Eatalian: Polpo, Smithfield

A vegetarian, a pescatarian, a picky eater and a glutton walk into a restaurant…

Of all the dining experiences on the annual social calendar, the work leaving do is one of those which is low down on the expectations list. There is an outside chance that this will be a time where you will all realise what good friends you could have become – or are – and to wallow in the sadness that is someone leaving, or it can further highlight how different all of you in a perilously small company are and to enjoy this formality as best you can.

Polpo is Venetian tapas, which I didn’t realise was such a thing until I moved to London. Oh the things I’ve learned as a Londoner. It has a Michelin Bib Gourmand, regularly features on the London blogosphere’s ‘Best Restaurant lists’, and the vegetarian and pescatarian both cited it among their favourite restaurants in the capital.

The picky eater allowed us to order as this “wasn’t really her type of restaurant. The places you take me are always a bit…hip.”

Decorated in the post-industrial near hipster decor that is prevalent across cities on both sides of the Atlantic, I suppose she may have had a point. Menus were printed on paper attached to clipboards, waiters had beer, and wine was served in cups. Usually there were queues, but our 6.25pm arrival, while too late for the 4pm – 6pm Happy Hour, was still too early for the post-work drinks diners. Plus, of course the curse of tapas that is sharing.

I enjoy sharing, and I enjoy hearing the recommendations of others, so the vegetarian and pescatarian took the reigns:

  • Stuffed fried olives (£3)
  • Marinated baby octopuses (£3) – this in favour of the Octopus Carpaccio (£8), as I had eaten something similar earlier in the week
  • Spinach, Parmesan & soft egg Pizzette (£8)
  • Classic beef and pork meatballs (£6)
  • Chickpea, spinach & ricotta “meatballs” (£7)
  • Fritto misto (£9)
  • Fried gnocchi, rainbow chard pesto & young pecorino (£6)

I was the only person that could sample all of the dishes, which were fresh and offered some complexity of flavours and textures. I can see what the fuss is about, but I am still yet to be converted. There was no real satisfaction to the eating; instead I was left admiring the sourcing of produce and cooking techniques – an academic rather than an emotional response to the food – while trying to elegantly split a meatball.

A meatball is a meatball is a meatball. The vegetarian, who is part Italian, said that she doesn’t usually like Italian restaurants but the sauces in Polpo are outstanding. Her meat-eating boyfriend said that the meatballs were the best he ever had. She conceded that this meal was less good than her previous one. It certainly wasn’t my best meatball experience, though I can’t remember what was. They were pleasant enough, but will forever fade away into my memory as the meatball that failed to live up to expectations.

Eating out is about socialising, and tapas more than most other foods ups this social ante. It had been apparent throughout the year that we weren’t a particularly social office, but this was even more so when spending an extended period of time together in relatively close quarters. In fact, each of my three dining companions said unprompted at different stages of the meal that they were “awkward”, “not a people person” and “not very social”. Nonetheless, we spoke about work, travel, life, and they gave me a thoughtful leaving present.

“Thanks, I’m touched. But also I’m not very good with real feelings, so fuck you all!”

It was the most that I have ever liked them.

We split the bill, a concept that usually I am not in favour of, but the person that eats most wins in the game of going Dutch. I am sure the picky eater, who ate 1/2 a meatball, a slice of pizzette, some gnocchi and a fauxball was perturbed at her bill share. Social and culinary enjoyment is the heart of tapas, so when this is lacking from your dining companions there is only so much that your enjoyment can reach.

Having now left London, I do not regret quitting at all. I am, however, still disappointed in never having found an Italian of choice.




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