11 Berwick Street, W1
020 7439 8627/www.polpetto.co.uk
Russell Norman is one of London’s most intriguing restaurateurs. You may have seen him in his BBC2 series, The Restaurant Man, in which he uses his considerable charm to try to imbue novices in the game with a little common sense. He built his reputation as Operations Director for the Caprice Group and since then has created a small but perfectly formed group of restaurants in the West End ranging from Spuntino, a New York-style Italian joint, to Mishkins, a faux Jewish deli-style restaurant. The beating heart of the operation is Soho’s Polpo, styled as a Venetian bacaro, which launched the trend for highly stylised small plate eating. They are fun, buzzy places with distinct identities and have helped define the London scene over the last few years. Polpetto, a younger sibling of Polpo, opened in the legendary dining space on top of the rather louche French House pub in Dean Street. At the stove was the chef Florence Knight whose food soon met with wide critical acclaim. Now moved to larger premises in Berwick St, reviews have ranged between the adulatory and the average so I thought I should see for myself.
Nestling up to Berwick St market the room is a classic Norman production but on a sunny day was actually rather dark and gloomy…and then we were shown into the small basement next to the kitchen.
The menu is made up of twelve small plates, four sides and four desserts and whilst sipping our slightly astringent rhubarb and rose Bellinis (£6) we decided to order a liberal selection of dishes.
On trend violet artichokes, farro and Berkswell (£5.50) was a beautiful plate of food. The melting sweetness of the small tender artichokes blending perfectly with the nutty crunch of the farro (a wheat based grain) and the caramel salty tang of the Berkswell cheese.
White sprouting Broccoli, anchovy and Parmesan (£7) was a saltier proposition with the crispness of the broccoli offset by the softness of the anchovies and the Parmesan shards.
Clams, wild fennel, creme fraiche (£6) was a simple, rustic dish, not as rich as if had been made with cream and underpowered from a flavour perspective.
Lentils (£3.50) had deep earthy tones with an added vegetal kick from the sage leaves.
Bloater (a whole non-gutted cold smoked herring) and fennel (£6) reminded me of a looser version of taramasalata. It was grainy, salty and fishy with those notes cut by the sweetness of the olive oil and the aniseed of the fennel.
Burrata, agretti, chilli (£8) had some good quality creamy Burrata which worked well with the chlorophyll hit of the agretti (often known as barbe di frate or monk’s beard); however the chilli was too mild for my taste.
Raw spinach, mustard and orange (£4) is a classic combo with the bite of the mustard cutting through the sweetness of the orange.
Wet polenta (£4) was suitably gloopy providing a comforting base for the stronger flavours.
Scallops, cauliflower and lardo (£12)-fat juicy scallops were given a porcine upgrade with the addition of the lardo.
Polpetto is now one of a growing number of intimate Soho spaces serving intelligent and sexy small plates. A few years ago it would have been trend-setting and remarkable and it is a sign of progress that that is no longer the case. Florence Knight really knows how to balance flavour and texture but maybe doesn’t quite deserve some of the more over-excitable praise that has come her way, but Polpetto will clearly become another ‘go to’ Soho option- but Russell, please sort out the lighting.