Venetian cuisine in the heart of Exeter

Ask a chef where you should go if you had one meal out in London, and there’s a good chance they’d tell you to head to POLPO in Soho. The uninitiated might walk past this unassuming Venetian restaurant with rustic veneer, but the queue around the block would suggest there’s more to this restaurant than meets the eye. Six years of receiving Michelin’s prestigious Bib Gourmand later, the eight tentacles of POLPO’s iconic emblem has become a guild for perfectly delicious small plates of food.

Like its namesake, POLPO has been growing; working its way west and has now firmly planted its eighth tentacle in Exeter.

Shoppers, lunch-breakers, day-trippers, hand-holders and hungry wanderers will love the osteria menu. With two courses for £10.90, or three for £13.90, this affordable, short menu provides the perfect backdrop for meeting an old friend over an antipasti platter, or perhaps finding a comfy corner to dream away the afternoon with a comforting bowl of crab and chilli linguine washed down with a young crisp Italian white.

Italians know how to combine simple ingredients for big bold flavours, and the main menu is a testament to the revered cuisine of the motherland. Vegetable-lovers will adore the inventive, seasonal produce standing proud on the menu, including zucchini, parmesan and basil salad, and gnocchi, kale pesto and pecorino.

With the Adriatic Sea lapping against its worn, wooden structures, Venetians are masters of seafood, so try the whipped smoked mackerel, pickled radish and carta di musica (crisp bread as thin as music paper). It goes without saying that the octopus is unmissable.

With the exception of a couple of options, most dishes on the menu weigh in at under £10. Plates are larger than tapas, but smaller than a belly-bursting ‘I couldn’t possibly manage another bite’ main meal. It’s the sort of food that provides the perfect excuse to slip out straight from work for a refreshing aperitivo and a couple of plates to keep nibbling away late into the evening.

Early risers can make like an Italian and take a morning espresso on the terrace. For something more substantial, the comprehensive breakfast menu promises plates pre-packaged for your Instagram feed – try the broad bean, ricotta and mint bruschetta or the damn-right delicious Venetian doughnuts.

18 Higher Market, Guildhall, Queen Street, Exeter, EX4 3FB 

01392 422439

  • Kids welcome

Opening hours

Mon – Thu: 8am-11.30pm
Fri – Sat: 8am-1am
Sun: 9am-10.30pm

Sample menu

Small plates
Rabbit, apple, celery and walnut salad, £8.30
Whipped smoked mackerel, pickled radish and carta di musica, £6.70
Ribbon steak, field mushrooms and lamb’s leaf, £9.80

Pasta
Beef shin ragu, pappardelle, £10.80

Meatballs
Chickpea, spinach and ricotta, £5.80

Dessert
Nutella pizzetta, £5.50

Insider’s tips

You can take home the experience and recreate these dishes at home with the POLPO cookbook, which won Waterstone’s Book of the Year in 2012.

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