Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Restaurant Review: Polpetto

Hype is a funny thing, so are bandwagons.  They can stop you judging somewhere on its own merit and this happened to me at Polpetto.  Even though I enjoyed my meal, I was expecting fireworks and that's because Polpetto and its bigger brother Polpo have been the object of an exceptional amount of praise - Time Out is admirably exempt from this, though the underlying reason that with two other similar establishments this is not requisitely trendy enough is predictably obnoxious as ever.  I was thinking about the hype surrounding this place and trying to pin down the reasons behind it.  Firstly I suppose is the location, the same room above the French House that the sainted Fergus Henderson started at.  More than that though is that it provides a very strong, balanced and homely Italian menu that was once difficult to find.  In doing this it replicates the formula from Polpo and Boca de Lupo of providing this food in small and shareable portions so you can eat through a decent amount of the menu on one visit.  Obviously this also means slightly less food for slightly more money, but variety is after all the spice of life.  Without all the hype this would be a great place to have a good glass of wine and well prepared Venetian food with the odd stand out dish thrown in.

Already I feel I am being harsh.  At least half of our dishes passed into the excellent category.  A wonderful, slow-cooked stew of beef cheeks and rich polenta was offset very nicely with some, briny salty olives in the otherwise rich sauce.    The cuttlefish cooked in its own ink was meltingly tender, as it should be when cooked right.  The rich ink was let down with a flavoursome seafood stock and given great freshness with some grated lemon zest.  I would have liked a little bit more nuance within this, but still a great dish.  My favourite was probably the cavolo nero with borlotti beans and rosemary crumbs.  The earthy beans and irony cavolo nero is the kind of combination that would make a good light supper at home.  The addition of the rosemary crumbs added a textural balance that lifted the dish.  Less successful were the deep-fried soft-shell crab.  The batter on these was far too thick and overpowered the delicate flavour of the crab and what I hoped would be a light and fresh fennel salad was drenched in mayonnaise.  Lentils with basil and mozzarella was better, but the basil overpowered the dish and the creamy and delicate mozzarella sat unhappily with the earthy lentils.  Honourable mentions go to the very-tasty cured pork pizza.  The base wasn't the best I've had but the flavour from the meat was so fatty and savoury that the whole restaurant was filled with the smell from this popular item.

Unusually for me my two favourite dishes were puddings.  Having said that one of them was an ice-cream, which despite my lack of sweet-tooth I am an absolute sucker for.  This rendition was flavoured with bay leaf, which goes naturally well with milk anyway.  The flavour from it was intense and worked well with the sweetness, leaving a set of flavours that were nicely complex.  The second was a really fantastic saffron, honey and pear meringue.  Each flavour was perfectly balanced and despite it being very sweet it never became cloying.

It would be very difficult to live up to all the expectations a number of reviews are putting on this place.  Go without reading too much about it (except this review of course, which is Gospel) and you will have a good meal, can't say fairer than that.

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