When I heard that Venetian eatery, Polpo, was coming to Brighton, I was pretty excited. London’s Beak Street branch has long been a favourite of mine and is always a welcome stop-off after a day in the big smoke. So I expected great things from the Brighton branch – Russell Norman’s first venture outside of the capital.
When it first opened I visited a lot. I couldn’t get enough of the stuffed fried olives, spicy pork and fennel meatballs, zucchini, parmesan & basil salad, crispy pizzetta, fresh fritto misto and, of course, the Aperol Spritz. The service was great, the food was good, the place was packed and it felt like an exciting new offering that promised to bring a little bit of London glamour to Brighton’s dining scene. But a recent visit on a quiet Tuesday night showed a different side to the place and I left feeling disappointed, pondering whether Polpo will still be here this time next year.
The crab & chilli linguine was more or less crabless and soaked in a tomato sauce that tasted like it had come straight out of a tin. At £9 for a tiny portion, I felt this was pushing it a little. It also arrived in super quick time and was unusually hot, which made me wonder if it had been microwaved. The prosciutto pizzetta was OK but had far too much ham on top, making the base slightly soggy. The fennel, green bean & hazelnut salad didn’t particularly set my world alight – it was easy on the three main ingredients and bulked out by bitter salad leaves – but the fritto misto was still as light and fresh as I remember. A carafe of Corvina Rosso was also excellent. But at over £50 for a few small plates of food and couple of glasses of red, I was left feeling slightly robbed (and hungry!).
The experience wasn’t helped by bored-looking staff wearing blue plastic gloves who stood at the back of the restaurant and spent most of the night on their mobile phones. Never a great look – maybe save that for when the diners have gone home.
I love eating out, it’s one of life’s great pleasures and should feel like a treat; get the mix of consistently good food, service, ambience, price, cleanliness and overall experience right and you’re onto a winner. I have no doubt that if I went back on a busy weekend night the whole experience would be different, but this time I’m sad to say that Polpo failed to impress.
Polpo, 20 New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF. Tel: 01273 697361. Map.