Bruschetta. So simple, but such a great flavour combination. It was a great start, though I think it was presented in a way that would have been hard to cut up and share (as intended) without loosing it all, and the peaches could have been a bit riper. However, it is not their fault; they’d actually mixed some regular peach in with the white to ensure they were using ripe fruits. But honestly, the peaches did not ruin the dish and it still was a fantastic start.
My first ‘oh my god this meal is absolutely amazing’ moment came with the classic beef and pork meatballs, served in a simple tomato sauce. Big, fat, melt in the mouth, tender and sweet. They were everything you could possibly want from a meatball, and they are one menu item when making your mind up at Polpo you simply can’t overlook. I usually make my meatballs with just beef or veal, thinking that putting some pork mince into the mix would just be extra shopping not relative to the improvement that would be made, but these seriously have made me rethink my meatball making strategy.
Next up came the Pizzette topped off with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto and rocket. The base was equal parts soft and crispy, and even better than the dough version in the Polpo book, which I do rather love when I’m making pizzas just for me, and not for a whole group of people. The prosciutto and rocket made good topping choices, though while the whole thing was totally delicious, I question if the mozzarella being smoked made any flavour difference from regular mozzarella. You still need to order a Pizzette, though.
To finish off the savoury section came my other favourite, you totally have to order at Polpo dish on the menu. The sliced flank steak with white truffle cream came with lots of rocket (gave it a lovely kick), which was fantastically coated in the truffle cream. The steak was cooked just how I liked it, nice and rare, and so packed with juice and flavour. The cream went perfectly, adding a rich white truffle flavour without the truffle overpowering the rest of the flavours in the dish, which often happens when it is used as an ingredient.
The lights went down for evening service, and it was great to see the light Venetian joint turn into an atmosphere that told of intimate dinners and a lively scene for dinner. We ordered another round of cocktails (a lovely sweet and strong Cynar Gin Fizz for him, and an exemplary Dark & Stormy for me) while we contemplated dessert. Okay, while I contemplated which two (!) desserts I was going to manage to narrow it down too. He had another Pizzette, something with meat that was tucked into too fast for me to photograph!
After asking our server (the service in Polpo is fantastic by the way, I’ve never had bad service in Polpetto or Mishkins, so I think it is something Russell Norman runs well in his joints) which of my two desserts I should go for first, I was soon tucking into the most deliciously light and creamy panna cotta, topped off with a perfectly balanced and macerated strawberry and basil compote. Hands down my favourite dessert on our table.
Second, I went for a slice of the Flourless Orange and Almond Cake. The cake had a fabulously rich orange flavour, and managed to be both a light in taste and dense in texture at the same time. The syrup it had been finished in did nothing but add to the flavour, and the creme and candied orange peel were lovely additions.
He ordered the gelato cone. I complained that vanilla was such a boring order (I was too full by then for my own, and I wanted to try the other flavours!), but actually it was one of the best tastes of vanilla ice cream or gelato I’ve had in a very long time. That it comes to the table in a cone is also a very nice touch.
Overall it was a fantastic meal, and in the evening well worth queuing for about half an hour to get a table, but I think queuing anywhere longer than that is absolutely crazy! However, if you’re looking for similar, small plate Italian style food in London, I think it would be the better option to head over to Polpo’s sister restaurant Polpetto, where I think there is the overall better, even more fantastic meal to be had. How many of you have managed to eat at Polpo since it opened in Notting Hill the other month?