If you haven’t already heard of Polpo, then today I would like to tell you about it. And if you have, well then I trust that you’ll want to learn some more, so stick around 😉
Well-loved by Londoners and an immediate dining hotspot in Brighton, Polpo describe themselves as a bàcaro, a Venetian term for a humble restaurant serving simple food and good wine. Opening last year across from the Dome, Polpo offers yet another authentic Italian dining option – Oh, please don’t think I’m complaining because it is very, very welcome in my eyes, and I’m sure many others’ too! So, I met my friend Tan recently after work for a drink and, as often happens when we get together, this spiralled into an evening of drinks, dinner and dessert.
Polpo is an unassuming looking little restaurant and fits in almost as if it’s always been a part of Jubilee Street, but those familiar with the name will be aware of the buzz surrounding it so we had to check it out for ourselves.
First thing is first, I had better warn you about the image quality coming up. Due to the incredibly atmospheric lighting inside Polpo, it made for some rather bad food pics and any I took of the interior were grainy! So I’m afraid you’ll need to take my word for it when I say how charming and intimate the restaurant is inside, aided by candlelight.
Polpo serve small plates, something I am a huge fan of as it means you get to enjoy so many different types of dish and great if you’re into sharing! And if you’re not, well I guess you still to get to try a bunch of different things and just hope you can eat it all 😏
Seeing as they claim to be famous, we ordered the lamb and pistachio meatballs, as well as gorgonzola and prosciutto pizzette, pappardelle, rabbit and pancetta ragu and fried gnocchi with rainbow chard pesto and young pecorino. Similarly to most small plate restaurants, dishes are served as they are ready and it creates that wonderfully chaotic experience of desperately trying to taste everything as soon as it arrives.
Meatballs – Corrr these were tasty, I’m very big on lamb and these were pretty succulent, plus the marinara sauce they came with was delicious! The pistachios though, whilst visible throughout the meatballs, did not add anything to them taste wise so they may as well have just been lamb meatballs. Plus, at £7 for three (or £3.50 for 1.5) it is a little on the steep side.
Pappardelle, rabbit and pancetta ragu – A hugely tasty dish, the rabbit was tender, fragrant and rich in a creamy sauce with fresh pappardelle and almost a little on the sickly side! Slightly lacking on the pancetta though, but otherwise really delicious. £9.
Gorgonzola and prosciutto pizzette – Again, another sickly kind of one so be prepared for the strong flavours here. I understand now why the chef at Pizza 500 recently recommended that I don’t overload my four cheese pizza with prosciutto (see review here if you’re interested!), as the strength of the gorgonzola alone against the salty prosciutto was quite something! But just the right amount of power for me, and on a tasty crispy pizzette base similar to a flatbread. £8.
Fried gnocchi – I think this was my favourite of the four dishes. I’ve never tried fried gnocchi before, but now I think I might only ever fry it in future! It had a much more potatoey texture than the shop bought kind, and for this was rather less stodgy – unless it was the frying over boiling? But it was crispy, chewy and so satisfying! However, to advertise pecorino on the menu suggests a fair amount and I don’t think there was much more than the shavings you can see below to make an impression on the rest of the dish. £6.
This was a tough decision, as I could have happily picked any of the listed desserts and sweet things, but we positively could not resist ricotta doughnuts and cinnamon sugar, and then also opted for “Chocolate Salami” when our server informed us that they were of a dark chocolate biscuit sort of consistency packed with apricot and biscotti pieces. These were chewy and delicious, really moreish if only there had been a few more! With the doughnuts, I had thought that sweet ricotta would spill out of them and didn’t realise the actual doughnuts were made with ricotta in the mix, but it made them really soft and melt in the mouth.
For a restaurant with such prestige (they have received the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand for 6 consecutive years, awarded for great quality food) there is a huge element of modesty about Polpo, and the staff were so extremely welcoming and smiley! Our server was so genuine and animated, and you really knew she meant it when she wished us a good evening later on. It made all the difference to the experience, and is a huge part of what makes a restaurant recommendable for me to others.
The small plates were slightly pricier than other restaurants I’ve come across, and some of the portions were quite small. For dishes like duck and pancetta ragu I can understand a higher markup, but some were slightly steep. So for this reason, I wouldn’t make a habit out of casual dining at Polpo, but maybe save it for a more special occasion in future.
Prices aside, the food quality combined with the restaurant’s modesty, atmosphere and fantastic staff make a great third place spot for lunch and dinner and I already have my eye on some of the dishes I didn’t get around to for next time!
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