Behind the Venetian small plates, Prosecco and spritz that have made Italian chain Polpo one of the most revered dining groups in London lies a catering equipment estate designed to cope with everything that’s thrown at it. FEJ finds out why the kitchen of its newest branch in Chelsea is the product of everything it has learned to date.
If you’re looking for a word to define London restaurant chain Polpo then ‘bacaro’ sums it up quite nicely. As the company’s own website notes, it’s a Venetian term that succinctly describes a ‘humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines’.
The ‘bacaro’ philosophy has been intrinsic to the brand’s growth over the past few years, with the launch of its first site in Soho six years ago rapidly followed by branches in Covent Garden, Notting Hill, Smithfield and at Ape & Bird off Shaftsbury Avenue.
Its latest high profile opening is in Chelsea. Operating 24 hours a day and capable of serving up to 500 covers — each likely to be eating three small plate dishes from the Venetian-inspired menu — the team behind Polpo is only too aware that the equipment is the backbone of their operation.
Highly reliable preparation, cooking and holding equipment is especially important for the group, leading executive chef Jason Wass to work closely with key supplier partners, including project and installation specialist CCE, to create a bespoke kitchen solution that draws inspiration from the chain’s own expertise and previous experience of launches. One of the most pressing aspects for Wass was getting the right cooking infrastructure in place. As the heartbeat of the kitchen, it had to be capable of meeting busy periods of demand and coping with the relentlessness of daily service.
“We needed a cooking range that took the best points from existing Polpo restaurants, that could fit into the limited space of our new Chelsea site and, of course, to cope with a diverse menu, 24-hour operation and still produce the high quality dishes we are known for,” he explains.
One of the brands central to the solution it opted for was Valentine, along with its sister company Cuisinequip. The range at Polpo Chelsea features a built-in twin-pan Valentine Evo 2200 fryer and two twin induction hobs with four 8kW multifunction coils to allow for cooking with smaller pans at service time or larger pans for mise en place.
The menu is broken down into different stations and the equipment has been specified to turn it out quickly without any compromise on quality”
Hold function is standard on this type of induction, keeping the base of the pan at the set temperatures of 70°C, 95°C or 110°C; thereafter the control becomes a graduated power until full power is delivered at position 9. There is also a small deep-pan griddle which can be used for grilling food, or as a bratt pan for making things such as sauces and soups. Lastly a 4 x 1/3 GN wet-well bain-marie was fitted into the range for use during service times.
The space under the hob, meanwhile, was utilised by fitting a single drawer Adande unit to offer chilled storage at the point of cooking for the chefs.
The HWM-built cooking ranges provided through the Cuisinequip brand boast a strong 4.5mm stainless steel top and are fully welded for longevity, backed up by a five-year warranty on the induction cooking system.
Wass says that the equipment has been lined up to handle a menu and service that is unique to Polpo. “The menu is broken down into different stations and the equipment has been specified to turn it out quickly without any compromise on quality. For example, the meat balls are held in the ban-marie, the Valentine fryer handles dishes like the Arancini and Salt Cod Crocchette and the induction suite gives controllability for vigorous and gentle cooking that many of the other dishes require.”
With five other restaurants in operation, Polpo had the luxury of being able to draw on the performance of its existing catering equipment estate when deciding the specification of the kitchen in the Chelsea branch.
“We have taken our time to learn what works and what does not at our other London sites and to invest in high quality equipment that we know will not let us down in the very demanding service environment at Chelsea,” comments Wass. “In fact, it is performing so well that we plan to roll out this bespoke range to the other Polpo restaurants where we know it will deliver the best for our menus.”
The first Polpo opened on Soho’s Beak Street in September 2009. Coincidentally the building was once home to the Venetian painter Canaletto and there is a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate this. Polpo Covent Garden opened on Maiden Lane in June 2011, Polpo Smithfield opened on Cowcross Street in August 2012 and Polpo Notting Hill opened on Notting Hill Gate in June 2014. The latest site for the group is at Duke of York Square in Chelsea. Sister restaurants of Polpo include Polpetto, Spuntino and Mishkin’s, all of which are based in London.
The cooking range at Polpo’s new Chelsea restaurant features a built-in twin-pan Valentine Evo 2200 fryer, which handles dishes such as the Arancini and Salt Cod Crocchette. The Evo 2200’s pan is pressed from a single piece of stainless steel, ensuring optimum hygiene due to the absence of welds. The heating element pivots upwards for improved access to the pan when cleaning, while the pan is fully insulated to minimise heat loss during operation. The smaller ‘cold zone’ means that the Evo series will save between 5% and 10% of oil capacity, according to the manufacturer.
Tank: 2 x 7-8 litres
Dimensions: 400mm (w) x 600mm (d) x 850-900mm (h)
Load 3ph (1ph) amp:
21 (62) amp