Having loved Russell Norman's Venetian bacari inspired Polpo, on Soho's Beak Street, on several visits since it opened in late 2009, I just had to check out his new place Upstairs at The French House on nearby Dean Street. Cutely named Polpetto, this smaller version opened in late August. Lacking the atmosphere enhancing bar of Polpo (simply no space), I was sceptical whether they could import the feel of the original but as the food arrived I soon forgot all about the lack of a bar. This little sister differentiates itself by the label osteria, rather than bacaro (definitions seem a little fluid so in my book the former is a humble place to enjoy food and wine and the latter is a humble place to enjoy wine and food).
A rickety staircase to the side of the renowned French House pub leads to the first floor dining room. Considering the size of the room, table spacing is pretty good. Little has been done to the room save the tiling on the ceiling and ancient-looking lighting (both Polpo trademarks). On my visit, staff were all young and welcoming, even though we had no reservation and they were busy. I love a place where you can actually smell the food, rather than it being whipped out of the air by air-conditioning units before you can get a sniff. Here, everyone was checking out everyone else's plates appreciatively.
The menu is recognisable to those who have eaten at Polpo - why reinvent the wheel when it works so well. As at Polpo, the dishes, from small palette awakening Cicheti through to the desserts such as Pannacotta, blackberries and salted hazelnut praline, are packed with flavour. The light take on pizza, Pizzette Bianca is, if anything, even lighter and tastier than at Polpo. The Duck and porcini meatball is moist and meaty with that slight truffly flavour that porcini imparts. Even a spicy tomato sauce doesn't overpower. A dish of parmesan battered soft shell crab served on shaved raw fennel with a light mayo would have been perfect but for a slightly too thick batter. Sharing is the point here and whilst you may not want to share your dish, you will want to dive into those of others at your table. £40 goes a long way for two here. Terrific value and an experience you will want to repeat.
Upstairs at The French House
49 Dean Street
London W1D 5GB
Tel:+44 (0)20 7734 1969
Open 6 days a week: Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, noon to 3pm and 5.30pm to 11pm.
Closed Sunday and Bank Holidays.
Reservations are taken for lunch only
Reservations are not taken for dinner. Tables are allocated on arrival, first come first served.