Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Polpo Beak Street Soho review - overhyped




Address: 41 Beak Street,
London W1F 9SB
Tel: 020 7734 4479
Nearest Tube station: Piccadilly Circus,
Oxford Circus

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £25 pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: ****
Ambience: ***
It's funny what people think about when dining in restaurants. Just the other day, we were having a late lunch at Hakkasan and halfway through the meal, all I could think about was whether Wife would mind if I were to go for the last roast pork bun.

It was a reasonable question; she did let me have more than my fair share of the siew mai. It was only fair that I should relinquish my right for the bun. What's more interesting is she confessed that while I was deliberating over the bun, she was wondering whether to get the scented candle at Hakkasan's loo for ours. Life is just full of difficult choices. But we get by.

A different thought kept me occupied while tucking in at Polpo a couple of days later - that ehe food was way less exciting than Morito's. Granted that Soho's Beak Street is quite a distance from Exmouth Market, but all I could think of was the Morito's lamb chops and puntillitas while poking at Polpo's fritto misto. But Polpo's Italian and Morito's Spanish, you might protest. Well, try telling the staff at Wong Kei that there's no such thing as Singapore Noodles.



The place was bustling on a weekday afternoon. Strangely so, because there weren't many customers around. It must the loud bar music, the type that keeps your heartbeat thumping at a rate fast enough to clear the tables soon after you are done. Woe betide if you are in a party of two - you'd be squeezed in between one of the cosiest arrangement ever. No one would notice if you start to pick food off the adjacent table.

The service was lovely. How the staff manage to be upbeat all the time I wouldn't know. It might be the skylight towards the end of the restaurant. Everybody loves a bit of sun. The smiles freely distributed was almost infectious.

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Polpo's fritto misto (£9.50) was more like a delicate fry up - battered prawns, baby squid and anchovies on a platter. What I like about it though was that the prawns came with heads intact. As a kid, I loved it when Mum did deep fried prawns (with heads and all, mainly because she was too lazy to get them off). You have to have it straight out of the deep fryer. Else the brain juice would taste rather weird.

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Grilled focaccia (£3) was the mandatory carbo dish whenever I go for tapas styled meals. In his How to Eat Out, Giles Coren calls for ditching of bread. Regardless, it serves to fill up the stomach and prevents me from doing something stupid. The focaccia came with proper grilled lines and a healthy sprinkle of rosemary.

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Naturally, bread isn't meant to be eaten alone. How boring it would be then. The beef and pork balls (£6) came to the rescue, more precisely the ample tomato based gravy that they were swimming in. Strangely, despite the gravy, the meatballs, still very slightly pink in the centre, were a tad dry. It might be that the juice weren't sealed in or they were prepared way earlier and left in a corner of the kitchen.

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Arancini (£3) is always a crowd-pleaser. Melted cheese literally oozed out when I cut the herb infused rice balls open. Need I say more?

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Cured pork shoulder and pickled pepper (£8) was another of my carbo indulgence. Served on a puffed bread base, it took some effort chewing through. That said, the dough's crackled surface is probably what prata back home should seek to emulate.

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At £5, I thought the tiramisu was overpriced for what it was. But I do appreciate that the dessert wasn't reeking with alcohol. Unfortunately, I was already scrapping the bottom of the small cup after a few spoonfuls. Asking for another one seemed rather excessive.

Polpo is probably somewhere that I would bring a pal to. Why not? It has got great vibes and at Soho, it's centrally located. Carnaby Street is just round the corner with Regent Street running perpendicular. It wouldn't be fair to subject anyone to a rickety ride on the 38 service from Piccadilly Circus to Exmouth Market's Morito or for that matter, Moro, would it?


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