This summer, it’s all about the spritz. If it’s orange and topped with prosecco, you better believe that I’m having more than one. From apéritifs to digestifs, Italian drinks are having quite a moment. While traditionally consumed as a prelude to meals, these days you can’t go anywhere without the lurid hues of Campari, Aperol or some other continental concoction. I love the idea of a long drawn-out evening spent tucking into a good meal, particularly with cocktails at hand. So, it wasn’t long until I jumped at the chance to check out the Venetian plates and summer spritzes at POLPO.
Bringing a slice of Venice to Covent Garden’s Maiden Lane, POLPO exudes Italian charm. From the unassuming store front, to simple wooden tables and rustic features, you feel a sense of simplicity. Like a real Italian Bácaro, this Venetian-inspired eatery is heavy on the wine and cocktails, so we go for apéritifs – to stimulate the appetite, of course. The Americano (£7.50) is a classic mix of Campari, vermouth and soda, while the Negroni Sbagliato (£8.50) is a welcome twist on the traditional blend, substituting gin for prosecco.
Delving into food, the menu is split into chicheti (Venetian snacks), fish, meat, pizzette and vegetables – all designed to be shared. We start with oozy balls of ‘nduja and mozzarella arancini (£4.50) and anchovy-stuffed fried olives (£4.20) – yes that’s right, stuffed and fried – which blew our minds. Braised scallops (£9.90) are served in a creamy sauce with peas and smokey pancetta, while crab and chilli linguini (£9.80) is perfectly indulgent.
Attempting to be slightly healthy, we order the spinach pizzette (£8.50) although it’s topped with lashings of parmesan and the kind of poached egg that screams yolk porn, so our bid for vegetables is void. Ultimately, we’re true carnivores at heart, so the meatballs (£6.80) are a no brainer. Juicy hunks of spicy pork are complemented by fennel and drenched in tomato sauce.
Desserts come in the form of Italian classics and we go for the tiramisu (£5.30) and panna cotta (£6.50) topped with rhubarb. Both come in pots and melt-in-the-mouth, with the boozy tiramisu in contrast with the light panna cotta. By this time, we have almost finished a glass of wine (from £3.50 a glass) and Venetian Lady (£8.50); a frothy mix of gin and limoncello shaken with egg white and angostura bitters.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Located in the heart of London's theatreland, this branch of POLPO attracts less musical-goers and more punters looking for an all-round good time. Of course, you can stop by for pre-show nibbles – I’ve visited distant cousin Polpetto between performances of The Cursed Child – but this West End spot is a much better fit for diners who have the time to indulge.
With an impressive combination of delightful cocktails and thirst-quenching wine alongside mouth-watering dishes and moreish desserts, you’ll want to spend a whole evening. Soft lighting and rustic details create a soothing ambience, while attentive service and reasonably priced food make this the perfect spot.