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12 August 2011

And Da Polpo Makes Four

I've been a fan of Russell Norman's London restaurants since I first visited Polpo at the beginning of last year, soon after it opened. I didn't realise that Polpo was going to be the first of a small collection but as Time Out put it, "When the chain is Polpo, however, this is no bad thing. We all need a little New York hip now and again, a cool soundtrack and the illusion of Big-Apple edginess." There are now four in the club but although they all serve varying degrees of Italian- and New York-inspired dishes and varying levels of small plates vs traditional main courses, they have quite different vibes.

Polpo (which means octopus) is on Beak Street, in the heart of Soho, and it's always busy after 6.30, not helped by the no-reservations policy in the evening. If you're lucky you can grab a space at the zinc bar and drink a glass of Prosecco while you wait. The restaurant is dark, noisy and bustling but it's a great ambiance and the food is very tasty. Then came Polpetto (mini octopus), still in Soho but further south, tucked away above the French House, a Dean Street pub. The menu is similar to Polpo but the vibe is a little more chilled out; then again, it was still early when we were dining there and I can imagine that on a Thursday or Friday night, the queues soon grow.

Polpo III is called Spuntino (snack, although they could really call it Polpettino (tiny octopus) and is probably the coolest kid in the family. When I went, soon after it opened, at 6.15 on a Wednesday, the queue was out of the door of the tiny restaurant, which barely has seats for 20 people, mostly around the bar. The menu--and the vibe--is a lot more Lower East Side Manhattan than the first two Polpi, with "sliders" and mac and cheese adorning the menu. Spuntino is very cool but not exactly a place to linger over a relaxing dinner. There's no phone, no reservations and barely even any indication outside that you've reached the right place (other than the queue).

And so finally we come to Da Polpo (chez Polpo), which could really be called Polpone (big Polpo), as it's like a bigger, more spacious, airier version of the original. The Covent Garden location on Maiden Lane seems, oddly, to be much quieter than the others. At 6.30 on a Friday night, BB and I didn't need to wait for a table for two and even when we left, there didn't appear to be a queue, although the downstairs section seemed pretty busy. As with the other Polpi, there is plenty of zinc, plenty of exposed light bulbs and pew-like benches. The menu is more similar to Polpo than to Spuntino, although as with the latter, there is a heavy focus on meatballs; in Da Polpo, however, the meatballs are served in sauce and with spaghettini, Italian-style, rather than as a pseudo-burger. BB and I both opted for the meatball-spaghettini combo, which tasted good and wasn't bad value at £7. We also shared some of the ciccheti (bite-sized portions, like arancini and, my favourite, potato and parmesan croquettes) and a Nutella pizzetta for pudding.

With a glass of Prosecco each, this came to £36, including service, which felt like a lot for not huge amounts of food (enough food to fill me up, of course) but it does all taste very good and the lovely Maiden Lane restaurant is such a nice place to hang out on a Friday night and if you're in Covent Garden and want to eat at a cool restaurant that has tasty, interesting Italian food and is about the opposite of a tourist trap, you could definitely do much worse than Da Polpo. The original is still my favourite restaurant, though.

I didn't take my camera so I have no good pictures but the gallery on the Da Polpo website captures the feel of the place pretty well.

Da Polpo. 6 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7NA (Tube: Covent Garden). Website.

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