London’s ‘octopus card’ for dining

PolpoGiven the bewildering choice in this greatest of English speaking cities I find it amusing that one of the best options for great food at a great price should be Italian in name and nature.

It’s the result of the most recent Norman conquest of Great Britain. Inspired by his passion for the Italian city and in particular for chiceti (Venetian-style tapas), Russell Norman created his first Venetian-style bacaro in Soho’s Beak Street. Called Polpo, it’s serendipitously housed in an old building that was once home to the famous Italian painter Canaletto.

The Polpo empire has since expanded its tentacles beyond Soho, exporting its bare brick and raw timber rustic cool to Covent Garden, Smithfield and Notting Hill, while its offspring Polpetto, originally squashed into a teensy location in Dean Street, has reopened as a larger location in nearby Berwick Street. Put together, these restaurants are my London “octopus card” to fine food at a fine price.

The Polpo menu suits those wanting to graze lightly as well as those who are ravenous. Best of all, with dishes ranging between £3 and £10, it’s easy to shape a meal to suit your wallet.

The chiceti include salami butter and broad bean crostini and the ever popular potato and parmesan crocchetta. Wafer-thin pizzetta have toppings such as spicy clam and wild garlic or cured pork shoulder and picked pepper. Polpo’s famous meatballs come in five varieties.

Seafood includes octopus (naturally) and a prawn and artichoke linguini. Wines are from top northern Italian producers. Polpetto’s more adventurous, seasonal menu currently features hare papardelle, veal cheeks and game faggots, yet it’s no more expensive an experience. And three of these restaurants have popular wine bars in their basements.

covent garden piazza# Polpo in Covent Garden is a top option for pre-show dining should you have tickets for a performance at the nearby Royal Opera House.



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