First there was Covent Garden. Then came Soho. Now Smithfield gets in on the action with the latest opening of the hottest restaurant concept in London. And, yes, it’s already every bit as popular as the others —with good reason.
Smithfield is going the same way as many other bland areas of London, as once cool spots become homogenised versions of our commercial high streets. But stepping off our high horse for a moment, this impressive chain (of sorts) is bringing with it a sweet breath of fresh air amongst the Subways and Eats, and is pulling in the local workforce in their droves with its funky, chic décor.
Polpo has kept to the same easy-going style of its sister venues, with a simple black and white tiled floor, a large bar that you can sit up to for food, and a mix of exposed and high-gloss finish brick walls. The original ceiling hasn’t been done up, so it has a grungy effect heightened by large bulbs hanging low on dangling wires, but it’s counteracted by flashes of almost opulent, white painted walls and edges, keeping things sophisticated. Tables and chairs are strewn around and it all feels very relaxed. As with the other Polpos there is a bar area located in the basement. You can find it via a bright pink neon light that beckons you downward. Very funky.
There’s something about this kind of food that gets people very excited. Maybe it’s eating with your hands or mixing and matching different dishes… whatever the reason, the Italian small-plate effect is clearly present at Polpo Smithfield. People are happy here, the very opposite to how Londoners usually like to conduct themselves, and it’s a feeling perpetuated by the incredibly friendly staff. Just be warned: it won’t be long before getting a table here is impossible as it’s already proving to live off its reputation and pull in long queues of punters.
Ah the main event. Yes, the food at Polpo Smithfield is every bit as good as you might expect with delightful little dishes at reasonable prices, replicating the style and content of the other restaurants’ menus.
Highlights definitely include the meatballs: it’s all about the meatballs at Polpo. The classic beef and pork meatballs are a must (£6) and are every bit as meaty, well spiced and perfectly seasoned as at the other restaurants, with a wonderful dense consistency that somehow manages to keep a certain lightness. If you’re veggie then the chickpea, spinach and ricotta meatballs (£6) are equally good, with the same well-pitched consistency. The spinach works well with the creaminess of the ricotta and the richness of the chickpeas for a surprisingly tasty dish.
The real highlight, though, has to be the cured pork shoulder and pickled pepper pizette (£8). Basically, a small pizza on a thin crust, the pork is like pepperoni without all the grease and spice, and the pickled peppers are like little bolts of flavour that — to use a clichéd phrase — really do explode with flavour. Dishes such as this remind you that it really is remarkable that the consistency between the different restaurants can be so strong.
To finish you must try the chocolate salami (£3) which looks like blood sausage but is not. It’s a chocolate dessert and if you can get over your mind telling you that this is salami then you’ll be in for a real chocolatey treat.
Polpo Smithfield excels with its cocktail offering with a great selection of classic cocktails, including the Moscow Mule, Negroni, Americano, Classic Martini and Henderson for just £7 a drink. If you’re feeling tired after a hard day in the office then go for the Dark and Stormy (Havana Club, lime juice and ginger beer) for a spicy pick-me-up.
The Last Word
Polpo Smithfield doesn’t let its older siblings down and, so far at least, isn’t suffering from a reduction in quality as the empire grows. Long may it continue.