It was nearly ten years ago when the penny dropped for what POLPO should be. A bacaro in London. Venetian cicheti adapted for metropolitan sensibilities in a relaxed and slightly jaded urban setting. The emphasis would be on simplicity in terms of menu offer, wine list, design and delivery.

Several people questioned our sanity, but we became fixated on the idea that this was precisely the right time to open a casual restaurant serving great value sharing-plates in a pared-back noisy setting. We travelled back and forth between London and Venice, obsessing over the tiniest details, photographing paintwork, linen curtains and street signs. We compared the way that different bars made their Spritz and how different places cooked their calf’s liver. We collected butcher-paper place mats, wondering how we might source them in England. We scrutinized the tiny wine glasses used in the bacari and the tooth-pick skewered snacks behind the glass cabinets on the counter tops.

Back in London, our search for premises took an interesting turn. We were offered a site on Beak Street in Soho that had a blue plaque announcing that the painter Canaletto once lived and worked there. Canaletto – the most famous Venetian painter of the Baroque era. We smiled at the coincidence but realised that the site was too narrow and turned it down.

After another month of searching, without any luck, we happened to be passing and noticed the ‘Lease For Sale’ sign remained in the window. The agent confirmed it was still available, was it worth another look?

We went back and stood in the same narrow space, scratching our heads. If only we knew what lay behind the plaster wall. Whilst the agent turned a blind eye, a chair was picked up and punched through the wall. By putting our arms through the void and arms disappearing up to the elbow, we discovered there was another 18 inches of width. In previous refurbishment the tenants must have wanted straight walls, and had plaster boarded over the alcoves and recesses. (The subsequent strip-out uncovered all sorts of lovely features: fireplaces, 300 year old timber framed brick walls, glazed tiles, Victorian steel girders – all hidden for most of the twentieth century.) We made an offer on the spot and, once the legals were agreed, started building a month later.

POLPO opened on 30th September 2009, exactly one year after Lehman brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and kick-started the global economic breakdown. The friends and family who told us we were mad to open a restaurant in a recession were waiting to see if our gamble had paid off.

From the first day, we ran out of space. The sixty seats were booked every lunchtime, and in the evenings when, in order to make things as casual as possible, we didn’t take bookings, the restaurant would fill up by seven o’clock.

We’ll be celebrating our ninth birthday with (of course) a Spritz (or two). Every ninth guest will receive a  goody bag, one of which will include a very special golden ticket for a trip to Venice. Whether you win or not, celebratory party vibes will be ON! Come and help us celebrate! 

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The Polpo Team