Visiting during a soft-opening isn't always indicative, but this laid back and casual restaurant from the team behind Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino is already good enough to suggest it's going to be a very big hit indeed.
Polpo Covent Garden certainly has a laid back, understated style and its bold green frontage stands out on a street dominated by The Porterhouse pub. Inside, it’s not exactly colourful and tables are strewn around two dining areas, each with its own counter. High tables with stools are ideal for couples looking for a quick bite and the wine behind the bar/counter area looks enticing and adds an authentic Mediterranean vibe to the space – as do various maps on the walls. Huge light bulbs hang down low from the ceiling and create a pleasant little feature, but it gets so busy in here that the space can seem much smaller than it is in reality and makes it hard to discern much from the décor. This is very much low-key dining but therein lies its charm.
Covent Garden is hectic at the best of times but drop a much-anticipated restaurant next to the area’s best loved pub and you’ve got a recipe for madness. Bookings are highly recommended to get a table and even then be prepared to wait and be sandwiched into place (although, thankfully, you won’t be elbow-to-elbow with your neighbouring diners). Somehow, the staff – and, more importantly, the kitchen – manage to stay on top of things and the service is efficient and borderline-speedy. You will get dishes delivered to your table as and when they’re ready, but that’s all in the spirit of tapas, and indeed, what this restaurant is all about. The punters certainly don’t seem to mind.
Small plates, and lots of them. That pretty much sums up what Polpo Covent Garden is all about. Most dishes come in at the £5 but they hover as low as a couple of quid and reach as high as nearly a tenner, so how much you spend really depends on your choices.
First off, don’t fill up on the delightful, fresh focaccia that arrives dutifully at your table when you arrive. It’s light, home made and wonderfully fresh but if you’re not careful, you’ll have stuffed yourself full before you even start absorbing the enticing menu. Secondly, make sure you order the balls. Crisp breadcrumbs filled with juicy centres of rice and gooey, creamy cheese; rich, sweet lamb; and even chickpeas with a surprisingly decadent creaminess that lingers in the mouth and will make you wonder why you’ve never tasted chickpeas like that before.
A bit more disappointing is the fritto misto – similar to tempura and containing lots of seafood. It’s a very generous portion and the seafood – particularly the squid and prawns – are plump and perfectly cooked so as not to be at all chewy. However, the slightly soggy batter is a letdown and the seasoning is slightly off. Made with a bit more aplomb (and you get the feeling they'll do so soon) it could quite easily be the stand-out dish on the menu.
However, that honour goes to the pizzette – mini pizzas to you and me. The pork and pepper pizzette is just £6 and is hardly what you can really call ‘mini’. The crisp, thin base is piled high with sweet tomatoes, a bit of creamy cheese, peppery basil and perfectly cooked pork, with everything given a bit of a kick courtesy of the peppers.
Of course, how adventurous you are is really up to you as they do everything here from offal (well, liver anyway) through to accomplished and exciting-sounding vegetarian dishes, and the menu is as interesting as that of the very successful Polpo, around the corner in Soho.
There’s a strong wine list at Polpo Covent Garden, although it is skewed toward Italian numbers and you can’t help but feel they’re missing out on some exciting new world bottles that would go particularly well with the food. Still, they do go the extra mile with their own-brand Polpo house wines from Friuli and even their own Polpo Prosecco. If you want to indulge then try the Italian aperitif Aperol with its bitter orange flavour that's similar to campari. Otherwise, they also do iced alcohol drinks for those hot summer days… whenever they may appear.
The Last Word
Polpo Covent Garden was always going to be a surefire hit but it’s good to see that they’re not relying on the group’s reputation alone and are instead trying to build something new for Covent Garden. Watch this space, this one is going to be big.