Okay, so the first place I have decided to blog about is one of my new favourites – Bocca di Lupo. I’d been meaning to go there for ages, but somehow the food Gods did not look down upon me and so something always seemed to get in the way! For ages I drooled over the menu, added the website to my favourites and spent my time obsessively looking at pictures on, dare I say it, TripAdvisor. (Okay, let’s get this straight…. I have extremely mixed feelings about TripAdvisor! On one hand I hate it! I would never EVER go to a restaurant because it was recommended by TripAdvisor however, I must admit, and I am quite ashamed to say this, but I do quite enjoy the occasional look at pictures of random people enjoying a birthday at my favourite restaurants, then reading what they have to say about them…. more on this subject later) Anyway, last week I finally managed to get two spaces at the bar for lunch and well, all I can say is that I must have truly sinned in the eyes of the food Gods for them to keep me away from this heavenly shrine for so long! (Maybe they frown upon those who eat foie gras- in that case please forgive me lord as I sin every chance I can, and quite often even dream/fantasize about sinning- I guess I’m going to hell! Hopefully they’ll have foie gras there!
About two months ago, I had called Bocca di Lupo and tried to book a table for two. The woman on the phone was very nice and apologized for not having any available tables but offered instead a place at the bar… I debated and kindly reclined. I realise that this sounds extremely fussy but if there is one thing you should know about me… It’s that I am extremely particular. My dad always used to tell me that you could go to the best restaurant in the world and have the worst meal of your life because the guy on the next table smells like feet! The smallest thing can ruin an entire meal, whether it be poor service, bad company, stuffy ambiance…. Anything really. So although I may at times be called fussy, OCD or even just a pain in the ass, the truth is that I love food SO much that I just want the whole experience of eating to be perfect! (By the way, I admit to being all those other things too!)
But this time when I called Bocca di Lupo and was told there were only seats and the bar available, I decided to take it…. I couldn’t wait any longer to try the food and so made an exception. When I arrived at the restaurant I was pleasantly surprised. The ambiance was great throughout the restaurant and I actually quite enjoyed sitting at the bar. Apart from the chairs being a bit low for the high top (which sort of worked in my advantage because of less chance of spilling on myself) everything else was great. There were hooks under the bar top to hang bags and jackets and I very much enjoyed being in the hustle and bustle of the waiters and watching the food being cooked in front of you by the authentic Italian chefs shouting ‘Yes Chef’ after ever order. I’d say the only problem of sitting in front of the working chefs is that you want to order every dish that you see being made- Everything looked so good…. Oozing asiago on crispy polenta, homemade tagliatelle with buttery girolle mushrooms…. Warning: not good for a diet!
Our waiter brought us the menus and some delicious focaccia and ciabatta bread (One of my favorite parts about eating out!) The focaccia was delicious, light and soft with a crisp base and topped with just the right amount of caramelised onions. There were enough to add sweetness but not too much to steal the bread’s thunder. The ciabatta was good, nothing extraordinary but nice and fresh. They were both lovely dipped in the olive oil and I devoured the lot!
Of course, being me, I had already looked at the menu several times online and pretty much memorized the entire thing. I had already decided what I wanted to order, however was completely thrown off upon finding out that the pasta dish I wanted to try had been taken off the menu and on top of it all we were presented with an additional side menu of five polenta dishes- this changes everything! Bullocks!
After fifteen long minutes of umming and ahhing and with the help of our really patient waiter…. We finally ordered. – 3 starters, a main and a salad!
The first starter that arrived was the manzo di pozza- a cured beef carpaccio with rocket and shaved pecorino. (For those who don’t know, pecorino is a salty Italian ewe’s milk cheese with slight nutty undertones. It is a hard cheese and is often aged and used in pastas or shaved over salads. Please note: This cheese is utterly delicious and highly addictive!) The meat was really good, excellent quality and cut just the way you’d expect in Italy (by hand and therefore thicker than what you’d find in a commercial Italian restaurants), however I found that because the meat was cured, it was a little strong for my taste. It was quite overpowering and I had to use a good squeeze of lemon to cut through the meatiness. Maybe a balsamic vinaigrette would have done it well…
Shortly after we began tucking into the carpaccio our burrata with grilled aubergines and mint arrived. (I am obsessed with burrata! I first tried it on my very first trip to Rome and since then I can’t seem stop myself from hyperventilating every time I see it on a menu. But, let’s be honest, what’s not to love – Mozzarella which is stretched to form a skin and stuffed with a mozzarella curd and cream mixture- the queen of all cheeses!) Overall I was quite disappointed with this dish. The burrata itself was great, really thin mozzarella skin and a perfect oozy, creamy middle. However, I felt that the accompaniments didn’t do it justice at all. The aubergines were quite severely underseasoned, and frankly, I found the hint of mint in this dish a bit confusing.
