Tag Archives: restaurant review

Polpo

It’s not often I get to totally indulge myself, but on a rare free day (meaning no kids) during a visit down south to see my parents, I took a trip into the city for a lovely lunch, before a meeting with my writing mentor. It’s no secret that I miss eating out and that there is little opportunity for leisurely lunches back in Wales and since i’d read several glowing reviews of Polpo and sister restaurants Polpetto and Spuntino in the past few months I thought I’d pay the first of these a visit to check it out.

I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d like the ‘small plate’ concept as usually my leaning is towards a good-sized serving of hearty country fare, but since none of the reviewers appeared to have left the place hungry I guessed I should put my faith in their comments.

Polpo is beautifully laid back and full of understated style. Modelled on the traditional Venetian bacaro but housed in a traditional 18th century London building, it exudes its own rustic charm. My table faced a pretty little internal courtyard, bathed in sunshine and overflowing with scarlet geraniums I could almost have been in Venice. Well maybe not, but it certainly succeeded in reminding me of some of the places I visited when I was there many years ago.

Thankfully I got there early enough so that I didn’t have to wait for a table; fifteen minutes later the place was packed out. The young friendly waiters and waitresses were attentive and helpful and very ready to answer my questions “what are polpette”?  and the menu was adequate without being too extensive.

I ordered smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino to begin and then Polpette (meat balls), fennel and endive salad with almonds and some grilled focaccia to follow. I wasn’t sure how big the small plates would be so I erred on the side of caution not wishing to leave hungry! In the end I found that I had over ordered and couldn’t manage the last piece of focaccia.

Smoked salmon, horseradish and dill crostino

I was pleasantly surprised at the good chunky crostino with its generous helping of smoked salmon and the dollop of horseradish was as I like it, creamy and with a kick, but not too overpowering.

The polpette were deliciously rich and tomatoey, tender and juicy while the fennel and endive salad was sharp and fresh. The two complimented each other beautifully and I really didn’t need the focaccia, which was the only disappointing thing about the lunch. I like a chunky, earthy focaccia liberally strewn with rosemary and garlic, which is how I make it, while this was a rather thin and more ciabatta like bread.

I'm a rubbish food photographer...my stomach got the better of me and I layered everything on to my plate before I photographed it!!

While I still had time to spare I finished with a Machiatto and some chocolate salami, one of my favourite coffee accompaniments and one not often seen on restaurant menus. The waitress and I had a long conversation about it and I ascertained that this was a sugarless version made with figs. It certainly wasn’t as sweet as when I make it using cranberries or cherries, but was just as nice, with its slightly salty, earthy taste derived from the nuts and figs. It went very well with the dark chocolate and coffee.

Machiatto and chocolate salami

Russell Norman and Polpo definitely won me over and gained another fan. I have to admit that it really wasn’t a hard job; I am already a lover of good Italian food and all they had to do was give me that and plenty of it.  I want to go back. I want to take friends, but I will now have to wait until my next visit to London to try one of the other restaurants in the group.  I can’t wait!

My lunch cost me £20 for 3 courses and coffee. This included service. Bookings can only be made for lunch.

Polpo
41 Beak Street
London
W1F  9SB

020 7734 4479

Leave a comment

Filed under eating out, Italian food, London Restaurants, Uncategorized

Thank goodness for Byron: review

I discovered Byron hamburgers by accident. I hadn’t planned on a burger for dinner, on the contrary, I was really looking for something light, healthy and with zero calories in the unrealistic hope that I would seem slightly slimmer on TV (yes, we can all succumb to a bit of silliness when faced with the prospect of cameras filming your every move). Usually I check out good places to eat in the Hardens good food guide but with so much on my mind I just forgot, not only did I have filming to stress about, I also had the teen wanting to go on a shopping trip with me and I had college lectures to prepare for. It was a busy day and I didn’t get back to my hotel in Gloucester Road until almost 8.45pm. Tired and hungry I Initially booked myself into the hotel restaurant ignoring my gut instinct that hotel restaurants are a bad idea, but these concerns came back in abundance as I sat down in a deserted room. I should have walked away there and then but stupidly I ordered. I’m think I’m going to gloss over the contents of the plate placed in front of me but suffice it to say I did not even attempt to eat it, I sent it back and left the room promptly. What surprised me was that the hotel staff knew there was a large group of good amateur cooks staying there yet there was no effort made to offer even half edible food. When asked by the reception staff what the problem was I simply said “the chef”.

Anyway, tired, hungry and now rather grumpy I wandered off towards Gloucester Road tube looking for a saving grace. Opposite the tube I spied Byron. Packed to the gills and with people queuing I guessed at least the food was good. I asked a bloke sat at one of the outside tables what he thought of his meal

“pretty good if you like burgers” he said. Well right at that moment burgers were all my rumbling stomach could think about, so in I went. I waited for a table (which took about 10 minutes, having let a couple go before me as I hung around for a smaller table) but this was fine as the lovely waiter (tall, dark, painfully cool and looking as though he should be on stage in THE latest band) brought me a drink while I stood there and in the end it was well worth it as I ended up getting one of the retro 50’s booths all to myself.

