The London Bluebird has ticked another birthday off the calendar. To celebrate, Mr Bluebird took her to Polpo, a restaurant so authentic and unpretentiously Venetian that I nearly walked out into Beak Street and hailed a gondola. The really fantastic thing about Polpo is the presence of the spritz, the Venetian mid-morning tipple of prosecco and Campari. The Venetians like to start drinking early so there is time for singing and fights in gondolas. Venice is only sinking because of the vast amounts of vermouth and campari in it.
The food was outrageously decent and thoroughly good value. It does not take bookings for the evenings, however, so I would advise a lazy lunch booking for a weekend special event. Gorgonzola and walnut cloaked in a cheeky bit of mortadella – oh yes. Chicken liver crostini that melted in the mouth (oh my!) and a plate of anchovy-butter-soaked asparagus that made my head fall off. Oh, okay, not really, but you get the drift. London-Italian food (Lotalian?) has been too Tuscany-based and over-priced for the last ten years (don’t get me started on the prices at Little Italy in Frith Street. If you fancy you trip I suggest remortgaging your flat first) that it was great to eat something original and simple in a relaxed, low-key dining room.
The best thing, however, was the presence of appropriate music. I am not an old person, despite the fact that I have had a birthday, but I cannot dine to techno. It plays havoc with my innards. The unsuitability of music can ruin any occasion. Music has a memory – potent and imprisoning – and we are hostages to it. One great happy meal can descent into mawkish misery because the song playing whilst you wolf down a tiramisu is the same song that was played the day you were dumped in 1996. Music must be selected in terms of its ability to prevent indigestion because no one can have a fulfilling gastronomic experience with Celine Dion in the room.
This is where Polpo got it so right. They played very early Beatles, a dash of the Who, and St Albans greatest exports – The Zombies. The feel of the restaurant was very much New York modern distressed SoHo with a slap of early-1960s London on the top of it. The music enriched the experience and made us happy. However, I had managed to sit directly beneath the speaker so spent most of the meal like this:
Bluebird : It’s very good – have you tasted this chicken?
Mr Bluebird : What?
Bluebird : WHAT?
Mr Bluebird : Are you going deaf?
Bluebird : Yes, almond and orange cake.
When we paid up, we flattered the staff on the choice of music. Apparently the manager was away, which meant they got to chose the music at weekends. During the week, they said, the manager favours something more modern, a bit of techno… At the weekends they had carte blanche, which proves the well known fact that very often the bar staff know more about what people want than the managers do.
Last night my best friend and I went to L’Artista – a little bit of Naples in NW11 – for their consistently good pasta and antipasti. Another well-priced, unpretentious neighbourhood Italian, where the enjoyment of our evening was only marred by the presence of a huge, riotous birthday gathering on the table next to us who were guffawing, shouting and having a very high time indeed. In L’Artista, the staff play an old version of Happy Birthday over the loud speaker at top volume and get out cymbals and drums to accompany it. It’s very loud. It’s very Italian. Patrons who aren’t used to it start choking into their vongole. After the musical version of Happy Birthday is finished, L’Artista always play Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” at top volume and bang their cymbals a bit more. Okay, it’s not The Who, but it’s done in the spirit of generosity and is better than most restaurant music. Obviously, if Celine Dion came out of the kitchen banging a cymbal I’d smash it over her head.
Today I am praying it won’t rain as am off to the Aegon tennis at Queens Club, so apologies for the short blog update this week. Bluebird is armed for shenanigans on centre court – mac, umbrella and trilby-esque hat which unfortunately makes me look like Columbo. Unsure as to whether all three games will get played today – depending on whether the rain will hold off in West Ken – but we’re scheduled for Roddick, Nadal and Murray on centre court today (Woohoo!). So, if you watch BBC2 and see a lady dressed like a 1970s TV detective, slurping Pimms and using a “Let’s Speak!” Italian grammar book as an umbrella, then you have probably clocked the Bluebird. New balls please.
Next week – the view from behind Nadal (why does he spend so much time playing with his bottom?) and hopefully a review of my third Italian experience of the week – the Princi in Wardour Street where the mother of the Bluebird is taking me for breakfast on Friday. Arrevederci!
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