Polpo Exeter opening event by Chris Gower

18 Higher Market Guildhall, Queen Street, Exeter – T: @polpo

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Polpo now for, well… months.  We were sad to hear that Grillstock were going to abandon plans to visit Exeter but we knew that in its place would be something exciting.  There was the usual speculation from foodies and news outlets, but to hear that we were getting famed Venetian cuisine restaurant Polpo was a massive plus for foodies in Exeter.  Co-founded and steered by the charismatic writer and restaurateur Russell Norman, we grabbed 10 Questions with Russell soon after it was announced.

If you’ve never heard of Russell before then you might have seen him on telly as The Restaurant Man a few years ago.  If this is still not ringing any bells, take a look at this video.

The Founder. Russell Norman / Polpo restaurant from The Founder on Vimeo.

He is currently writing another book about Venice, having just returned from a 10 day stint.  Polpo even take their staff to Venice to experience the Venetian way of life so they can themselves share that passion with their customers.

Their latest restaurant is Exeter which is now open for business.  We were invited along to sample what makes Polpo special.

IMG_20170405_203416076

Polpo is the the result of a long love affair that Russell has with Venice and its culture. He is an apostle for the Venetian way of eating and drinking, and a font of knowledge about the subject too.   Just chatting to him casually in the restaurant made us realise that he was passionate about Polpo, the brand, the ethos and its mission to keep things cheap and simple.

Russell was the first person we saw on the door.  I turned to Tori and said in not-so-hushed amazement, “That’s the founder, Russell Norman!” My powers of discretion are terrible.

Taken to our seats by a friendly waitress we were in one of the booth seats by the kitchen, a perfect place to see how the kitchen worked and watch service at work.

The interior of Polpo was as I thought it would be, a well thought out collection of reclaimed features including the floor that was salvaged from an old hospital from The North. Hidden for decades under a modern floor, this addition to the restaurant is one of particular pride, so whatever you do, don’t drop your food on it!   The tiles, fittings and decor gave a feeling of faded elegance, but in such a way that it was clean and well thought out.

IMG_20170405_203421278

The menu is a simple, cheap and elegant.  There is the option to have a more substantial meal if you wish, or you can nibble on Cichetti, which is a little like Venetian tapas. Venetians often like to partake in a giro d’ombra which is essentially like a pub crawl with lots of little bits of food.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Russell for a mini-interview for the upcoming Eating Exeter podcast (launching soon!) he was absolultely brilliant to talk to, one of the things mentioned was the signature Fritto Misto and Red Chicory which I just had to go for. Both fabulous.

Lauren and Steve had Pizza with Cured Pork Shoulder & Pickled Pepper (jalapeño).  We were introduced to the concept of Braised Cod cheeks with lentils and the brave ones amongst us had Marinated Baby Octopuses… I didn’t because frankly, I am a wuss sometimes.

We were all treated to an Elderflower Martini which was more lime but had a back taste of elderflower which was punchy and refreshing.

There is a lot to say about Polpo.  Tonight was just a taster of what you can expect from this trendy Venetian restaurant.  We loved it.

Advertisements

The Hole In The Wall, Little Castle Street by Chris Gower

Little Castle St, Exeter EX4 3PX – 01392 437470 – www.hitwexeter.co.uk/

I am in my mid-thirties, despite the beard and the wrinkles which make me look well in to my forties (I’ve stopped playing Guess My Age as it is just depressing) I am thirty-five.  I am old enough to remember Boxes & Boogies Nightclub, The Hothouse, The Thirsty Camel, The Turk’s Head, Mambo… the list goes on.

The Hole In The Wall (THITW) is one of the names that I remember from my youth.  Unlike all of those that I mentioned, this pub is still going strong and is diversifying in the ever changable and turbulent economic environment that we live in.

A couple of years ago THITW suffered a devastating fire that caused extensive damage to the interior.  The owners rebuilt and refurbished, and now the interior feels fresh and lighter than it ever did before.  The pool tables are still there, and punters still come here to drink before heading over to Timepiece or downstairs to the not-so-private Private Cocktail lounge on the ground floor.

In the memories of many Exonians THITW is still a drinking pub, a place to get blotted rather than to grab some food.  But this is going to change after the recent appointment of Ben Corcutt to Head Chef.  Ben has worked for years with Adam Little (Exeter Golf & Country Club) and has now ventured out on his own with a fantastic menu that is going to make THITW a strong contender on the dining scene here in Exeter.

Ben invited us over to play some pool and sample some of the delights of his new offering, a menu inspired by slow-cooking and smokehouses.

The drink offerings are largely the big names.  Estrella, Carlsberg etc.I don’t think the demographic who come here are not overly interested in the Craft’s? although there is a bit more variety through the bottled options, THITW caters for sports fans with matches being shown during tournaments.  But don’t let the fact this pub shows sports put you off.

During our visit the rugby was playing and it was fascinating to see the men, the ball, the running and the throwing and the large periods of inactivity and walking around that happens whilst they decide who had the ball last and where they should throw it from. That’s how it works? Right?… Football is much easier to follow, and there is much more melodrama too

The menu is split in to sections – Lighter Bites, Something Larger, Burgers and of course Pizzas! I went for the Beef Brisket French Dip (£12) and Tori went for The Hole In The Wall Burger (£10).  Both come with a generous portion of skin-on chips.

The first thing that struck us was the generous portion size, the burger was big and thick with lashings of topping.

wp-1488017500809.jpg

The cheese dribbled nicely out of the sides and the bacon was crispy bacon with fresh greens encapsulated in a fresh bun.  The whole combination had a fantastic taste, the meat was well seasoned and juicy.

wp-1488017489134.jpg

With both of our meals there were beautifully cooked chips with no skimping on the amounts.

wp-1488017479184.jpg

The Beef Brisket French Dip came with a lovely large pot of gravy for dipping.  The beef was beautifully tender and well seasoned, combined with the cheese and the freshly baked sub; dipping bread and beef in to gravy has always been a naughty thing I would do after a roast dinner, mopping up the gravy with a bit of left over meat in a sandwich.

The strong taste of the gravy worked wonders with the beautifully tender beef as it soaked in to the fresh bread.

wp-1488017301157.jpg

Now here was an entire meal based on that delightful combination.  And with some lush chips to boot and a pint of Estrella.  Bliss.

wp-1488017336532.jpg

We finished off our meal with a game of pool.  I haven’t played pool in, literally, years and for my first game which I ACTUALLY WON was brilliant.  Then the second game, well, it took us 20 minutes to pot the balls and I expect we did that in the wrong order.  It took me back to my days as a student, strangely I played pool much better if I was drunk.

wp-1488017311709.jpg

wp-1488017306600.jpg

The Hole In The Wall has changed dramatically from my days of youth.  It has an air of sophistication to its look, the interior is light and refreshed and the menu is something to behold.  On food alone I would recommend this place to anyone, on booze then maybe to a certain type of person who didn’t mind the lack of funny craft ales that many pubs seem to have these days.  But this is made up for by the cocktail lounge on the ground floor that we got a sneak peek at before we left (available for private hire and parties by the way…).

Ben’s new menu is a fantastic example of how slow-cooked SHOULD be done.  The fad of slow-cooked meats is frequently replicated but rarely given justice, so to find a place that is doing it properly in Exeter makes me very happy.

ee-recommends_zpsgsj7cdqh.png