When I visited: June 2016, April 2017
Location: London, Shaftesbury Avenue
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Not in Guide (used to be recommended)
What to wear: Could go casual or smart casual
Ambience: Low-key, cool
Course of the meal: Fennel, almond and curly endive salad
If I could change one thing: Fewer mistakes with the food
Polpo is one of those restaurants with several venues in London where you can’t book – it prizes a low-key, reasonably-priced, relaxed feel over formality. On the first visit, my partner Owl and I managed to get a table for a quick pre-theatre dinner; on the second visit we grabbed some tapas in between Parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
For drinks, we went for a large glass of Soave white wine and an Aperol spritz, which complemented all the food.
The USP of Polpo is small plates of Italian tapas to share, making for a wonderfully light dinner. On the first visit, we started with arancini, which were delicious (and brought back good memories of the truffle arancini at the St James’ branch of Cafe Murano). The grilled focaccia with olive oil was crunchy and full of flavour. The octopus carpaccio with fennel, chilli and dill was well-balanced, and the fennel, almond and curly endive salad was perhaps the best course, combining elements of sweetness with the crunchy texture. The warm duck salad with beetroot and pickled walnuts was good for a slightly more substantial protein hit.
The service up to this point was perfect – friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and everything arrived in good time. Unfortunately, when it came to the desserts, although one arrived fine (the affogato al café), one wrong dessert was presented (panna cotta rather than ricotta doughnuts and cinnamon sugar) which wouldn’t be that much of a problem, but the delay in bringing the ricotta doughnuts was so great that it became an issue when we had a show to get to.
On our second visit, the food was good again and this time we tried some of the pizzette (proscuitto and gorgonzola, and bianca) and the spicy pork and fennel meatballs, but again the service had weird gapping in it, with some things arriving immediately and us having to wait a really long time for the rest. I know that the dishes are probably brought to the table as soon as they are ready, but it would probably make for a more balanced experience if they could give some more thought to how spaced out service is going to be at each table.
Without the gapping in the service, I might have given this restaurant 4 hoots as it is a good choice for light, tasty Italian dishes, especially for pre-theatre dining.