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New to Exeter: Polpo

Imagine our excitement at hearing the words 'Polpo's coming to Exeter!'Muddy Devon was at the launch, naturally.

Not much gets past us at Team Muddy and a decent new restaurant opening stands no chance. So when ‘the call’ came, inviting us to attend a preview evening at Polpo in Exeter, the newest addition to the Venetian inspired restaurant brand, we had already been online for a peek at the menu and virtually ordered everything on it.  The fact that Polpo is a household name in London, with a banquet of choice awards to its credit (including a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand and a CATEY no less), resulted in an unusually prompt arrival by two hungry Muddies, keen to get stuck in.

You’ll find Polpo’s latest restaurant on Queen Street, the heart of Exeter’s dining destination, located in the newly invigorated Higher Market Guildhall. It describes itself as a ‘bacaro’, a humble eatery, serving simple traditional Venetian dishes and young Italian wines. The fusion of well put together ‘eats and wine’ has seen previous success for Polpo’s London, Brighton and Bristol branches and so the bar has been set high for Exeter.

We arrived at Polpo on a midweek evening, to see the Guildhall square aptly abuzz with people.  Hey, I’m not suggesting that Exeter was channelling Venice on that particular night, but the giddy excitement of a bit of early evening springtime sunshine was certainly an atmospheric prelude to the Venetian vibe inside. The vibrant Exeter restaurant honours its bacaro niche, adopting reclaimed oak flooring and authentic glazed Victorian tiles from the Metropolitan Line to create a lived-in look. Glam leather seating and low key dangling lightbulbs add to the sense of deliberate faded glamour. So far, so very Muddy.

We were warmly greeted and then seated at a perfect people-watching spot in the heart of the restaurant. Our waitress immediately clocked us and delivered a refreshing, traditional Venetian Bellini swiftly followed by scrummy little plates of Arancini and Mozzarella, tomato and basil skewers.

Plates empty, next a chance to look around (read: be nosey) and admire the layout. Polpo has a fully open kitchen, bringing with it all the convivial noise and buzz of a busy eatery, as well as the chance to watch your food being freshly prepared. The seating ranges from intimate tables for two, large long table set-ups for groups and cosy leather booths. If you fancy a more casual – and authentic – affair you can also perch on a stool and eat up at the bar, making for a very sociable dining alternative (perfect for a business lunch or quick post-shopping bite with friends).

So back to the menu which, we were informed,  had been created exclusively for Exeter.  The premise of sharing food plates isn’t for everyone, but with a menu like this, it’s the perfect way to try amazing dishes you could otherwise miss out on by sticking to a well-trodden foodie path. After a healthy amount of faux deliberation, we really went for it, with a selection of plates to give us a typical Venetian food experience, helpfully steered by our waitress who was also able to suggest very quaffable wine to complement our selections.

We continued with our ‘Cicheti’, ordering potato and parmesan crocchette and then my personal favourite, Beetroot cured salmon, horseradish cream and dill crostini. We also squeezed in a delicious Pizzette, one of the specials of the day, adorned with parmesan, zucchini and chilli and was so fresh and moreish I was tempted to order another right away.

We decided to follow on with a traditional crab and chilli linguine which was accompanied by enticing plates of mushroom and Taleggio piadina and a fennel, green bean and almond salad.

Such was the rapture of eating the scrumptious trio of dishes, that for one brief, mad moment we couldn’t imagine having room for dessert. We battled through and bravely finished with an exquisite looking and tasting flourless chocolate and almond cake and an equally yummy orange polenta cake.

I’m not really sure what we expected from the Polpo Experience, but what we got was something I’d go back for again and again.  The dishes are flavoursome and fresh, delicately balanced and well-presented; there is a genuine wish for you to get stuck in and enjoy the experience of trying out the variety on offer and it’s a bonus that you can simply add to your order ad-hoc if you so desire. Although a word to the wise, those small plates suddenly multiply and I found myself slightly cursing my fitted (and getting increasingly tighter) skirt!

The staff are charming, welcoming and attentive (the right amount of attentive too), as well as impressively knowledgeable about the menu and wine list, which is always agreeable when you have a medley of delectable dishes and beverages to choose from.

Frankly it was all a little bit too inviting, because I’ve already been back since and happily set up long-stay camp on those cosy leather banquettes, although this time dressed ‘match ready’ in elasticated trousers, suitably stylish ones, obviously – standards!

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good For: Anyone looking for a relaxed atmosphere, hosting a large family gathering, finally getting that long-overdue catch up with friends, swooping in for a post-shopping recharge treat and crucially the most envied takeaway breakfast your workplace will ever clap eyes on!  Yes, did I mention that, exclusively for Exeter, the Polpo team are now offering their rather splendid take on breakfast paninis, cakes, pastries and coffee to eat in or takeaway from 8-Noon every day.

Not For: People who don’t like to share food (although to be clear this is not an actual prerequisite of dining here!). Older children will probably really enjoy sampling the variety of offerings. Smaller children may not be obviously enchanted by the menu, but I know a small mudlet with very refined taste in olives who may take umbrage with that assertion! The atmosphere is certainly family friendly.

£££: All very reasonable prices for perfectly sized and well-presented portions. Starters are around £2.50-4.90 apiece, with puddings pitched from £4.00 -£5.90. Al a Carte Mains are from around £6.20 – £9.60. The ‘All Day’ Menu is available every day from 11.30 am until 6pm, with a two course priced at just £10.90 and three courses at £13.90.

Polpo Exeter, 18 Higher Market Guildhall, Queen Street, Exeter, EX4 3FB. Tel: 01392 422439. Polpo.co.uk

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