Like most food lovers in London, I like the small snack-y Italian dishes served at Polpo. Their fried goodies, pizzas and seafood are dependably good; prices are reasonable; and the atmosphere’s lively. The only thing not to like are the queues that form every night thanks to Polpo’s no-reservations policy.
So really, I should have known better when my friends and I made plans to drop by Polpetto (Polpo’s recently-opened sibling) on a Wednesday evening. Optimistically, I’d hoped that because we were arriving just before 7 pm on a Wednesday, and because the initial-opening hype had died down, the wait would be minimal. Based on early reports by Gourmet Chick and Hollow Legs, who were at Polpetto during their soft opening (when prices were 50% off), Polpetto sounded like a real winner. So I figured the risk of a wait would be worth it.
Well. The four of arrived at just before 7 pm, and the *single* four-person table was occupied. (Polpetto, you may have heard, is about half the size of already-tiny Polpo). So Polpetto’s maitre d’ took one of our mobile numbers and promised to text us when the four-top was free, which he estimated to be in an hour, max.
The French House, the pub downstairs, was heaving, so we parked ourselves next door at slightly-seedy-looking Lupo (whose bartender, by the way, gets a shout out for exceeding expectations). We chatted, we sipped, we waited. At 8 pm, we received a text saying the table in question had skipped dessert and was on coffees. We got excited and finished our drinks.
8:05 pm – We received a text saying that Polpetto was cash only that evening. So we wandered around Soho for the next 10 minutes looking for a cashpoint. They’re not as ubiquitous as you’d think.
8:15 pm – We received another text informing us that the table in question still hadn’t paid their bill.
8:30 pm – We gave up on Polpetto and just walked over to Leong’s Legends (which is clearly visible from Polpetto). Good ol’ Leong’s. There, we loaded up on xiao long bao (slowly going downhill, but still better than most London versions), dou miao (sauteed snow pea leaves) and pork belly dishes (both the gua bao “taiwanese kebabs” and the braised dish). £15 a person. All good.
Really, nothing is worth a 90-minute wait (at least). And why is Polpetto able to seat only one group of four at a time? Were there no adjoining two-person tables that became free over the course of 90 minutes?
Advice: If you want to eat at Polpetto, go as a party of two. Not four. And have a backup plan. Leong’s will do just nicely.
Alternatively, don’t even try to get into Polpetto. London Eater thinks there are more misses than hits on the menu anyway. If you simply must have your bacaro experience, stick with Polpo instead, where even on a bad night, I’ve never waited more than an hour. And at Polpo, you can order food while you wait at the bar, which is something you can’t do at Polpetto.
Leong’s Legends, 4 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AX; 0207 287 0288; closest Tube station: Leicester Square
Polpo, 41 Beak Street, W1F 9SB; 0207 734 4479; closest Tube stations: Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus