A hard act to follow, no? Well, hot on its heels trots Polpetto, Polpo’s wittier, more confident little sister. Perched happily above boozer The French House, a Soho institution, battered stairs lead to the diminutive room that has the effortless intimacy of a supper club. It’s busy. And you have the sense it’s always busy. Polpetto only has 28 seats and a legion of Polpo fans after all. Tiny tables crammed with elbows and dishes, flickering candles in the bright daylight backdrop the hum of conspiratorial chat rising above the beats of Mark Ronson. This is not a deal-making place but one where plans are hatched.
A window seat means a firm view of brazen torsos and tight Y-fronts in an Old Compton Street shop window. Staff are equally rock ‘n’ roll, and we’re served by the cheery spit of a Camden frontman, all skinny limbs and skinny jeans. He’s the right side of chatty rather than intrusive and is quick to serve our inexpensive rosé from the well-chosen list - a fresh and accessible bardolino chosen by Ruth, sloshed from a humble carafe.
Cicheti is the thing here, tapas-type small plates, which start at a friendly £2.50. Thick-cut crostini slathered with punchy chicken liver are impaled with the tartness of sunblush tomato. Moscardini, baby octopus flecked with shards of garlic and fennel is excellently flavoured but upsettingly chewy.
and breaded sardines, caper mayonnaise
Larger sharing plates are wholesomely good; braised ox cheek has a gloriously unfashionable amount of fat that ensures its melty softness. The cavolo nero, a kind of kale, is an inspired dish enlivened with the crunch of rosemary breadcrumbs as are crisp breaded sardines.
Polpetto has nothing to prove, and there lies its scruffy charm. While the food may be slightly patchy, the coolly effortless concept isn’t. It has slipped seamlessly into The French House’s scuffed walls as though it’d been there all along and I bet you anything will be far more popular than her big sister.
Upstairs at The French House, 49 Dean Street, London
020 7734 1969
Reservations taken for lunch only.
Click here for my take on Polpo last year.