Polpo, Soho, London

Small bites at Polpo
Small bites at Polpo

Inevitably, it took longer than I was hoping, but after a few days of PHP and Python hell, we’ve moved the platform Gastronomy Domine is published on. You’ll still notice some peculiarities today – internal links will still point you at the old template. We’re hoping to get redirects put in overnight, so things should be (ha!) seamless when you check in tomorrow. Many, many thanks to Dr W, without whom and all that. I am typing this one-handed while crossing all the fingers of the other and simultaneously touching wood, but everything (pictures, comments, tags, links) should be working now. Today I’ll be working on the template, so what you see at the moment is probably not the way the blog will look when I’m done.

I’m new to WordPress, and I’m still feeling my way around a bit. I’m also only able to check the appearance of the blog on the monitors I have in the house, so if you see anything odd, I’d really appreciate it if you could email me at liz@gastronomydomine.com or leave a comment to let me know.

White bean bruschetta
White bean bruschetta

Meanwhile, here are some photos from Polpo (follow the link for menus and booking details), a Soho restaurant doing bacaro, a kind of Venetian tapas, which I visited with the spiffily dressed Douglas from Intoxicating Prose – always a very enjoyable person to shout at about food, who is much worse at reading maps than is natural. Polpo is spackled fashionably across UK magazines and newspapers at the moment, and was packed with the beautiful and famous on the Monday afternoon when we visited, but I detect a spot of Emperor’s-New-Clothes-ness about the place. The food is, as you can see, very pretty, but it’s unsubtle and a bit two-dimensional in flavour. The tapenade spooned carefully onto my halved egg turned out to be a big minced olive, without any additional spiking with zest, garlic or anything else; puréed white beans on crostini were singing out for a squirt of lemon. Seasoning is heavy, encouraging you to apply yourself to the drinks menu, and the larger dishes were jolly, but not particularly memorable. Cuttlefish in its ink was gloppy, rich and tender, but salted so densely we couldn’t finish the dish. The pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio was my favourite of the ten or so dishes we sampled, and it’s good to see endive, radicchio and drinks like Apero and Campari get such a showing on the menu; that bitter quadrant of the mouth doesn’t get the exploration it deserves on many menus in the UK, even Italian ones. Still – these days, you’d be shocked to find a London restaurant that didn’t offer a good pork belly prep. And generous applications of cream and chocolate didn’t disguise the fact that the fat our pastry discs were fried in for dessert had been on the go for far longer than it should have been, and tasted stale and elderly. (Admittedly, we arrived right at the end of the lunch period, but still.) Three cheers for the belly, three boos for the tapenade and the contents of the deep-fryer.

Cuttlefish in its own ink
Cuttlefish in its own ink

My sense is that since a bacaro is such an unusual thing in London, and since little, sharing plates are such a good thing to do enjoy with friends, Polpo’s success will continue irrespective of any niggles over what’s on the plate; this is a social event more than anything else. And it’s a good spot for celeb-spotters (we recognised a few faces at the other tables); it’s also a nice reminder that your own anonymity is a very precious thing. David Mitchell, a man I find it a bit hard to look at because of his very unfortunate resemblance to an ex-boyfriend I’d rather forget all about, was doing an interview over lunch in a nearby corner. On his leaving, the entire dining room erupted in a chorus of: “Goodness. He’s much thinner than I’d expected,” and: “My. Doesn’t he have a big face?”

I left thankful of the certain knowledge that no room full of diners has ever felt the need to discuss the proportions of my head.

10 Replies to “Polpo, Soho, London”

  1. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy Polpo too much – must say I’m a big fan. Had no idea about DM’s big head, either – useful thing to know. Site is looking great, Liz.

  2. Thanks! I’ve been shuffling categories and tags all day – I’m very impressed with how much easier to use WP is than Blogger, and things round here are looking a lot prettier. Huzzah!

  3. I have been reading you for a while now and feel moved to say that I really love your blog, really like the look of the new site and am equally intrigued about the size of DM’s head.
    Genuinely lovely recipes thank you.

  4. ooh, spiffy! This is looking very fine indeed. Sorry to hear the Venetian food wasn’t so great, but I’m glad to see Campari is out and proud in London at last!

  5. Hi Liz,

    When you are doing restaurant reviews, do you have to be sneaky when taking pictures so as not to arouse the suspicions of “the management”? Have you ever been asked if you are a reviewer, or does it help if they know? I suppose that it’s your dish so you can photograph it if you want to, but does it ever feel uncomfortable?

  6. Hi Pills! It depends. I’ve got a nice unobtrusive little camera, and it’s actually not hard to take photos unseen. I never use the flash in restaurants, and the effort not to be spotted usually works well. Some places, like the Wolseley, do not allow photographs – I’ve been in there when people have been asked to stop taking pictures of their own babies, let alone the food! If I can’t take pictures of the food I’m less likely to review a place, but on the whole photos aren’t a problem.

    If the restaurant has invited me (I always mention this in the relevant post), of course, I can be a lot more open about the photos I’m taking!

    Very occasionally, you’ll get funny looks from other diners – at which point I stop taking photos immediately.

  7. Thanks Liz, your photos always look nice, and they have a soft feel to them, as if they were taken with a DSLR camera and a portrait lens (obtrusive). I tried it on holiday last year, with a point and press camera. The food was beautiful-looking so I wanted to show my friends at home what great nosh we were having (a compliment to the restaurant). It was the chef’s tasting menu, eight courses, small but exquisite plates of local produce, teased into little works of art. The owner asked us to leave. I gave him my camera and he let us stay. When I got it back at the end he had deleted several of our holiday snaps. No tip.

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