Bocca di Lupo is a hard place to get a reservation in, even two years after opening. Saturday nights get booked a couple of months in advance, not helped by Antonio Carluccio declaring it his “favourite Italian in Soho” on the Good Food show a few weeks back.
It was, in fact, his appearance at the small marble-topped bar of Bocca di Lupo, slurping on sea urchins (deelish!) and linguine, that prompted me to seek out a revered stool at the bar myself. As luck would have it at 2.30 p.m. on a rainy, sleety, generally disgusting Saturday in climate-change-doomed Soho you can certainly find a spot right by the Chef’s prep area in this small, cosy dining establishment.
The menu is themed around a jolly jaunt across Italy’s regions, a reminder that until a few decades ago, this nation was utterly divided (and still to a certain degree is, with the notion of paese – one’s place of origin – still causing socio-political strife even from one village to the next in many rural parts of the country). Dishes crop up that are incredibly true to form, a feather-soft tripe with fragrant tomatoes and pecorino, alla Romana. Young artichokes, deep fried to a golden brown, alla giuda – in the Jewish fashion of Rome’s ghetto. Agretti with lemon, monksbeard barely steamed and served with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a thick wedge of amalfi lemon, a dish as common as chips on a trattoria menu, but rare to see in London. Other elements are modern twists using classic, high quality Italian ingredients, but all are drawn from plates rooted in tradition and tied to their territory. The restaurant stands out for its ability to focus on simple elements, presented in a fuss-free way to maximise your enjoyment of their primary flavours.
Stand-out dishes were the pastiera napoletana, a cake redolent of orange blossoms and rich with fresh ricotta cheese, an stupidly simple dish of salted ricotta slices on a thick puree of fresh broadbeans and artichokes and the insanely decadent coffee with whipped egg yolk cream and toasted hazelnuts.
When summer finally arrives, take dessert at Gelupo across the road, the famed Soho gelateria (ice-cream shop) bursting with original and fantastic home made ice-cream by the same owners.