A plethora of pleasure seekers probably recite this mantra prior to entering the thoroughfares south of Oxford Street. I came for Bocca di Lupo (W. www.boccadilupo.com, A. 17 Archer Street W1D 7BB & T. 020 7734 2223), an Italian restaurant that finds itself nestled in behind the Windmill Theatre (naked for 80+ years; google to find out more) on Archer Street. Bocca di Lupo, or Mouth of the Wolf as it translates from Italian occupies the former Charlie Chester’s casino building. The building remained derelict for over 10 years, prior to business partners Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo (not that one) opening their doors in November 2008. Jacob is the chef side of the partnership; he trained at Moro (Exmouth Market, London) and Boulevard (Mission Street, San Francisco), mostly whilst he was studying at Cambridge. Jacob confirms in his Bocca cookbook that “I don’t eat food, I devour it”. I live by a similar ethos and a couple of years ago, I mistook it for gluttony! Jacob’s menu pulls together rustic food from Italy’s twenty regions with the onus on small plates and sharing. Jacob says he’s “a minimalist chef. If something can be removed from a recipe and not make it worse, he believes that doing so will make it more delicious.” Coco Chanel had a similar thing to say about accessorising.
I’ve been to Bocca di Lupo several times and, it is without doubt, my favourite London restaurant. This time I came with a 41 year old date, in-order to celebrate his birthday. We arrived as walk-ins at quarter past night on a rainy July Friday. We were advised by the hostess that we could sit at the counter seating from ten. As there is no bar area, we walked round the block past several massage parlours and windows festooned with red lights. We stopped in a bar specialising in gin, and ordered two distinctly average gin and tonics (Damson & Co – in case we ordered the wrong thing or you’re curious).
Mediocre G&Ts sunk, and hunger setting in we arrived back at Bocca di Lupo on the T of 10 o’clock. After about 10 minutes wait, we were seated on the corner of the sprawling marble bar counter seating; if you are a couple, counter seating is my favourite place to sit.
My date likes to think of himself as the Royal family’s Master of Wines, and as such, I left alcohol procurement in his capable hands. He chose Indio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Dario Bove’s vineyard (£37.50), which I thought was a bit oaky. I would have gone for something from Puglia or Sicily, and a bit cheaper (entry level £20)!!!
Seen as though I delegated the easy bit; I was in the driver’s seat for the food ordering. We started with Manzo di Pozza; melt in the mouth beef carpaccio dressed simply with pecorino cheese, rocket and olive oil. This was followed swiftly by two bocconcini; deep fried balls of Buffalo mozzarella, which oozed with every bite. Lest I forget the crab tostini with shaved asparagus; yes, I did an asparagus wee.
Next came the orecchiette with ‘nduja, red onion and tomato. ‘Nduja is spicy spreadable pork sausage made from head meat and is the Calabrian version of Salami. The semolina based orecchiette (small ear) was served perfectly al dente and the ‘Nduja gave it just the right amount of heat.
Half time arrived, and we undertook a concentrated drinks break prior to my King of Fishes; sea bream. This is the second time I’ve sampled the griddled sea bream encased in a flour and salt crust and, it was just as fantastic as the first. The white moist scrumptious flesh complimented with a side of girolles and spinach. Whilst we devoured our fish, our sausages arrived. We ordered for a spicy sausage and a pork and foie gras sausage. The spicy sausage was nothing to write home about, in comparison to the pork and foie gras sausage, which was absolutely magnificent.
A meal at Bocca di Lupo would not be complete without some form of dessert. I opted for Agnes’ donut and rummy chocolate; the donut recipe is Jacob’s late grandmother’s.
As you can see from the photographs, I was either reciting the Soho mantra or the food was so delicious I forgot to take a photograph prior to the fifth or sixth bite; you can decide what the answer is.
Obviously, eating at Bocca di Lupo can be expensive if you go with the Master of Wines. However, if you drank a cheaper bottle and skipped the most expensive glass of dessert wine you can leave full and satisfied for £50/head. Please go and visit Bocca di Lupo, you won’t be disappointed.
Food – 12/10
Drink – 8/10
Service – 8/10; the staff are attentive, friendly and I have always had a great repartee with them
Facilities – 10/10; always clean and the hand wash is by the White Company and Penhaligon’s London!
Cost – £40+/head