Share plates? Tick. Italian cuisine? Tick. This restaurant had my name all over it. Bocca Di Lupo is where I’m at. After struggling to get a table big enough for an all-girls catch-up at this popular restaurant, we were finally here. Seated at our table in the main part of the restaurant, I have to admit I gazed longingly at the big white marble bar when we walked in… Maybe it’s my wannabe Spanish/Italian attitude that breeds my love of sitting at bars, watching the chefs at work, but for me I always have more fun when I’m seated there, rather than a formal setting. It’s more casual, it’s more chic, it’s where I want to be. I made a mental note to book the bar next time I’m there in a smaller group. Regardless, I can’t complain, we were in a lovely dining room, sitting at a table that was big enough for our brood of chicks.
It wasn’t long before some excellent bread and olives were delivered to our table. While munching on the addictively good bread we glanced over the menu and decided on a mix of starters, pastas, seafood and sides for the table to share. The majority of the dishes on the menu can be ordered as either small or large plates – we went for large on all occasions.
A barrage of dishes arrived all at once. It would have been nicer if the kitchen had spaced them out for us into starters, then pastas, then fish and sides together. Instead we were delivered starters, pastas and sides all at the one time. Nonetheless, I launched into the soft-shell crab which had a light batter outserhell and a sweet and juicy interior.
The orecchiette with ‘nduja, red onion, tomato and rocket was a favourite. I have a soft spot for oricchiette, and the little discs of al dente pasta did not disappoint. ’Nduja (authentic spicy pork sausage) provided heat to the dish and went artfully well with the sweet red onion and peppery rocket.
The tortellini of prosciutto and mortadella with cream and nutmeg sauce came in second fiddle to the orecchiette but was still lovely. Cream and nutmeg is a powerful combination (I’m yet to try something I don’t love with this combo… don’t get me started on bread sauce at Christmas!) and there were no complaints as we fought for the last morsels of tortellini.
The sides were a little disappointing. At the time of ordering, I was a strong supporter of the Merinda tomatoes with olive oil and salt, however when they arrived they did not live up to my high hopes. They were dry, hard like apples and had incredibly thick skins. I suspect they were large and tough tomatoes, whereas smaller and younger tomatoes would have been better.
I was intrigued to try Romanesco broccoli, purely because I’d seen it in the grocer and it looks weird! The dish was described as ‘chilled’ on the menu, but it was so cold that it was difficult to taste anything. The smattering of parmesan helped the dish, but it needed some seasoning – and warmth - to bring out the flavours.
The sea bass grilled in a charcoal salt crust was a standout. Incredibly fresh and perfectly cooked. The salt crust served as a barrier to keep the fish wonderfully moist throughout the cooking process. Note to self: I’d like to learn how to cook fish with a salt crust one day.
The mussels were forgettable. They were small, and their topping of breadcrumbs, chilli and parmesan left me wondering if there was any mussel under there at all.
We went crazy on the dessert menu, and pretty much ordered everything. Consensus from the table was that the ‘bomba calda’ was the pick of the bunch. A soft and fluffy donut with fresh custard filling.
Second place to the donut came the ’gelato cup bonet’. It arrived in a cafe latte glass and I have to admit, I thought it was coffee (not ice-cream) when it came to the table. Silly me. The flavour at the bottom of the glass – amaretti soaked in rum – really packed a punch. Those Italians know what they’re doing with gelato and I look forward to frequenting Bocco Di Lupo’s gelato bar over the road, Gelupo, in the coming summer months.
So, does Bocca Di Lupo live up to the hype? No, not in my opinion. Perhaps if my expectations weren’t so sky-high I would have enjoyed it more. It was a pleasant meal, but I wasn’t blown away. The servings were all rather small, and service was lacklustre (forgotten drinks, timing of meals etc.). With a handful of dishes being rather forgettable, and only a couple of standouts, I’m not rushing back as quickly as I would have predicted. Our meal came to £35 each with service (not including drinks).
Dish Piglets’ Rating: 7/10.
Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street London W1D 7BB
Tel: 020 7734 2223