Please read the end of the review for my star rating and conclusion.
La Polenteria is a 100% gluten free restaurant in Soho, London. My boyfriend and I visited for dinner after a day out in London visiting the British Library and Oxford Street.
La Polenteria is the first 100% gluten free Italian restaurant in the UK and they use polenta as the basis for most of their dishes (if not all).
I’m not entirely sure where to start with this one so I’ll just say this – we were VERY impressed with this place. For a start, I tweeted them asking if they could cater to my dietary requirements (as you may know I’m GF, vegetarian and can’t eat alliums due to IBS, which makes life a little tricky at times). They responded almost straight away:
I was tentatively optimistic with this response, and pleased at how quickly and pleasantly they had replied.
When we arrived I informed the waiter of my various dietary requirements and the manager came over to talk me through the menu. He went through every dish and told me which ones were suitable and where possible which ones he could change to make suitable for me. I was delighted with the choice on offer – with the three limiting dietary requirements that I have, I’m quite used to having only one choice even in a specialist gluten free restaurant!
I opted for a polenta, fried egg, scamorza cheese (a type of smoked cheese) and asparagus dish for a starter and sage and parmesan gnocchi for a main course.
My boyfriend chose a spicy poached egg and fried polenta dish for a starter and the pasta with cheese for a main course (he kindly chose a main that was also suitable for me so that I could try some!)
We were both blown away by our starters.
I’ve had polenta before, but this was completely different. It had a beautiful creamy texture (the best way I can describe it as somewhere between mashed potato and risotto rice, but it’s too unique to directly compare to either of these) and the taste perfectly complemented the other elements of the dish. I’ve never had truffle oil OR asparagus before so this really was a new taste sensation for me – and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
My boyfriend was similarly impressed with his starter. His poached egg was served with a garlic and tomato sauce with courgettes and polenta croutons. The poached egg was delicate, not overdone, the croutons and sauce were deliciously flavoured and he even ate all of the courgettes (he HATES courgettes normally, despite me trying to encourage him to eat them 😉 ).
Both were beautifully presented, and although presentation has very little bearing on my opinion of a restaurant, it showed the extra care and love that they put into their food. Considering the quality of the starters they weren’t as expensive as you might think – £6.95 for mine, and £6.50 for my boyfriend’s. Considering the last time I was at high street Italian chain Pizza Express they charged me £5.50 for their starter of a ball of mozzarella with some pesto and tomatoes, La Polenteria’s prices are not as high as you might expect for a specialist independent London restaurant that caters for most dietary requirements. We were certainly impressed with this; being students we were a little worried that this one meal out might break the bank a bit, but it worked out at about £23 each (including VAT) for a three course meal (bear in mind we only had tap water).
After such delicious starters we were excited to see what the mains would be like.
La Polenteria make their own gluten free pasta, so as I expected, the pasta was not dry and chewy like gluten free pasta often can be. We ordered it with a creamy cheese sauce made of Gorgonzola. It was simply done, but the taste was incredible – perfect comfort food.
As much as we both loved the dish, we agreed that a vegetarian version of their bolognese would have been perfect with this pasta – even just a simple tomato sauce with basil and mozzarella (of course I’m biased as I can’t eat onions or garlic! 😉 ). This is personal taste ONLY, and I will definitely be asking for this dish again when we return (oh yes, we WILL be returning!!).
The gnocchi dish was a unique experience. I had gluten gnocchi as a child (before diagnosis) and was always sceptical about it – it was very heavy and tasteless. This polenta gnocchi was the complete opposite. Although filling, it didn’t have the horrible heavy texture that I remembered from “normal” gnocchi. The flavours were also perfect – truffle, cheese and sage. Again, the prices of these dishes were very reasonable when you consider the location and speciality of the restaurant – £12.00 for the pasta and £11.00 for the gnocchi. It may be slightly pricier than a typical meal out for us, but comparing again to Pizza Express, we normally pay a minimum of £10.00 each for a gluten free pizza (depending on the toppings).
I think, for me at least, dessert was the highlight of this meal, partly because it was the first time I’ve had cheesecake since being diagnosed! Oh how I’ve missed it! The waiter asked me if I’d like it with strawberry or chocolate and when I paused he added “or both?” to which I replied yes, definitely both!
It was light, not sickly sweet, and the chocolate and strawberry worked perfectly together. I’ll be dreaming about this cheesecake until we’re able to make another trip to London!
I also think it’s worth commenting on the service. Lots of eateries have quite cold staff, who just see serving as a job (understandable as I know it’s not easy job, having worked in similar environments) but La Polenteria’s staff were happily an exception to this rule. As I said earlier the manager ran through the menu with us, but we were also served by a waiter and a waitress who supplied our drinks. Nothing was too much trouble, they were all very friendly and approachable and we were very happy with our service.
As for the feel of the restaurant itself, like most London eateries it was small, which is pretty much unavoidable for an independent place. Having said that we certainly weren’t cramped or being forced to overhear everyone else’s dinner conversation. As it was a Saturday night it was very busy, and every table was filled, yet still we had space to breath. The decor was subtle and the room felt very comfortable. Unlike Beyond Bread (review here) they were toilets, which we both found to be clean and even featured these brilliant little signs that gave us a chuckle:
After such a glowing review I feel I should attempt to give some negatives, but I truly am struggling to think of any! So I thought it best to perhaps end on some suggestions instead. In terms of the range of food offered, we were very happy that I (with as many food issues as I have) was able to actually have a choice, but I also think that it would nice to see some other types of dishes on the menu. For example, I would be excited to see what a pizza with a polenta base would be like – delicious I imagine!
As for the pudding menu, there were only four choices – we both felt that a few more choices would have been a nice way to round off such a perfect meal – perhaps an ice cream or sorbet choice as a palette cleanser (although as I said I was ecstatic with my cheesecake).
You may have already guessed what star rating I will be giving La Polenteria.
5 out of 5 stars for safe dining for Coeliacs, accommodating staff and great customer service, unique and delicious food and a reasonably priced menu. I will be recommending it to anyone who will listen!