BOCCA DI LUPO: MOUTHFULS OF GOOD ITALIAN IN SOHO
In this business we call food blogging, you develop a sixth sense, the ability to know when a new place is going to be bad, when the food and service are going to try and out suck each other and when the smell of flop sweat from the staff is going compete with the stench of rancid oil from the kitchen. You go along anyway, as HP puts it “to confirm what you already know”
It doesn’t help when you call to confirm your table and the person on the end of the line tells you “we are still having some problems” and that they would “totally understand if you want to rearrange your reservation” The last time that happened, we sat over plates of insipid food at Flash pondering that even 50% off the food bill would do little to drag our mood from the slough of despond.
We knew all of this about Bocca Di Lupo before we even turned down Archer St, a little alleyway in SOHO that I only remember because it once was home to The Charlie Chester Casino, a gathering point for East End villains and old school theatrical luvvies. We knew that they had only opened the night before, we knew that the construction work on the room had not been completed and we knew that, despite the soft opening prices, we were going to come away with a bad taste in our mouths. We do it so you don’t have to.
We were wrong.
Bocca di Lupo, is going to be a hot ticket. It may not be completed yet, but the dining room with its open kitchen and bar seating for impromptu dining is going to be a sure fire hit with a SOHO crowd tired of queuing at Barrafina or looking for a change from the ever growing range of Spanish restaurants in the neighbourhood.
The chef, Jacob Kenedy, formerly of Moro, has returned from a stint in Italy and his menu is predicated on small or large plates and covering salumi, friti, pastas and risotto, stews and grills, which allow you to construct your own meal based on appetite and budget. Given the 50% off soft opening offer, HP insisted we take the opportunity to “fill our boots” as we worked our way through the menu and filled our narrow table to capacity.
The list of crudi and salumi is small, but a plate of Tuscan “head cheese” showed that this is a kitchen with serious chops. Perfect texture and temperature, with only the possible addition of some grilled bread needed to complete the dish.
Likewise a small plate of Friti di Mare showed a lightness of touch with greaseless frying of prawns, squid and soft shell crab complimented by the clever addition of feather light slices of deep fried lemon. The Friti Romano was less successful. Sweetbreads need to be treated gently and tighten to little bullets when flash fried as they were here, but the fried artichoke was better breaking into creamy portions when divided between the two of us.
Kenedy has obviously enjoyed his travels and the menu reflects this with dishes from across Italy, the next up being a faultless risotto from Piemonte made with slightly chalky caranoli rice, bone marrow, Barolo wine and radicchio to add an agreeable touch of bitterness.
The real joy of Bocca di Lupo, however is its sausages. A house made cotechino came on a well-prepared bed of lentils and with a fig mostarda so good we immediately asked for an extra plate of it. But, it was the Modena banger that had us purring with lumps of glistening back fat adding creaminess and pork rind adding texture to the perfectly seasoned meat. Likewise, although a plate of uber-trendy farro made savoury with porcini was soon cleared up and a side dish of caponata confirmed that the kitchen has a deft touch with vegetables too, it was the meaty pork & foie gras sausages that caught the attention in our final dish and had us mopping up the juices with the last of our bread.
By this stage in a meal, we are normally pissed off enough to ask for a the bill and head out into the streets shaking our heads, but food like this makes you want to linger. When the front of house, also formerly of Moro, informed us that the gelati machine, brought over from Italy was only one of two of its type in the country, HP’s eyes lit up like a 14yr old given a hooker as a Christmas present. Desserts were, to continue the theme, excellent with three flavoursome scoops proving why gelati beats ice cream hands down every time and an old school rum baba showing plentiful booze and the same lightness we had experienced all through the meal.
Our bill, even with the opening offer, was a substantial £100, which reflects our boot filling mission, two large grappa and some up selling on the part of our helpful waiter who moved us up from an £11 carafe of red from the small selection to a £19 one with magician like dexterity. A meal for two would be about £60 which reflects terrific value for cooking of this quality.
Bocca di Lupo, apparently means “the mouth of the wolf” and this welcome addition to our moribund scene is definitely a place worth howling from the rooftops about.