Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Strange or unusual dishes beckon me from restaurant menus with an almost irresistible force. In its grip, I have found myself picking at a greyish, mushy plate of brains in a Bulgarian restaurant in Moscow and tucking into a gamey but not entirely pleasant giraffe burger (the animal, not the chain) in Camden Market.
More successful forays have included nettle soup at the now sadly defunct Ambassador in Exmouth Market and, most recently, dandelions at Polpetto.

Polpetto has squashed some dark wooden tables into a small, cosy room above the equally crowded French House pub in the centre of Soho's hustle and bustle. It's been open for a little over a year, receiving praise for the food and taking other criticism on board - the originally tapas-y menu has been split into small and large plates (starters and mains to you and me) and it's now possible to book.

The stalks of dandelions added a delicate, flowery and slightly citrusy crunch to a delicious plate of rigatoni flavoured with "wet walnuts". It turns out that wet walnuts are the super seasonal young fruit of the tree, which dry out into the more familiar variety with age. And very good they were too.

Given that Polpetto means "baby octopus" in Italian, I also felt moved to order the octoped. It came as a carpaccio starter, bejewelled but nor overpowered with fresh red chillies (£6).

The brief, description-free menu gives diners the option of asking the waiters for advice/translation or -- as we did -- going for a lucky dip approach. Tempted by smoked anchovies, we thus took a gamble on its unfamiliar accompaniment, puntarelle. The gamble paid off, with the arrival of some tasty green shoots of the chicory family.

Among the mains, we also sampled the squid (£11.30) - with a delicious if slightly overpowering char grilled tang - and the Italian classic of pork in milk (£10.30). The meat was meltingly tender, with notes of aniseed and chunks of white bread all but dissolved in the juices.

Largely ignorant in Italian wine, we washed down the meal -- one of the best I've had in London since returning -- with carafes of the very drinkable house red, and pledged to come back again soon.

Polpetto, Upstairs at The French House, 49 Dean Street, London, W1D 5BG; Tel. 020 7734 1969
Cost: around £30 a head for two courses with wine

Polpetto on Urbanspoon

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