The last starter we ordered was the suppli, which was no less than Absolute perfection! As you’ll soon find out, it’s quite rare that I praise a dish so highly but these little fried antipasti deserve every word! (Suppli are small rice balls (traditionally made from leftover risotto) native to the region of Lazio. They are stuffed with ragu and/or cheese, rolled in breadcumbs and deep fried. Yum! The name suppli come from ‘suppli al telefono’ which in Italian means telephone line. These delicious balls of goodness were given this name because if you break a suppli in half, the cheese in the middle pulls and stretches making it look like a telephone line. Note: Suppli are very similar to arancini which are from Sicily and are more round in shape)
If you go to Bocca di Lupo, I definitely recommend that you order the suppli. It’s so rare to find places in London serving suppli let alone places doing it so well… Beautiful crisp outside coating, perfectly cooked tomato rice and delicious oozy, stretchy cheese right in the middle.
After about a good ten minutes of watching the chefs at work, our mains arrived. Having indulged on the starters and eaten all the bread we decided to share a main (a pasta of course) and order Bocca di Lupo’s signature salad on the side. (Just to be clear… I’m not the type of person who shares a main course. Infact, I’m not the type of person who shares food at all…. I like my food and I like lots of it! However, this time I made an exception, mainly because I had my eye on some really great desserts and I needed to save room!)
The trofie alla genovese came first. (For those unfamiliar with this dish- Trofie is a short, semolina pasta typical to the city of Genova in Liguria. It is most commonly served ‘Alla Genovese’ (in the Genovese way) where it is tossed in a fresh basil pesto with green beans and pieces of potato.) I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The gorgeous handmade trofie was beautifully light, cooked just al dente and paired perfectly with the pesto, which, in all honesty, was pretty much faultless. Vibrant, fresh, and slightly nutty! The green beans looked really stunning in the dish. They were cut in to short pieces, similar to the size of the pasta, and were blanched well thus retaining their bright green colour and slight crunch. Surprisingly, the thing I liked most about this dish were the potatoes. Traditionally, substantially sized cubes of potato are used in pasta alla genovese, and can often make the dish taste a bit stodgy and bland. However at Bocca di Lupo, they’ve managed to find a way to balance this dish just right and have replaced the large chunks of potatoes that seem a bit out if place in the dish, with thin, elegant slices of new potatoes thus making the dish much lighter and giving it a less starchy mouthfeel.
All in all, I thought this dish was very well executed. It looked beautiful, tasted delicious and the only thing I could fault was the seasoning. Overall, (And this is just me nit-picking) the dish could have used a pinch more salt (People often under-estimate how much salt both pasta and potatoes absorb. In order to season them properly they must be cooked in very salty boiling water or the sauce used to accompany them must be slightly over seasoned thus balancing out the salt) In this case, perhaps the pesto could have been slightly more seasoned, so that when combined with the pasta the salt was balanced throughout the dish.
As for the salad…. Well, I can see why it’s the signature dish at Bocca di Lupo. Very light, refreshing and perfect as a starter or side dish. The thing that was so great about this salad was its simplicity. Just very thin slices of radish and celeriac, dressed in a beautiful truffle oil and topped with pecorino shavings and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. I really enjoyed this salad. The truffle oil was lovely, just the right amount to coat the crisp radish and celeriac giving the salad that slight truffle hint. However, the best part about this salad were the little pomegranate seeds. They added a lovely fresh red colour to the dish and I loved the sweetness and crunch against the salty pecorino and rich truffle flavor.
Right, now for dessert! After having seen several of these being made and served to other customers, I couldn’t help myself from ordering a portion of Bombe Calde (i.e. mini Italian donuts) Who can pass on sweet, deep fried balls of dough, especially when they’re served with chocolate sauce and homemade jam? Alongside our Mini Bombe Calde we decided to order a Caffe alla nocciola, a sweet coffee/dessert from Naples. I’d actually never heard of this coffee before trying it at Bocca di Lupo and ordered it solely on recommendation of our waiter. Overall it was really great… An expresso shot topped with zabaglione (a very light Italian custard made by whisking egg yolks and sugar together with the addition of sweet wine) and finished with hazelnut syrup. A really sweet and creamy dessert with a hint of coffee and hazelnut… Pretty much the perfect dessert! And as for the donuts… well, they were good but a bit disappointing. Although very light and well made, according to me, they were nothing spectacular and would have preferred them had they been slightly crisp.
Altogether the bill came to just over 60 pounds including service… a bit more expensive than I had expected considering we ordered no alcohol, but still not extortionate. Okay, so it’s not the type of place you can afford to just drop in for lunch every now and then but it’s definitely the place to go when you want a nice evening out or just the occasional treat.
There are so many great things about Bocca di Lupo. They’re doing Italian food the way it should be done… no heirs and graces! (I can only say the same for about two or three other restaurants in London) They’re using good quality ingredients, doing everything they can in house from handmade pastas to making sausages and most importantly they do all this with a clear passion and love for the food they serve.
Bocca di Lupo
12 Archer Street.
Piccadilly Circus, London
0207 734 2223
About 30 pounds a head – 3 courses