Food & Drink, London

Polpo, 41 Beak Street, Soho

Fun Foodie Facts, part I:
I found a Venetian restaurant which is located in the same building where the Venetian painter Canaletto once lived.

Polpo, in Soho’s Beak Street, is a long room with brownish red brick walls and a skylight window providing natural light for the customers at the furthest reaches of the cave-like room. At the front, a shiny wooden bar lines one side, and the floor is covered with small black and white tiles. As me and my sidekick entered just before the Saturday lunch rush, we were lucky enough to get a table – although eating at the bar didn’t seem too bad of an option either, as from there you can either observe the bustling restaurant or Soho’s street life.

Polpo's Soho restaurant consist of one long room and a Campari Bar downstairs.

Polpo’s Soho restaurant consist of one long room and a Campari Bar downstairs.

The menu in this Soho bàcaro was vast and versatile.

The menu in this Soho bàcaro was vast and versatile.

The menu was divided in seven sections including, for example, cicheti, breads, fish, meatballs and vegetables. On top of this, there were ‘desserts’ and ‘sweet things’. The waitress talked us through the options and patiently explained few of them again: there were a lot of Italian terms unfamiliar to me, but I was keen to learn.

Polpo itself means an octopus, and the restaurant announces to be a bàcaro, which is a Venetian word for a modest restaurant serving simple food and local wines. The etymological emphasis is on the word wine, as bàcaro translates into “house of Bacchus” who was the Roman God of Wine. The menu in bàcaro is divided into many small sections and the idea is the same as with the more familiar tapas culture – although the Venetians came up with the idea a good few hundred years earlier than their bull fighting cousins.

A pizzette from the pizzette section, and polenta from the vegetable section of the menu.

A pizzette from the pizzette section, and polenta from the vegetable section of the menu.

We got advised to order from two to three dishes per person, so we started with some artichoke and speck (type of prosciutto) crostini and bresaola & rocket pizzette which were the definite highlight of the menu and items that will bring me back to Polpo. I also wanted to taste the griddled and herbed polenta, which tasted a little bland on its own but was delicate and light with the tomato sauce from my sidekick’s meatballs and spaghetti. He on the other hand, being a Brazilian and used to all sorts of delicious ways of eating polenta in his childhood home, did not enjoy my griddled polenta cakes even with a sauce – but then again, which restaurant can ever compete with your mum’s cooking?

Chocolate salami, espresso and macchiato.

Chocolate salami, espresso and macchiato.

We finished off, as always in an Italian restaurant, with espresso & macchiato and something chocolaty, which in Polpo was chocolate salami. I’ve had this delicatessen a few times, getting the perfect bite in Dublin’s Terra Madre, so I was very excited about it. But after the sumptuously delicious and versatile beginning, the ending in Polpo didn’t live up to the expectations: the chocolate salami was too sugary (so much that I felt that I was grinding some granules of sugar between my teeth) and although the espressos were better than the drops of this black nectar of Apollo in the regular, chain coffee shops, I was expecting something more from an Italian. But that might be just me being picky, or the barista having a grumpy day. Also, we had still the memory of Tuscanic’s Pistocchi chocolate tart and macchiatos under our belts, which may have caused the slight disappointment.

Despite the bitter end, I would go back to Polpo, and devour through the menu more diligently: for a foodie, it was an amazing feeling to get a little plate after another full of simple and tasty Italian dishes: this is a restaurant for laid-back lunches with friends or family.

And as I stepped back to the street and looked back, I saw a little blue plaque indicating that the building has some historical significance: it turned out that I had just had a meal in a Venetian restaurant located in the same building where the famous Venetian painter Canaletto once lived!

Ah, London, food and history, you did it once again.

Canaletto lived in London from 1746 to 1755 and painted for example the famous images of Westminster Bridge.

Canaletto lived in London from 1746 to 1755 and painted, for example, the famous images of Westminster Bridge.

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