Situated on a side-street just across from Smithfields meat market, the restaurant has a great atmosphere - dimly lit, but not overly so, with a nice bar and a cosy dining area. We started off with drinks at the bar, before moving to a snug table in the corner of the restaurant. Polpo has a fantastic menu - everything is designed to be shared (my favourite way of eating) and while the availability of house wine in litre bottles was reminiscent of my uni years*, the quality of the food definitely wasn't.
We began our meal with a selection of cicheti (traditional Venetian-style tapas). Unable to decide between the array of tempting dishes on offer, we ordered a couple of sampling plates and tried everything. The eggplant and Parmesan involtini were excellent - silky slivers of aubergine wrapped around gooey cheese and salty Parmesan - but my surprise favourite had to be the arancini. These balls of rice, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried, may sound like a grease/carb overload, but were actually delicious and unexpectedly light; a creamy risotto-like interior in a crisp golden shell. The crostini, spread with anchovy and chickpea puree, were also delicious - the combination of salty anchovy and earthy chickpea was fantastic - and the potato and Parmesan crocchette were predictably tasty. Even the more challenging pairings - grilled fennel & white anchovy and the pickled cauliflower & fennel salami - worked well, and the four of us polished off the plate with ease.
Next to arrive was a platter of mixed seafood (deep-fried calamari, king prawns in their shell, and juicy chunks of white fish, all coated in a light golden batter) and two orders of meatballs - beef & pork and lamb & mint. Tender and meaty, and served with a richly flavoured tomato sauce, these went perfectly with our side of creamy cauliflower gratin.
We only ordered one pizzette between the four of us, but I would have happily eaten more - it was delicious! A much lighter take on pizza, with a thin, perfectly crisp flat-bread base, our Fiorentina featured a heavenly melding of wilted spinach, gooey mozarella and soft-cooked egg, all dusted with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan shavings. Yum.
For the meat course we shared sliced flank steak with rocket and white truffle cream, chicken involtini, layered with pancetta and flavoured with sweet balsamic vinegar, a dish of tasty chilli and garlic prawns, and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes (which made a surprisingly strong go at stealing the show).
The desserts were also fantastic. The panacotta - a delectable blend of vanilla, rhubarb, and pistachio - was one of the best I've had: rich, creamy and sumptously smooth, punctuated with juicy chunks of jewel-toned rhubarb and nutty slivers of green pistachio. The ice cream** - a scoop each of sweet vanilla and intense dark chocolate - was excellent, and the chocolate salami - crammed with nuts, chocolate, and chunks of biscuit and served in fat, crumbling slices - was also delicious.
After our meal, we headed North to the Zetter Townhouse. This elegant townhouse - filled with elegant sofas and carefully selected antique furniture - has the same homely-yet-exclusive feel as a Mayfair member's club, and boasts an impressive cocktail menu. We sampled the Master at Arms (rum, port and grenadine), Les Fleurs du Mal (rose vodka, lemon juice, and a hint of absinthe) and the Red Grape Kir Royale (red grape cordial with Perrier Jouet champagne). The cocktails were slightly too strong for my liking (I'm a raspberry mojito kind of girl, embarassingly enough), but the others enjoyed theirs, and they were 'manly' enough to keep the boys happy. A great place to end the night...
A boxing kangaroo - the perfect accompaniment to 'manly' cocktails
*Not in how it tasted, I hasten to add! Just in terms of serving size...
**This is usually served as one scoop in a cone, but we skipped the cone and had an extra scoop of ice-cream in its place