Tapasification is a good idea. Not only does it give you more choice. But it also means the spectre of food envy is forced to loom large elsewhere. The trauma of missing out on an amazing dish whilst you are tucking into something you ordered in a panic is cast aside. The only downside is that you tend to spend more money and are constantly fighting your fellow diners and deploying clandestine tactics to distract them from the last knee wobblingly seductive morsel.
So well done Polpo for popping up. An Italian, sorry Venetian, tapas, sorry bacari, joint is just what we needed. Being British we rather enjoyed the queue and less than charming welcome from the barman. It made us feel comfortable and fortunate to be allowed to eat in their restaurant. We quickly resorted to rudimentary sign language in order to communicate given that the noise, sorry, buzz was so loud, sorry vibrant.
To our enormous excitement we were seated on a table next to none other than Charles “Dinner-Party-Average” Campion and a companion. Cowie could barely contain herself as she rubber necked as if she was studying the fine detail of a particularly interesting car crash. Our waiter helpfully pointed out that he was a food critic who likes the food so much that he lets the kitchen cook him whatever they feel like.
If this wasn’t a debossed wax seal of approval then nothing is. Inspired by Campion and his insatiable appetite we threw ourselves into our task of eating as if there were medals at stake.
Arancini were texturally accomplished and a triumph of what some would call subtlety and others blandness. Chopped liver on toast was loamy but under-seasoned. Salt cod on grilled polenta was far more interesting causing me to hide the second half of it behind a wine bottle. Spratti in soar were the least popular, but that’s fine by me because I rather liked them. I chuckled as I thought of them as the Mini Me to Mackerel’s Dr. Evil.
And just as I thought this is all good without being thrilling, out came some pizzetta bianca. Like Dawn French in a Philadelphia advert I tried to mask my look of greedy glee as I chewed my first bite, spluttering to the others not to eat it because it tasted horrible. But they didn’t fall for it! I’ve been pining for some ever since reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s ode to pizza bianca. It’s a very simple dish. And in many ways the epitome of pure Italian food. It consists of a perfect pizza base that has a specific degree of thinness. According to the chaps at Wikipedia it is "topped with olive oil, salt and, occasionally, rosemary sprigs". It is then cooked very quickly and served without any fuss or accoutrements. There is an outside chance I enjoyed the idea of this dish as much as the real thing. But either way my debut was a thrill that has inspired me to explore the real thing in Rome.
Main dishes ranged from the excellent calf’s liver, flank steak and polpette to the decent pork belly and polpette. I found myself playing hide the sausage with the Cotechino. Mackerel tartare almost gave me a funny turn and fritto misto was crispy and well fried but bordered on tasteless. Slow cooked duck was inexplicably dry – if it was an actor you’d describe it as wooden. Two vegetarian dishes outshone most of their meaty table companions – a creamy slew of pumpkin again found itself cowering behind a wine bottle which was soon joined by the remnants of the wet polenta and some expertly roasted vegetables.
To finish we shared two rather ill conceived desserts – a semifreddo in a cone and a hot chocolate soup which were a bit of an afterthought. Maybe an affogato or just an espresso would have been a better idea. But it wasn’t all bad in the pudding department - Cowie’s almond tart was sensational.
Throughout our meal the service was swift, assured and helpful. I’ve only got two complaints but they are about the sludgy brown ceiling and crappy loos. But who cares about that when the atmosphere is so alive, and the food is so interesting. Charles Campion obviously doesn't. And how can I not love the restaurant that plucked my pizza bianca cherry.