Venetian dining – Queen Street style – at Polpo

I am a relative newby to Exeter and when we moved here Queen Street Dining was just coming to fruition.  As the restaurants opened, I popped in and basked in their glory. I even worked on the social media for a couple of them, but the one I have been really looking forward to is Polpo.

According to their website:

POLPO is a bàcaro. This is a Venetian word to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young Italian wines. We offer tasty small plates, Prosecco and Spritz in a setting that reflects the gloriously faded elegance of Venice, and the charms of its backstreet wine bars… POLPO has received the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand for the last six consecutive years.

I love the casual simplicity but distinct depth of flavour of Italian cooking. My husband is of Italian lineage and I have fond memories spending time with his family being taught how to make aubergine parmigiana. BH (before Husband) I toured Northern Italy as a twenty something with my girlfriends, hanging out in said backstreet wine bars in Venice and enjoying Firenze and Tuscany.

Given the love of al fresco dining in Italy, it seemed only fitting that we got our first real taste of summer in Exeter that night. As Lauren Heath (from Eating Exeter) and I enjoyed a G&T, we pictured ourselves in Venice taking in the surroundings.

G&T at Polpo, Exeter, pic by Stephanie Darkes

Lauren had been before and knew what to expect, the waitress suggested choosing two items each to try. With a selection of meats, fish, salad and the most amazing pizzette I have ever eaten (more about that in a minute) there is a lot to chose from. There is also a great selection for vegetarian (sometimes pescetarian) people like me.

For starters we opted for Arancini (rice balls in breadcrumbs), potato and parmesan croquettes, which nailed the Italian simplicity but didn’t really hit me with their flavour. The crab and chickpea crostini however was delicious. The heady crunch of crostini buttered with smooth chickpea paste and topped crab that tasted as if it was fresh out of the sea was heavenly – that’s when I knew we were definitely on to a good thing.

starters at Polpo, Exeter, pic by Stephanie Darkes, copyright exploring exeter 2017

The guys over at Devon Food Hour and Tara (from Tara’s Busy Kitchen) had recommended the stuffed fried olives, so of course I had to try them. Fried in light crispy bread crumbs, the juicy green olives came stuffed with anchovy (which I’m not a massive fan of) but it wasn’t overwhelming and they complemented each other. It was the perfect snack to have between courses with our saintly non-alcoholic elderflower cocktails (we wanted the Prosecco but we were both driving). 

stuffed fried olives at Polpo, pic by Lauren Heath of Eating Exeter

Pic courtesy of Lauren Heath whose phone is working much better than mine since I dropped it on the floor.

The next course was made up of Polpo’s signature meatballs (which according to Lauren were delicious). I ordered garlic and chilli prawns, perhaps a little overpriced at £8.40, they were very flavoursome and came in a very tasty sauce.

I also ordered a zucchini, parmesan and rocket salad which was HUGE (there must have been about three courgettes in there). The salad was tasty with a simple dressing and grated parmesan. I think it could have done with some more rocket to balance the courgette and perhaps a touch more zest in the dressing, but it was light and refreshing after the fried starters.

Polpo, Lauren Heath, Exploring Exeter

Pic courtesy of Lauren Heath whose phone is working much better than mine since I dropped it on the floor.

The pinnacle of my night however, was the spinach, parmesan and soft egg pizzette. I love a pizza that oozes with toppings and this didn’t disappoint, but it was the base that really blew my mind. It was perfectly crispy and delicious, neither Neapolitan nor Roman, it is in a league of it’s own. I could have happily sat there for the evening and worked my way through the pizza menu but alas my diet didn’t feel the same way.

pizzette, polpo, by Lauren Heath for exploring exeter

Pic courtesy of Lauren Heath.

For dessert I opted for the traditional Aperol sorbet, which, despite being liquor based didn’t taste alcoholic, it was light, sweet and refreshing.

Aperol sorbet at Polpo, Exeter, pic by Stephanie Darkes, copyright exploring exeter 2017

Lauren had the panna cotta with strawberries and basil. Oddly, I hadn’t tried the basil / strawberry combo, I’m not sure why but I will definitely be trying it again soon. It was a summer evening epitomised -fresh, breezy and warm, the panna cotta could have been slightly firmer but it tasted divine.

strawberry and basil panna cotta at Polpo, Exeter, pic by Stephanie Darkes, copyright exploring exeter 2017

The inside of the restaurant is gorgeous and simple, I especially loved the reclaimed (Victorian looking) tiles which I was reliably informed came from a London Tube Station. 

With it’s unique brand of Venetian Tapas, Polpo is a great addition to the Queen Street Dining area. Best visited with a group of friends (so that you can taste a lot of the menu without looking greedy or killing your bank balance).

If you do go, have some of the pizzette, I promise you won’t be disappointed!


I’d love to hear your thoughts on Polpo, please feel free to comment below.


For more Queen Street reviews check out:

My preview of Absurd Bird and read some by my friends at Eating Exeter’s here: Turtle Bay, Opening of Polpo, Gourmet Burger, KuPP.


Disclaimer: We were invited to dine at Polpo for free, the opinions are all my own.

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