Poco is well known for its mission to source and cook food consciously, with care and thrift. The 100% seasonal, organic produce comes predominantly from community projects, farms and artisan producers within 100 miles and everything is recycled or composted to reduce waste. Yet it’s not until you visit Poco, set up by ethical eating pioneer Tom Hunt, that you appreciate how its mission statement translates into delicious, original flavours. Several years ago, I enjoyed a trip to the original branch in Bristol, which fits snugly among the independent businesses and the liberal, progressive community of Stoke’s Croft. So how would it fare the transition from Bristol to Broadway Market?
Poco’s sustainable ethos is reflected in the decor: LED lighting, clay-based paints and reclaimed timbers. English hardwood tables are adorned with simple sprigs of flowers and oil-burning candles that flicker gently in the hum of diners. It is a place where friends gather to share a meal, yet singles feel comfortable to eat alone with a book. We are welcomed by a personable waiter, who evidently understands the thin line between attentive and intrusive, and settle in with London beer and European wine. There are also seasonal cocktails designed and foraged for by co-owner Ben Pryor, who sips cider at the bar before wandering round to chat to customers. Considering it is still in its first week, Poco exudes a remarkably relaxed professionalism.
From Tom Hunt and his team in the bustling open kitchen come wave after wave of tapas dishes, each a miniature masterclass in how to balance flavour and texture. There are broad beans two ways: a crisp-shelled broad bean falafel with a soft, steaming centre and a lemony broad bean puree, intensified by the sour shock of pickled turnip. Sweetcorn and nutty spelt fritters leap in the sweet heat of English chilli jam, before being steadied by the fresh crunch of a coriander and spring onion garnish. The deep, mellow spices of merguez sausages sing from beneath a cascade of mild, earthy lentils, burnt shallot and cooling labneh. Only a dish of creamed corn and girolles is one-dimensional and needs a fresher, lighter flavour to lift it from its enveloping soft sweetness.
The pièce de resistance, cod’s head, arrives to squeals of protest from our (adult) neighbour that it is “looking at her”. Truth be told, it prompts a little squeamishness from us too. Yet, with its classic pairing of lemon, thyme and fennel, the meat from the gills and neck is tender and flavoursome. This dish embodies the Poco philosophy of economical nose-to-tail (or leaf to root) cooking that reminds us how divorced we are from our food’s origins and how delicious the ingredients we discard can be. And, in this way, we finish our meal with food for thought.