It is often joked that when I depart this mortal coil, a blue plaque will be erected out side of Balans Cafe on Old Compton Street in Soho – just behind my ‘perch’. I do wonder what it will say. One friend commented that when ever he goes past, he is upset if I am not there with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, with sunglasses on quietly watching the world and his wife (or often boyfriend) go by. We are all creatures of habit and have our favourite go to places however one Thursday a couple of months ago, I departed from my normal go-to-eaterie to explore the wonderful Berwick Street – perhaps the last of Old Soho that has not been gentrified or shuttered up due to spiralling rents and rates. For those who are not aware of the street, it is nestled between Wardour Street and Carnaby Street, accessed from ‘Sex Ally’ – also known officially as Walkers Court. With a rich heritage within the sex trade, haberdashery and music, the cobbled street has a personality; a charm and wit that will instantly make you smile as you take in its atmosphere which is addictive.

Roughly a third of the way up from the south end of the street, past the record shops and haberdashers, is where Venice meets London in the most delectable and seductive way possible. Polpetto, the creation of Russell Norman, can be described as Italian tapas – a menu of small plates inspired by northern Italian flavours and sensibilities. This was not my first trip and will not be my last. I first had lunch here with an old friend visiting from New Zealand, followed by lunch and a dinner in the same week with a close friend visiting from Spain. This was followed by dinner with my best friend visiting from Bath, swiftly followed by a second date, and on this occasion it was a return dinner with my Spanish friend.

Not having a reservation system, it is the luck of the draw how quickly you will get a table however you are invited to wait in the bar area (below) for drinks and snacks. We opted for a plate of baby octopuses which were succulent with a slight spice and a reminisce of the ocean, paired with the chopped chicken liver crostini – smooth, rich and bursting with the flavours of the countryside. After moving to our table, my friend opted for the wonderful duck salad with chicory, orange and pine nuts that was excellent – fresh, exactly as it was described and full of honest flavours. He followed this with the flank steak with roasted pepper and feta cheese which was a delight to behold, with a spicy rocket salad that was, in his words, exciting.

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I was drawn to the soft shell crab in parmesan batter for the third time; a succulent addition to their menu which reminds me why I come here. Fresh, crispy but not over done, it is accompanied by a slight garlic dip that compliments the intense flavours well. Sticking to the fish theme, I chose the mussels which were juicy, well caught and complimented by a thin broth – I suspect just their juices – with a crunchy samphire and tomato accompaniment. On the side is a large but perfectly cooked focaccia that is deliciously oily and soft which often wants you asking for more. As we were sampling the best of the menu, we decided to go for pudding; my friend choosing the semifreddo with orange and honeycomb and I, the legendary tiramisu. The semifreddo is a heavy, rich chocolate ice-cream that is supported by a honeycomb which is full of crunch and succulent bite which compliments the rich orange support and the thick bite of cocca. It was so good, he had two. Finally, the tiramisu is the best I have ever eaten that has the perfect balance of cocca, sponge and mascarpone – rounded off with a kick of Italian liquor.

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If you can not wait for dinner here, then their reservation system is in place for lunch however the time of day does not spoil the exciting atmosphere and friendly service from what have to be the most content restaurant staff in London. This corner of Soho really is the closest you will get to Venice, this side of Brexit.

What We Had:

1 Belu Sparking Water – 3.50

2 Merlot – 18.00

2 Poeta – 16.00

1 Baby Octopuses – 3.00

1 Chicken Liver – 4.00

1 Soft Shell Crab – 8.00

1 Duck Salad – 7.00

1 Flank Steak – 9.00

1 Mussels – 6.00

2 Espresso Martini – 14.00

1 Tiramisu – 5.00

2 Semifreddo – 10.00

1 Merlot – 5.00

Total: 122.00 (including service charge at 12.5%)




Written by Danhasbyoliver

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