Polpo's website states that it is a bacaro, a Venetian term for "a humble restaurant serving simple food". Admittedly its setting is modest, with rustic wood panelling, soft lighting and thin paper menus that are scrunched up after your meal. But there is clearly a high level of skilful cooking behind every intensely flavoured dish, so in my view this description undersells the impressive dining experience here.
The restaurant was still packed when we arrived late on a Sunday lunchtime, but luckily we didnt have to wait long to grab a couple of seats at the bar. Choosing what to order was proving difficult however, as the entire menu sounded so tempting! We decided that the best solution would be to sample one dish from each of their fish and meat sections, plus one of their signature meatballs, then see whether we had stomach space for anything else...!
As a huge risotto fan I'm also obsessed with arancini (see day #85 of #Project366), so I twisted Katy's arm into starting our lunch with a couple of their crunchy breadcrumb-coated balls filled with gooey nutty cheese and tender rice.
Normally I avoid ordering squid because it's so difficult to cook correctly, meaning you often end up chewing the seafood equivalent of an elastic band. But my first foray into fristo misto was a refreshing surprise - delicate rings of squid, soft mussels, salty whitebait and sweet prawns all given an added crispy finish from a fine coating of light batter.
Next came a bowl of bitesized spicy pork and fennel meatballs in a tomato sauce. They had a great depth of flavour from the mixture of rich meat and aniseed, but the sauce was slightly more watery than I expected. This was the only dish that failed to wow me, perhaps because I've spent a lot of time experimenting with my own meatball recipe and had assumed Polpo's expert version would teach me some more tips.
Duck is probably my favourite meat for a classic roast, so I was intrigued to find out whether it would work with Italian cuisine's classic tones of tomato and herbs. Thankfully the bird had been slowcooked until it melted in the mouth and its powerful gamey flavour had blended into the hearty ragu. Green peppercorns gave a satisfying spicy accent to the sauce compared to salty olives, and the toothsome pappardelle reminded me that fresh pasta would be one of my requests if I were ever sent to a desert island!
For me, the only way to end a good meal is with dessert. I find it impossible to resist a traditional tiramisu, with its perfect combination of sweet cream, strong coffee and bitter cocoa, and Polpo's potted pudding didn't disappoint me. Indeed, my only problem was that it was very tricky to stretch my tongue far enough to lick the glass clean...!
Last, but certainly not least, came the "Nutella" pizzetta. A clever twist on the standard savoury main, I really enjoyed this chewy dough drizzled with a large helping of luxurious dark chocolate sauce and sprinkled with crunchy caramelised hazelnuts.
If Polpo's descripton of itself is true and these superb dishes really are examples of "simple" food, then I for one wish to live the simple life from now on...!