The swanky new Queen Street Dining Quarter has added some hedonistic highlights to Exeter’s edible credentials. Yet, with the final opening coming almost a year after the first, could the best have been left until last? Kathryn Lewis investigates
Whether it’s the thriving music scene, creative art culture or indie eating-out empire; Exeter has always looked up to its big West Country brother. So when Bristol’s popular Venetian bàcaro (restaurant to you and me), Polpo announced that it would be launching its second South West casual dining spot in Queen Street’s final space, the city’s culinary congregation rejoiced.
VISIT FOR a contemporary take on Italian eating. Forget what you know about primi, pasta and secondi, and instead order to your heart’s content from an inventive Venetian menu morphing from snacks and topped breads to meatballs and fresh fish.
Like all good evenings, ours commenced with a negroni and a littering of tasty morsels from the cicheti offering. Gloriously salty, crispy fried olives stuffed with anchovies provided the perfect cocktail companion, while whole marinated baby octopuses spiked with chilli added a refreshing punch to proceedings.
The silky linguine laced with freshly picked crab, tangy chilli and lashings of rich cream that followed was deliciously indulgent, as were the ribbons of butter-soft steak topping garlicky mushrooms and peppery lamb’s lettuce. Pushing the boundaries of our waistband, a zesty orange polenta cake accompanied by an infused mascarpone proved that there’s always room for dessert.
DON’T VISIT if you’re not down for sharing. This place calls for your greediest companion and stretchiest trousers as the table slowly stacks up with cicheti, pizzettes and pastas. We’d recommend ditching the side plate and going straight in with a fork.
WE LIKED the trad Venetian decor and buzzy atmosphere. A couple hours spent working your way through the lengthy wine list from one of the red leather banquette booths and you could be forgiven for expecting a gondola as your carriage home.
INSIDER’S TIP Don’t fancy the formality? Grab a stool at the sleek Italian-style bar and graze over small plates of blushed beetroot cured salmon, oozing arancini and coppa, goat curd and pickled walnut adorned crostini while exploring the aperitivo inspired drinks listing.
What we ate (dinner)
Smal plates Stuffed fried olives; marinated baby octopuses; polenta crusted Venetian meatballs
Main Chickpea, spinach and ricotta meatballs; fritto misto; crab and chilli linguine; ribbon steak, mushroom and lamb’s leaf
Dessert Orange polenta cake