Other restaurants take note, this is how its done | Polpetto, 11 Berwick Street, London W1F 0PL
Restaurateur Russell Norman has said several times ‘In a restaurant, service is as important, if not more so, than food. You can rescue an average food experience with excellent service, but no amount of good food will rescue a bad service experience.’ It couldn’t be more true and it’s a quote that we often recall when visiting a restaurant that fails to deliver on one or the other.
A good friend, Keith, kindly offered to take me out for my birthday. This isn’t something that happens to me often (not talking about you Keith, I mean in general). These offers are tricky, you can’t choose somewhere too expensive and it should be somewhere the person that’s paying would enjoy too, well I think so anyway. Like me, Keith’s a big fan of the Polpo group and Florence Knight‘s newly relocated Polpetto had been on my list for several years. So after a lengthy social media poll, that was where I decided upon.
We went two days before my birthday, I had tweeted saying I was going to Polpetto for my ‘pre-birthday’ and hoped they could fix my bad day and didn’t think much more of it. We arrived aching for a drink and a good meal, luckily my bad day had already subsided – this is the effect that being with Keith has on me. Once inside the restaurant I was swept into one of the warmest experiences of service I have ever had. From waiting in the bar area sipping on our Mandorla sours £8.50, to being seated we felt reassured we’d have a good time. The restaurant is designed in the typical Polpo way – stripped back, but with a touch more elegance and calm, the bar area struck me as beautifully lit.
The manager (who I didn’t realise was the manager, he looked about 18) did the sweetest thing in printing me off my own menu entitled ‘Happy pre-birthday Saffron’. At first I thought it was down to Keith or Ade’s efforts but they both denied any knowledge, it wasn’t until later that night I discovered who the culprit was. This small gesture of kindness made an enormous difference to my bad day and filled me with joy, especially as the Polpo group is one that I am so fond of. From start to finish the service was flawless, genuinely smiley, effortless and simply brilliant. Plates were taken away without us even noticing, our nostalgic Duralex water glasses refilled constantly (without it being annoying), simple things that make all the difference.
The food we ate was just as amazing as the service, more so than I’d imagined. We’ve linked to Google descriptions of the lesser known items for which we had to look up – there’s a vast amount of foraged leaves, none of which we’d heard of. We started off with the excellent Grilled focaccia with Planeta extra-virgin olive oil £3 and Marinda tomatoes £3.50. The only gripe we had was although the tomatoes were gorgeous and obviously of high quality, £3.50 is quite steep for what you get. Next up was a summery fresh dish of Hake, kohlrabi and pennywort £7 – raw zingy ceviche style fish with crunchy kohlrabi (not unlike cabbage) the pennyworts like soft miniature lily pads.
Then came the Chicken oysters, cannellini and watercress £10 and Honey ale battered Grelot onions £6. I love anything featuring cannellini beans and this didn’t fail me. Chicken oysters are two small, round pieces of dark meat found near the thigh, so tender and packed full of flavour. This was a cosy, earthy dish that was near impossible to share. The battered onions were like pimped up onion rings, the entire onion covered in a delicate layer of batter alongside a dollop of tangy sauce, simple and so delicious.
Then came our final plate – Beef shin strozzapreti £10. The first bite filled my mouth with punchy beefy loveliness, such robust and tender meat. Keith smiled at me and said ‘this is a hug on a plate isn’t it?’ I think he’s been watching too much Masterchef. This was another dish we reluctantly shared, we came very close to ordering another. We sat back marvelling at what we’d eaten and trying to decide what to have for dessert. Keith said ‘shall we get it all?’ I don’t think he was even joking. The manager helped us decide in the end, in a convincing way, not by saying ‘great choice’ to whatever we went for. Don’t you just hate that?
Nothing was what we expected it to be. Keith’s Maple tart £6.50 was a thick custard tart embellished with nutmeg on a delicate base, perfect. My Rhubarb, shortbread, custard £6.50 was a shocker – the rhubarb was actually a sorbet. How they hell could sorbet and custard work? I don’t understand but it did, plus it went against my hot and cold policy. I loved it and despite its small size, it seemed to take an age to eat which made it all the more enjoyable.
Keith seemed determined to work his way through the cocktail menu, but with work tomorrow I decided to end with a Stellacello £4.50 – a wonderful grapefruity version of limoncello. We left through the red velvet curtain onto Berwick Street and the real world, leaving the warmth and loveliness of Polpetto behind. To end on another Russell quote: ‘A good restaurant should make you feel better about yourself and the world around you when you leave, than you did when you arrived.’ Mission accomplished on an epic scale, Russell and Polpo HQ.
11 Berwick Street W1F 0PL
Telephone: 020 7439 8627
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday: Noon – 11pm
Sunday & Bank Holidays: Noon – 4pm
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Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Tottenham Court Road (both 5 mins walk) or Leicester Square (6 mins)