T HERES a new gastro-trend in town: small Italian plates (some- times known as cicchetti, or spuntino) are springing up on menus all over London. The Italian version of tapas, they are perfect for picking at over a glass of wine, or making a proper meal of. We sent our reviewer Larushka Ivan-Zadeh to check out the latest small plates specialist, Polpo, and Stephanie Hirschmiller to round up the best of the rest. Polpo 41 Beak Street, W1 (020 7734 4479) DISTRESSED plasterwork, an imported tin ceiling and ancient carbon filament light bulbs bring old-world charm to Polpo, set up in an 18th century building where Venetian painter Canaletto once lived. Only open a fortnight and already buzz- ing with popularity, there are two sittings for dinner (6pm and 9pm) and diners turning up for their piccolo -- Italian for miniature -- plates are close-packed. It could feel like sardine hell, but doesnt, because everyone swaps ordering tips -- crucial when everything on this menu looks delicious. Its all small plates divided into meat, fish, breads, vegetables and salad, desserts, and cicchetti and crostini -- the latter are the (very) small plates which range from 1-2.10. Dont bother with the salt cod on grilled polenta, its titchy, advised the girl next to us, But you MUST get the pork belly (5.50). She was right. The velvety soft pork contrasted beautifully with the bitterness of the radicchio and crunchy hazelnuts. It w a s o u r fave, too. Well, that and the mack- erel tartare ( 5 . 4 0 ) , i t s succulence bal- anced with refresh- ing cucumber. Oh, and the soft cuttlefish in its black ink (6.20), the grilled garlic bread oozing olive oil (2.40), and the -- hang on, had we finished already? Time to order more of everything! And with plates ranging from 1 to 6.90, you can. The wine list, sourced from some seri- ously in-the-know Italian vineyards, is available in quarter- and half-litre carafes as well as by the glass and bottle. After two carafes, two glasses and more food, includ- ing anchovy and chickpea crostini (1.10) and a meltingly warm bowl of roasted autumn fruits with Amaretto biscuit crumble, we felt like wed ordered lots -- and were slightly dreading the bill. Yet we found it ridiculously good value at 70. As head chef Tom Oldroyd was previ- ously at Bocca Di Lupo, its no wonder this feels like its less costly, rustic cousin down the road. So far we only get lovely people here, sighed our waitress happily. Do come back again soon. More Italian tapas... Bocca di Lupo 12 Archer Street, W1 (020 7734 2223, boccadilupo.com) THE forerunner of Londons current foodie trend offers petite portions of practically every main dish on the menu. Each dish is defined by its region -- cres- centini (fried milk bread) with finocchiona (fennel seed salami) and the aptly named squacquerone cheese, from Bologna, 5.50; grilled squid with gremolata (garlic with parsley and lemon juice) from Liguria, 7; and cured langoustines and scal- lops with rosemary oil from Venice, 9.50. Sit at the white Carrara marble bar and watch the chefs at work in the kitchen. Cecconis 5a Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, W1 (020 7434 1500) THE cicchetti menu was born a few years ago as a nod to founder Enzo 18 Wednesday, 21 October 2009 London Lite STAR RESTAURANTH MartineMcCutcheonatTheCriterion PickupSmallisbeautifulforthe capitalslatesttrendin bite-sizedItaliancuisine cheese, leek, tomato bread & butter pudding (for 4) l40g butter l2 medium leeks, sliced l6 slices Warburtons Soft White Farmhouse cut into triangles l12 cherry tomatoes l150g mature cheddar, grated l600ml milk l3 medium eggs Layer bread in baking dish. Scatter leeks and halved tomatoes on top with half the cheese. Beat milk and eggs, pour on bread. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 30-35 mins. british beef & beetroot goodness sandwich (for 2) l4 slices Warburtons White lA little horseradish sauce l2 generous slices lean roast beef l1 small beetroot, peeled and grated l1 apple, cored, grated l red onion, sliced l2 tbsp low-fat mayo Spread horseradish on the bread. Mix beetroot, apple and onion, add the mayo. pile beef on top, sandwich together with the other slice for a perfect snack. INASSOCIATIONWITH1ingredient2ways the criterion 224 Piccadilly, W1, (020 7930 0488, criterionrestaurant.com) The Criterion is old-school power dining at its best. having first opened in 1874, it has featured in the fiction of Sir arthur Conan doyle -- and even as a backdrop to Batman film The dark Knight. who Martine McCutcheon dined here last week. who else patrick Stewart, Colin Farrell, anna Friel, david Soul, Olga Kurylenko. ambience The neo- Byzantine architecture with its grand arches, mosaics and shimmering marble is jaw-dropping. what to order highlights from head chef Matthew Foxons contemporary european menu include Gloucester Old Spot pigs head roulade (7) and five week-hung Galloway steak with sauted potatoes (28). Standout dessert is the Malva pudding with crme anglaise and amarula ice cream (7). what to drink pre-dinner cocktails, opting for the resolutely British cucumber and elderflower martini (8.50). best table The big round table for six at the back on the left -- trust us, youll look and feel as if you own the place. neXt best thing The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, W1 (020 7499 6996, thewolseley.com) Old-school charm: Martine McCutcheon dined at The Criterion last week BY LARUSHKA IVAN-ZADEH IN&OUTTONIGHT houseoffraser.co.uk/sale 50%OFF UP TO SALEENDS SUNDAY PLUS AN EXTRA 20% OFF SELECTED SALE ITEMS STARTS TOM ORROW bread! index.html2.html3.html4.html5.html6.html7.html8.html9.html10.html11.html12.html13.html14.html15.html16.html17.html18.html19.html20.html21.html22.html23.html24.html25.html26.html27.html28.html29.html30.html31.html32.html33.html34.html35.html36.html37.html38.html39.html40.html41.html42.html43.html