After we came out of the Chelsea Flower Show at 8.00pm, we decided to find somewhere to eat. I’d earlier noticed a Polpo in the pedestrianised area of Duke of York Square, just off King’s Road. On a warm late May evening after a lovely time at the Flower Show, supper al fresco seemed a great idea.
Russell Norman’s Polpo restaurants have been the place to go in London in recent years for an authentic Venetian experience. As in the Venetian experience of sitting on the edge of the Grand Canal early evening with a glass of prosecco and plates of ciccheti – a kind of Venetian tapas; small plates to share.
The first Polpo I ate at was the one in Covent Garden and it was just after coming back from a trip to Venice. Would the meal temporarily transport me back to one of my favourite cities? Sadly not. I had a few issues with both service and food. So how would this Chelsea branch compare?
Well Polpo Chelsea got off to a great start; a pleasing beginning to a meal that while not perfect, was very good, and I’d certainly happily go back.
There was a queue when we arrived and we were told the wait was about 20-30 minutes. We knew anywhere good would have a queue at that time if you hadn’t booked, so we decided to wait. It was a pleasant evening and a nearby bench was soon vacated so we settled down. Someone came to take an order for drinks and we both – not wanting to drink a lot, just wine with our meal – chose a non-alcoholic cocktail of elderflower cordial, ginger beer and lemon. Then, much sooner than expected, a table was free so we moved to it and had our drinks there while deciding what to eat. I commented to the waiter that I was pleased they’d been pessimistic about the wait time rather than optimistic. He replied that it’s not good to annoy people by making them wait a lot longer than promised.
Our table happened to be one at the edge of the large sitting space outside and was really quite perfect. We felt part of the crowd but it wasn’t too noisy and more private.
We chose a ½ litre of house white (Garganega) for £14 to share. Then we studied the menu – the paper table ‘mats’ in front of us – and decided what to order. There was no particular theme to our choice; just what we fancied, and mixing things up a bit by choosing from different categories. We both like arancini and chose ‘Pea, basil & robiola’ (£4.30).
Robiola is a soft, creamy cheese from Piedmont. There was a nice, creamy risotto-like rice filling but we both felt they were under seasoned and the outside not quite crispy enough.
This ‘Braised scallops, pancetta & pea’ dish was my choice (£9.90); Jonathan doesn’t eat much fish. I love scallops and these were wonderful – this was my favourite dish of all. They were perfectly cooked and the salty accompaniment of the pancetta with the sweet scallops and peas was gorgeous.
We went for the simplest of the Pizzette – ‘Buffalo mozzarella & tomato’ (£6.50). I wasn’t terribly excited by the base, which lacked the crispness of a ‘romana’ pizza but had none of the light softness of a ‘napoli’; it seemed as if it hadn’t been left to rise for long enough. But I eat so much wonderful pizza, with two great pizzerias run by Italians near my home, that my standards are very high! However, the tomato sauce was very good and so overall we enjoyed it.
These meatballs were very good too: ‘Spicy pork & fennel’ (£6.50).
From some interesting and appealing Vegetables & Salad choices we went for ‘Spinach risotto, asparagus & fried onion’ (£7.00). We liked this a lot.
We’d ordered not quite knowing if it would be enough food – it’s always a bit difficult to know with ‘sharing plates’, but it turned out to be a good amount and we were both fairly full by the end. I however thought I could fit in an ‘Affogato al caffè’ (£4.00). I remember having affogato for the first time in Venice on a family holiday. We saw them being delivered to a nearby table and said, We want some of those, please! It’s one of my favourite summer desserts, combining a good espresso with some lovely vanilla ice cream.
Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream … and wow!
We really enjoyed our meal. The food wasn’t perfect but it was good and there were the highlights of the scallops and meatballs. The service was excellent and really couldn’t have been bettered – from our arrival and the welcome as we put our name on the waiting list, to sitting down and the efficiency and friendliness throughout the meal. It was also a great location – set back from the main road in the pedestrianised area, so fairly peaceful. All they needed for the true Venice effect was a grand canal! The final bill for food and drinks came to almost £70.00 for the two of us, including service charge.