In the days when exotic dancers still gyrated their way around the Raymond Revuebar in Walker’s Court, it would have been inconceivable that a restaurateur could become the ‘King of Soho’. But today the area is a hotspot for culinary rather than carnal pleasures. From the latest small-plates places to rock ‘n’ roll ramen joints, Soho has become a magnet for diners aiming to improve their cultural capital. And when it comes to successful ventures in the area, restaurateur Russell Norman takes the crown.
There’s no denying Norman’s credentials as a trendsetting restaurateur. After he and business partner Richard Beatty opened Polpo on Beak Street in 2009, there was a ripple of me-too establishments and there’s no shortage of pared-down New York-style diners in the ilk of their Rupert Street establishment Spuntino either. There are also two other branches of Polpo now - one in Covent Garden, the other in Smithfield. These days Norman also presents a BBC TV series (‘The Restaurant Man’) in which he shares his wisdom. And true to form, the latest incarnation of Polpetto (previously on a different site, a dining room above the French House on Dean Street) looks set to be a winner.
The new Berwick Street premises are more upscale. The long, low-lit dining room bubbles with attentive staff serving Italian-inspired small plates to the appreciative crowd who don’t seem to mind being seated on tightly packed tables. In the basement dining room, there’s the bonus of a view of chef Florence Knight and her skilled team in a glass-fronted kitchen.
As well as more familiar assemblies such as fork-tender veal cheeks in an earthy fennel, white wine and bean stew, or sweet baby beetroots coated in poppy seeds and served with tangy gorgonzola cheese, there are many options on the menu which will have you reaching for your encyclopaedia. Small, green ‘cuckoo flower’ leaves added a fiery horseradish-like hit to a plate of boiled pink fir potatoes, while raw, pickled parsley-root discs tasted similar to parsnip. Each dish struck an impressive balance between simplicity and satisfying flavours. Cocktails too were cleverly mixed with Italian liqueurs such as Cynar adding complex bitter notes to the likes of a gin fizz.
With this Soho comeback Polpetto’s acquired a bolder, more mature feel – and we think it’s better than ever.