Pollo Bar: Soho's favourite Italian for generations dismantled and dumped...

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The 101 Snack Bar, Valtaro, Centrale, Cappuccetto, and Pollo cafes in Soho were all destroyed in the weeks leading up to March 2005, (The Presto had of course been horrifically 're-fitted' years earlier).

All were well-loved, cheap eateries that had been serving enthusiastic customers for generations. Now, only Maison Bertaux, Bar Bruno, Bar Italia, Tratoria Aldo, and the New Piccadilly from the original generation of boho-artisan cafe/restaurants, remain.

But probably not for long.

The Pollo, at 20 Old Compton Street, with its ox-blood booths, Lapidus beanpole railings, Contemporary ceiling, murals, top notch signage, and perfectly preserved light fittings always had hungry queues waiting outside.

It remained the proverbial Soho institution for as long as anyone could remember. A proper bargain Italian with perfect 60s decor, friendly banter and a worryingly high turnover of chefs (there always seemed to be a 'chef wanted' sign in the window).

The passing of the Pollo, and its compatriots, signals the wholesale descent of Soho into Little Tyneside mode.

The area bounded by the four Circuses (St Giles, Oxford, Piccadilly, Cambridge) is rapidly becoming just another standard-issue British city centre: a dreck strip reeking of piss, blighted by St*rbucks, and heaving with feral packs of drunks.

A lousy pulsing puke puddle at the heart of the third-world capital of Europe.

In memorium, here are some memories of the Pollo in happier times...

"Cheap and cheerful remains the operative term at the long-standing Italian café Pollo on Old Compton Street.

The almost endless hand-written choice of pastas has now been typed up for easier interpretation, but otherwise the menu remains much the same as I remember it being 20 years back.

The food is still hearty, the prices are laughable for central London, the coffee is rocket fuel - and the waitresses still insist on doubling you up in the booths with complete strangers.

Plenty has changed in London. Fortunately, Pollo hasn't...

The Pollo often finds its way onto the 'top cheap London eats' lists, and it was the Evening Standard listing under budget eating that first nudged me in its direction a few years ago...

It isn't fancy. It is an Italian restaurant. The inside looks something like a truckers caff, with Formica tables and little booths, and there is more room downstairs if it looks full. There isn't a lot of space and the tables are packed in, but the food is good.

There is a choice of starters, either a smaller portion of any of the pasta dishes, soups (the gazpacho, although strictly speaking Spanish rather than Italian, is nice!), garlic bread (a little disappointing, but then, it isn't really an authentic Italian dish), and some lovely side salads which cost from £1.50 - £3.50.

The main courses consist of a variety (unsurprisingly) of pasta and pizza dishes, again the price range for these tends to be between £3 - £5. There are some risottos as well, and some meat dishes, such as chicken with rice or veal which are a bit more expensive.

Being an italian restaurant it caters very well for vegetarians, with a wide range of options offered.

Portions are generous and I've never been disappointed by the food. Dessert include Tiramisu and Panetonne, and also ice cream.

It is possible to buy carafes and half carafes of house wine, but there isn't a separate wine list as such. You can always ask for tap water as well!

If you want good cheap food it's a great find... beats fastfood places like Pizza Hut hands down!"


(The pictures above are test shots taken on a recce for the Classic Cafes book, circa September 2003. Intended only to be used as reference prints for chapter sections, they were fired off all too quickly and shoddily under very rushed conditions. Unhappily, we never were able to organize a proper editorial session.)

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