Russell Norman has taken over the world of the London food luvvie in the last couple of years, bringing laid-back, sociable dining to the city’s hipster crowd. I’ve only just caught on (translate: I’ve only just got a pay rise) and went to see what all the fuss is about at da Polpo, fourth of the chain that began with Polpo and has most recently given us the mixed-reviewed Mishkins.
First thing that I have to say, having come here twice, is that the whole business of no-booking restaurants in London is getting a little exhausting. It always gives you the feeling that a high number of covers is being prioritised over a good time and means that you have to turn up darned early to make sure of less than an hour’s wait. I hope that this trend dies out fairly soon and favours those of us that are annoying enough to always plan ahead.
Once you’re in, da Polpo has done a pretty good job of creating an atmosphere, styled as it is in the vein of an osteria, complete with cracked walls and candlelight. Which you might struggle to see that well by – it’s ‘romantically’ lit. Service is friendly and knowledgeable – dishes arrive as and when they’re ready, so even the courses reflect the laid-backness.
And before I get carried away with the tiny, tiny glasses (really not sure about the whole business of wine in tumblers unless it’s cheap, we’re in Rome and we’re drunkenly discussing the finer points of Dangermouse), the food. The menu is all based around sharing – a fine concept for things like pizzette and fritto misto, but puzzling when you arrive at things like spaghettini and meatballs. Equally, which the cotechino and lentils were delicious, I could have quite happily (and better logistically) eaten the whole thing myself.
The food has some great high points – a lovely, light fritto misto had the perfect amount of saltiness. Unfortunately, the spicy prawns with chili and garlic erred slightly on the dehydrating side of seasoned, but the oil was still tasty enough to order bread to dip.
Meatballs were the food uber-trend of 2011 and it’s probably partially thanks to Mr Norman and his enormous balls. The spicy pork and fennel were a great pick, as well as the classic ones. Moving back to the Italian from the Italian-American, the pizzette – particularly the spinach and egg – were the hit we expected them to be.
Tiramisu pots – no-one can really argue with tiramisu. I mean, even the name is an imperative. Look how pretty:
All in all, a fun meal – not earth-shatteringly brilliant in any one dish, but these places seem to be all about being sociable over something that you all agree is pretty tasty. Aside from the moscardini, nobody was scared off by anything and it was hard to quibble with much. Add that to the reasonable flagons of house wine and it makes for a distinctively above average dinner with mates. Right, next – to Spuntino.
6 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
£35 per head with drinks