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13 August 2014

la polenteria | little compton street, london

last week on twitter i saw sally mention a competition she was hosting on behalf of la polenteria, and was instantly intrigued. i had a wee stalk of their twitter page, a couple of cheeky tweets were exchanged between them and i, and i decided i wanted to know more. i checked out the website, and learned essentially what the name already gives away; it's a polenta restaurant.

i love rice, and cous cous is one of my favourite meals... polenta isn't such a stretch from there, right? well, with that in mind, i headed for the menu to see how they were revolutionising what's essentially a staple in many cultures and diets. the answer: all of the ways; from h'ordeuvres type nibbles through to crisp breads, to bloody cupcakes! you name it, they were making out of polenta. their menu appeared to cover all bases as far as diet was concerned - vegan, vegetarian, not to mention that because there was no yeast being used, it was completely free from gluten too. to a fussy eater like me - and my fussy foodie friend whose birthday it was (for the purposes of this post, let's call him 'vegetarian'), it sounded ideal. so, i booked us a table and we went along on saturday night.

we kicked our polenta fiesta off with a couple of the cafe's famous polentini bites (not pictured, about £1.20 each from memory); small, round slabs of polenta with various topping on top to taste. we tried a couple of the gorgonzola, walnut cream and parmesan, and a couple of mixed veg in pesto and sesame seeds - the pesto one definitely won that round. the polenta wasn't as.. firm as i'd imagined it would be, so instead of a little crustini with topping, it was kinda... soft and mushy on the tongue. not bad, at all, just... unexpected.

we also decided to try a serve of the polenta bruschetta (about a fiver, i think?), because... what the hell, right? again, the polenta was the substitute for bread, and not crispy, but this time was less of a shock to the senses; polenta kind of has the texture of soggy bread, and that's not uncommon for bruschetta. after a while though, it all sort of became a bit 'samey'. maybe because with bread it's kinda bland and airy, and with polenta it's kind of thick and fluffy? it's definitely not a fair substitute for bread. i commend them for trying, but i'd rather bread in my bruschetta from now on please.

then came the mains. i've dropped red meat right out of my diet now, and slowly dropping out chicken. i really prefer to eat seafood to anything else these days, so i went for the 'prawns and cherry tomatoes cooked in white wine with freshly grated courgettes' option (about £13 i think), while the birthday boy opted for a vegan-friendly sicilian caponata with aubergine, courgettes and stewed coloured peppers (less than a tenner). each of the meals came on a bed of polenta. sounded great, we were hungry, and ready to go.

and then the meals came out. vegetarian's meal was placed down in front of him, and then in front of me was placed a plate of whole prawns, eye-balling me from their final polenta-y resting place. now, i've not forgone meat because of some deep seated ethical allegiance i have with animals, no. i love the taste of meat, it just doesn't agree with me. my vegetarian friend on the other hand? mucho ethicos. even still, i draw a line at eating something i have to decapitate and shell myself, in a restaurant no less.
vegetarian stared at me, as i stared at the whole prawns on my plate, wondering what the hell i was going to do. i asked the manager so kindly if he could ask the chef to... prepare them better for me, as i wasn't prepared to shell them myself. his reply was that "they don't normally", but considering the menu didn't exactly explain they were whole, and the restaurant was pretty quiet, he offered to do it for me. ah! blessings be; i assumed he'd take them away and do with them what was needed to make them edible.

oh no. no no. no. much to my - and the continued horror and judgement of vegetarian, the manager simply pulled out a side plate and began decapitating and de-shelling these poor bastards right at the table. the table where vegetarian was desperately trying to avoid the crustacean massacre happening next to his dinner. oh my, it was a sight to behold. i sat there, making small talk with the manager while he basically cut my food up for me like i was some sort of bratty toddler, and poor, poor vegetarian sat there quietly disgusted, but... eating nevertheless, because hungry.

the manager clearly thought nothing of it, and within minutes had given me back my meal. by then, it was kinda... not what i wanted to eat anymore. vegetarian was done, and i'd picked at enough of my meal to warrant getting the bill and bailing in favour of hitting hummingbird before it closed.  it certainly wasn't the ideal way to end the meal, but... he insists it was funny. i was mortified, and was sure i'd ruined his birthday. he assures me no. i dunno. it's certainly not an ideal situation to find yourself in while out to dinner!

what say you; was it terrible form, or a situation that could have been a lot worse?
also; what's your take on a polenta cafe?

Add your comment

  1. this post definitely made me cringe, kinda. (in a good way ;) polenta is good when its cooked properly. and I would've done the same thing if someone started cutting my food in front of me. awkkk. but hummingbird café...YES

  2. Oh goodness, that would have horrified me, haha!! Never tried a place like this before...not sure to do so now, haha!! x

  3. So weird that they started deshelling them in front of you instead of back in the kitchen.... That would have put me off them, I'm sorry to say. x

  4. Totally agree that they should've removed the prawns to shell them. I personally don't mind taking head/shells off, but not when they're covered in that much sauce and definitely not when I'm with a veggie/vegan! Not the biggest fan of polenta anyway so one to avoid for me!!
    Rosie xx

  5. WELL that's a strange way to go about it! Having worked in the lovely world of restaurants in the past, if a customer wants an altercation to their meal, even if it's something as simple as "removing the bread from the side of the plate of my salad" (that was actually asked of me once) you take it to the kitchen and you or the chef does it, not on the table? I find it very... well like I said, strange!
    I've never even heard of polenta until now, i'll have to do some research and see if anywhere in Gib makes it!

  6. it's something we used to have a bit as a child... like, polenta pudding and stuff? it's basically a filler. when it's done well, it's pretty noms though!

  7. definitely avoid! XO

  8. hmmmm I know... had i not been with a vego, i doubt i would have minded so much? i dunno. it was odd.

  9. hhaha, only one way to find out!

  10. Gail, I am as stumped as you. AS STUMPED.


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