Right then I could have eaten everything on the menu but eventually opted for a cheeseburger with Monteray Jack and french fries. Service was quick and I entertained myself by subtly chatting up the waiter (who was very friendly and willing to be chatted up), food was excellent. Byron pride themselves on their no fuss approach, making proper burgers from Scottish beef, cooked medium and served in a soft bun with salad. I have to agree that they do this very well. My burger didn’t feel too heavy and the french fries were perfectly crisp and just the way I like them. Byron was an oasis in the desert and seeing as I will be back for a bit more filming I may pay them another visit….even if it’s just to flirt with the waiter again!

simple, well cooked and very tasty

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Home in Lymm (near Manchester)

I’m not altogether comfortable with restaurant reviewing yet. It’s not that I don’t eat out, or have anything to say when I do, it’s just that I haven’t made it part of my writing vocabulary. This is primarily because

A/ I am to skint to eat out. To be a food reviewer as far as I can make out you generally need money or at least a certain amount of disposable income. My money pays bills, school fees and all the overheads that having an expensive teenager entails. Eating out is generally way down the list these days.

B/ You need to live in London. There is such a poor choice of restaurants around North Wales. If I do eat out locally nine times out of ten I end up thinking that I could have cooked the food better myself. There are a couple of places that I do love, but of course like anywhere if you go there every week it simply becomes dull.  Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris is my most frequent and favourite haunt, either with the kids in the Brasserie or at the rather posher loft restaurant. I don’t think I have ever complained there.

C/ You need to travel widely and have the time to visit all these wonderful foodie establishments. For reasons why I am unable to do this see A. Much as I’d like to write about food all day, visit foodie places and sample all these delights, I am not earning enough from writing/supper club/anywhere else to do so (all sponsors/offers of work /requests for catering gratefully received!!)

On top of this, being a chef has inevitably made me a picky diner. Having said this I have actually eaten in some really lovely places this year, Stevie Parle’s ‘Dock Kitchen’ being a particular highlight. Other gems include The Vine in Sevenoaks and San Carlo’s in Manchester but as yet I have failed to write about any of them!

I thought it was time I started!

Home, in Little Bollington near Lymm is a converted manor house, now revamped as an unpretentious, family friendly bar and restaurant. It’s what you’d expect from a place that welcomes kids, families and offers a simple bog standard children’s menu and small choice of maybe half a dozen starters and main courses. Over the past three years they have worked hard to prove themselves as high quality providers of fresh, local, home cooked food at amazingly reasonable prices. I visited with a large mixed group of adults (varying in age from 20 to 80) and one child after the wedding of two close friends. A small, understated but beautiful and emotional, ceremony followed by lunch and a few drinks. I have to say initially I was somewhat dubious at their ‘£6 credit crunch lunch’ deal, wondering how they could possibly offer two courses (which included choices of lobster and venison) at £6 a head, but of course as a guest of the bride and groom I wasn’t going to turn my nose up. I wasn’t the only chef at the table, so at least I had a co-conspirator with whom I could moan about the food if it was terrible.

I opted for risotto with pan-fried scallop and lobster, followed by venison with potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

 

risotto, with scallop and lobster

 

The risotto was beautifully cooked, with plenty of intense flavour and looked lovely on the plate, but it only accompanied by one scallop, a poached egg (which I wasn’t expecting and which I gave to Sean) and a tiny serving of lobster. Everything tasted lovely and was perfectly cooked, but there just wasn’t enough of it for me. Obviously though this was a £6 for two courses lunch and with some trepidation I awaited my main course; I hoped it would be more substantial than the starter.

The main course was certainly bigger. There was nothing particularly artistic about the presentation, it was simple, hearty, unpretentious food. My main criticism? The venison was perhaps a little tough and the potatoes could have been crisper, but for £6 a head I wasn’t going to complain.

My dinner companions were also pleased with their choices opting for pork and venison comfit with chutney, pan-fried sea bass and steak and chips!

We all opted for dessert and coffee (and after downing a number of bottles of Prosecco, frankly we needed a hefty sugar and caffeine injection). I went for the cheesecake with ice cream, particularly because it stated it was ‘home-made’. I wanted to test out their home-made claim. My dinner companions opted for sticky toffee pudding (usually my favourite) and a sort of banoffee gateaux type thing. The cheesecake wasn’t particularly inspiring and was slightly overpowered by the vanilla in it, as was the custard served with the sticky toffee pudding. The pudding itself was very light, with lots of treacley bits on the top, but I have to say I prefer a slightly denser pudding with loads of dates packed into it. Sean’s banoffi gateaux was unfortunately not so good. It was heavy, rich and very sickly. To be honest I couldn’t actually tell that there was banana in it. The presentation was lovely and at a little over £3.00 should I really complain?

 

sticky toffee pudding

cheesecake

Banoffee gateaux thing

 

Our waiter was very attentive throughout the meal and with his over-the-top Italian accent and liberally scattered expressions of ‘bello Signora’ ….(much to our companions annoyance as she quietly muttered ‘it’s signorina actually’!) he had us in stitches. We were totally convinced that once he got back to the kitchen the accent would be dropped, as he returned to his true broad Mancunian.

All in all we shared a lovely lunch, with lovely people on a very wonderful day, and that’s what mattered.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized