The restaurant: Polpo Soho, 41 Beak St, Soho, London W1F 9SB
What makes a good Italian restaurant? The ingredients, the simplicity and the affection could help. There’s a candlelit place in Kentish Town, a spot on Lavender Hill where you can buy the ingredients they cook with, and a postcard-lined Pinnochio’s in my hometown that has visitors from over the world. Stepping into Soho’s Polpo is different. It doesn’t draw you up in its arms and remember you, but should you expect the Soho restaurant to? Upstairs, as you step of the street, is busy and excitable, every table and bar stool of the dimly-lit restaurant filled with dates and post-work dinners. I felt slightly anxious they didn’t expect me, but it was dispelled when we were led downstairs to a calmer, less shouting-at-each-other-conversation, part of the restaurant.
You’re either a fan of small plates or you’re not. It works for me and my indecisiveness. Could you not also compare it to a tasting menu wherein you get to choose the dishes? Choose from meat — meatballs, chicken Milanese, sirloin steak, fish — octopus, scallops, and sea bass, pizzette, vegetables, and Venetian snacks. Order one from each section and they’ll be a good selection to share between two.
N’duja arancini is a firm-on-the-outside, tightly packed, gooey cheesy, meaty ball of rice on the inside. The meatballs — classic beef and pork for us — sat in a thick tomato sauce and sprinkled with parmesan. They’re pleasantly meaty and with no leaves in sight but the dish hums with basil. I keep thinking about them. The veggie alternative — chickpea, spinach and ricotta balls — were a dense, but brilliant option that I could imagine chowing down on with some spaghetti. Thinly sliced scallops with pancetta that was a little on the fatty side were bathed in a creamy sauce. While the scallops themselves weren’t salty, the pancetta was overpoweringly so. Mozzarella and tomato pizzetta was an additional delight, small and thin with a layer of tomato and dabs of cheese.
A pre-dinner Campari spritz wasn’t to be forgotten, wickedly tart with enough ice to nicely take the edge off. Wine was mostly served by the carafe, though this may have changed according to the website. I was recommended a wine, but could only order a carafe, which seemed wasteful for one person. Service was generally good, no major complaints.
Polpo plays on the idea of a romantic date night — less lady and the tramp eating spaghetti and more boho lighting, woozy cocktails and Italian comfort food on small plates. It isn’t without fault but its shady glamour brings attitude to a central London Italian restaurant.
To book, visit Polpo.co.uk or call 020 7734 4479
For more date night inspiration, click here.