There’s a reason that you can’t step into a London restaurant which opened post-Polpo without noticing at least a tiny whiff of Russell Norman about it. His places are so lovely that TV people asked him to be ‘The Restaurant Man’, which is essentially Father Christmas to Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ Grinch. I never made it to Polpetto’s first incarnation above The French House, but luckily for all of us chef Florence Knight’s magical dishes live again, this time in a cosily dingy and prettily dishevelled spot on Berwick Street.
The menu changes often, as every good menu should, and is stuffed with tempting dishes. Even being restrained we ordered enough to make this a very extravagant lunch, but only the hake with kohlrabi and some succulents I can only name because they’re still on the menu was a let-down, its tangy dressing completely distracting from the gentler ingredients. A side order of chickpeas with lemon, thyme and parmesan was excellent, settled in a light, buttery sauce which we all but licked off the plate.
But I could ignore even the chickpeas for another dish of the beef shin strozzapreti (£11), which was so delicious I couldn’t even stop to take a photo. A pile of fresh, soft pasta strips was topped with tender beef in a sauce rich enough to satisfy a Frenchman with gout. There must have been a lot of wine in there, and I think possibly even a bit of treacle. And even though you’re probably already sold I’ll mention the generous cap of grated parmesan that had just melted as the dish arrived.
Although that pasta definitely took gold, the maple tart was a serious contender. Its beautifully smooth, maple-laced egg custard filling was spectacular, the flavouring so gentle it could have been the work of Canadian elves who just happened to also be superb pastry chefs. I found the shortcrust just a teensy bit overdone and the clotted cream an unnecessary accompaniment, but neither of those things really matter when that filling is on your plate.
Service, as expected in Russell’s joints, was wonderful (though it did uncover a bombshell – they don’t get all of the service charge! Tip in cash please everybody) and while prices add up for an afternoon session, dinner would seem a lot more reasonable. If the fact that we’re accustomed to unpolished floors, small plates, tumblers for wine and no reservations means more meals like this, we should probably all just not worry about it.
11 Berwick St, W1F 0PL, 020 7439 8627