Old Compton Street – La Polenteria:
Polenta is cornmeal boiled into a porridge, and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled. The term is of Italian origin, derived from the Latin for hulled and crushed grain (especially barley-meal). Maize was not cultivated in Europe until the early 16th century. It comes from the same base as “pollen”. As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge), commonly eaten since Roman times. Before the introduction of corn from the New World in the 16th century, polenta was made with such starchy ingredients as farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, or chickpeas.
Sold? Well maybe not. But, you need to try it before you make a decision. For me, it’s a bit like a pizza base, something that will work with all sorts of toppings – and at La Polenteria, entrepreneur Cristina Sparcaci is aiming to show the London public just that. She’s created a unique cafe serving a menu that may not be authentically Italian but that does provide the kind of food I can see becoming quite a trend.
I went along for a quick supper after another food event, perhaps a little fuller than I should have been given the intention to try the food. As a result we shared a salad to start – a delicious, light rocket, orange and fennel salad.
My main course of Polenta with wild boar ragu is a classic Northern Italian dish. I’ve eaten much the same in Florence and I’ve tried on occasions to make a ragu that has the right depth of flavour. Whatever is done in the Italian kitchen to create that smokey, rich, tomato flavour is not something I’ve ever managed to replicate. But at La Polenteria the ragu does have all the taste of Italy.
Baccala’alla Vicentina was a richly tomato based fish sauce and I’d have been happy to swap places with my dining companion. And there are more menu options that sound well worth exploring including a Burrata and fresh chopped cherry tomato option and Tuscan sausage with borlotti beans.
There are more salads and sandwiches, wines and craft beers to drink and some excellent coffee and desserts to round off the meal on offer too and I’m sure if I worked in the area La Polenteria would become a lunchtime regular with main courses start at around £7.00 for the vegetarian and vegan options. As it is, I’m looking for an excuse to drop in again sometime soon to try one of the sweet polenta dishes.