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Polpo, Notting Hill, More Emperors New Clothes

So the 40th birthday celebrations continue with a Monday off with my lovely wife ahead of my big birthday treat which was dinner at Le Gavroche that evening. After a pedicure and a trip to the picture framers to get all my old gig tickets framed (really recommend this, it looks amazing) we headed down to the Westfield to watch 22 Jump St. Perhaps not an orthodox choice for a birthday film but we have been subsisting on a diet of Fargo and Game of Thrones so needed something light. This certainly filled the brief and absolutely hilarious film that had us LOL-ing in the aisle. Post film we headed back to Notting Hill and we were a little peckish but didn't want to spoil our big dinner. I had noticed that an outpost of Polpo had opened on the site of the All Bar One. I thought the small plates concept would fit the bill for us so in we ventured.

This was a sizeable All Bar One in its day and back in the late 90's formed part of my Notting Hill drinking circuit (along with the Windsor Castle, Churchill and sometimes the bar at Pharmacy). I had been to the original Polpo on Beak St which is much smaller with more of a bar vibe. This space with the high ceilings and hard surfaces has a touch of the canteen to it. It was about 2 when we sat down so the lunchtime rush was thinning out. It was still reasonably busy and they showed us both to a table for 4 to the side of the main dining room but opposite the bar. As it happens the owner Russell Norman was in having a lunchtime meeting at the table next to us. This was quite good as we could earwig about his future plans for the Polpo brand and the other restaurants. First impressions were that this was very much too cool for school. All the men working here had trendy beards though they seemed to get less bushy as you progressed up the hierarchy (Russell Norman's was more an overdeveloped 5 o'clock shadow than proper beard). Anyway Game of Thrones rejects aside, what was the food like? Well we didn't have lots and what we had was good but I wasn't blown away. £3 gets you 4 fried stuffed olives, another £3 gets you a couple of arancini, the asparagus, taleggio and speck pizzette was nice enough but broad bean, ricotta and mint bruschetta was heavy going and at £7 pricey. My Aperol Martini was very nice and went down very well. My lovely wife enjoyed her Prosecco but would it really hurt their hip sensibilities to serve it in a proper flute rather than a tumbler.

I think my problem with this Polpo, as with the original, is as good as it looks and feels I will struggle to eat well off their menu. It's a lot of bread, a lot of deep fried stuff and pasta. I know I have a bias against small plates but when I think of the deliciously varied meal I shared at Elliot's cafe off a much shorter menu compared to this offering, I do marvel at its rampant success. Obviously they are making the most of mark ups on authentic ingredients but from what I could see there wasn't any amazing cooking skills being displayed. This did make me wonder what an earth is in the Polpo cook book they were flogging. Our little snack came to nearly £60 which was pricey for a lunch I could have picked up from a deli at half the cost. Maybe 40 year old family men aren't the target market for this but I can't help thinking that hipsters of West London are trying to buy into a fad without much culinary foundation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Overall rating
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 4

Why don't I learn, utterly mistified by the success of this chain

Burger & Lobster, Gt Portland St, the perfect branch

Dip & Flip, Clapham Junction, good fun but I was somewhat under the influence