Since writing this post 'da Polpo' has been re-named 'Polpo Covent Garden'.
In much the same way as people are always 'rushed' to hospital and champagne is always 'quaffed', it's seemingly impossible for Polpo, Russell Norman and Richard Beatty's Beak Street restaurant (as if you didn't know that) to be described as anything other than 'wildly' popular. I should know - mea culpa.
For many restaurateurs, such success would be enough, but there's been no R&R for R&R who, in under two years, have gone on to open Polpetto on Dean Street and Spuntino on Rupert Street, as well as converting what was the private dining room at Polpo into a stylish Campari Bar. The latest addition to their burgeoning empire (do empires ever do anything but 'burgeon'?) is da Polpo in Covent Garden, their first foray outside of Soho.
Despite what the name might suggest, da Polpo is more than just another branch of Polpo, although it's certainly closest to the original site in character and size. Rather, it's a combination of all the best bits of the other restaurants, with a couple of new details added due to popular demand. A 'Greatest Hits of Polpo' if you like, following the difficult third album, with its interminable delays and creative crises, that was Spuntino. So, filament lamps, brown paper menus, maps of Venice and, most importantly, the now-familiar Italian-influenced food are all present and correct, but now bookings are taken into early evening (until 5.30) and there's a table that seats groups of up to twelve. It's the most obviously commercial and, in more ways than one, accessible of the group, and unsurprisingly, it's very, very good.
Da Polpo offers a variety of seating areas each with its own character; a banquette-lined back room well-suited to families (plenty of parking space for buggies), high counters made from recycled school desks ideal for casual grazing, and more business-like tables for two in the main room. There's also the option to sit at the L-shaped bar, and it was here that Alyn and I settled in for lunch on my birthday a couple of weeks ago.
Fairly famished from traipsing around the Miro exhibition at Tate Modern, we started with a couple of pizzette, the gorgeous Peter-Piper-picked-a-peck-of-pork-shoulder-and-pickled-pepper (it's not really called that, but it should be) and spinach, parmesan and soft egg which was fabulously Florentine. Next came a perfect fritto misto, a huge mound of crisp, oil-less seafood including prawns, calamari and little fish (possibly whitebait, possibly anchovies, definitely delicious) which I hope will remain on the menu forever - it's the kind of dish I'd make a special journey for.
We followed that with more prawns, this time grilled with garlic, chilli and parsley - simple, wonderful and, at £6.40 for six huge prawns, good value - and some chickpea 'meatballs' in tomato sauce which surprised us - sworn carnivores both - with how, well, meaty they were. Salty, matchstick-thin zucchini fritti were an ideal accompaniment. As a final birthday treat - OK, treats - I tucked away a tiramisu pot (still as 'textbook' as when I first enjoyed it at Polpetto) and a Bellini sgroppino, a scoop of lemon sorbet drowned in Prosecco. It was terrific, as you'd expect a booze float would be.
As well as delivering great food in very pleasant surroundings, da Polpo is good value too; all of this, with a carafe of Polpo house wine, a couple of beers and 12.5% service came to about £55. In common with its sibling sites, staff have clearly been recruited for their enthusiasm and charm as much as their ability although not, regulars might be surprised to note, for their tattoos, all being remarkably ink-free. Joking aside, this does add to the feeling that da Polpo is designed to be more approachable, less trendy than its Soho stablemates, making it perfect for more conservative Covent Garden.
It will, I think it's safe to say, prove to be 'wildly popular'.
Footnote: The morning after writing this post I found the bill and spotted that my desserts weren't added - well it was my birthday - so the total bill should have been around the £65 mark; still great value.
Polpo Covent Garden, 6 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7NA Tel: 020 7836 8448 http://www.polpo.co.uk/