Bocca di Lupo

Posted on Tuesday, 12th May 2009

Bocca di Lupo

Bocca di Lupo

Up until recently, I was probably one of the very few foodies left in London who had yet to go to Bocca di Lupo. I know. Most people love it, and there has been an endless stream of great reviews that sing its praises. So why have I been so slow to go? Well, I was trying to let the excitement die down first before venturing there, or so I liked to tell myself. No, in truth, I was just flat right rejected for a reservation the couple of times I tried calling for a table at short notice. It seems that a lot of advanced planning is required if you want to eat at Bocca on a Friday or a Saturday night. So I decided to call early, weeks ago in fact, to secure a spot at the Chefs’ table (at the counter right in front of the chefs), and just prayed that I would happen to be free. Before you know it, the evening approaches, and to my surprise I actually find myself walking through the door of Bocca di Lupo.

Bocca is a lovely looking restaurant: glamorous and slick. It’s roughly divided into two sections. The first half contains the bar and the kitchen – a marble counter with bar stools runs parallel to both for customers to dine at. Next is the waiters’ station which is up against a wall, and beyond the wall is the second half of the restaurant with the dining room proper which is filled with wooden tables, lounge seating against the walls, and a large circular art deco light fitting overhead.

My dining companion was JK, whom I really enjoy eating out with. We always have a good laugh and a chat, and we invariably trade foodie stories, quid pro quo. This was the first time I had seen her since attending the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurant Awards, and as she loves salacious food industry gossip as much as I do, the ‘goss’ at the Awards became the headline topic of conversation. “So and so was such a flirt”, I said, to which she nodded in agreement. And “so and so was so fat, much bigger than his photo would suggest”, and so on.

Eventually we turned our attention to the menu, mindful that we had a two hour turnaround even though we were only seated 20 minutes after our reservation. The menu at Bocca is categorised according to raw and cured, fried foods, pastas and risottos, soups and stews, grilled and pan-fried, roasts and sides. It was pleasant to find that most choices offer both a small and a large option. The beauty of this is that you can order small and eat more.

I was fixated on having the risotto as I had read mixed things about this dish. So we ordered the small plate of scallop and fennel risotto with gremolata (£7). The risotto was under seasoned and overcooked to the point where the rice was soft. Nor did it have that wavy, spring-back-when-touched-with-the-back-of-the-spoon type consistency that is the trademark of a good risotto. Disappointing then, to see such a poor level of cooking in a most Italian of dishes, in an Italian restaurant. There was also no discernible taste of fennel either.

Scallop & fennel risotto with gremolata

Scallop & fennel risotto with gremolata

The next small plate of fritto di paranza (mixed fried seafood) (£7) fared better, but the batter was not quite crispy enough. From our spot perched right in front of the chefs, it was plain to see that the deeper fryer was consistently filled to the brim. Its constant use suggested that the oil was never allowed to get quite hot enough to allow the seafood to crisp properly. The seafood mix came with John Dory and anchovies (both delicious), calamari (not bad, but some pieces were chewy), and rather than prawns as stated on the menu, one piece of prawn (soft in texture). Interestingly, the dish also came with slices of fried lemon which I really liked and which were not too tart.

Fritto di paranza

Fritto di paranza

Our final small plate was lamb prosciutto with raw broad beans & peppercorn pecorino Sardo (£7). This, an uncooked dish, was our favourite of the small plates. The meat was tender and flavoursome, and the cheese mellow and served at the right room temperature, although the accompanying broad beans left a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Lamb prosciutto with raw broad beans & peppercorn pecorino sardo

Lamb prosciutto with raw broad beans & peppercorn pecorino sardo

A main of red mullet with tomato, olives and capers (£16) was lovely. Not available as a small plate, it came with two whole pieces of mullet which had first been griddled in a light coating of flour. It was then served smothered with a rich tomato sauce that was deep with flavour. But nice as the sauce was, it somehow lacked the proverbial ‘something’ to make it a really special dish. Also, the fish hadn’t been scaled properly for I ended up biting into a few scales. A side of cime di rapa (broccoli raab) with garlic & chilli was overcooked and soggy.

Red mullet with tomato, olives & capers

Red mullet with tomato, olives & capers

To the desserts list and I seriously contemplated ordering a Sanguinaccio (a sweet pate of pig’s blood & chocolate with sourdough bread) (£6), more out of curiosity than out of any great desire to eat it. But at JK’s behest (she had tried this on her last visit to Bocca and thought it was terrible), we instead settled on a dessert of cannoli with a ricotta & chocolate filling (£7.50). The filling was served separately in a bowl with three empty canolli rolls for self–filling. I’ve never seen a cannoli served like this, but this helped to highlight how the cannoli rolls were slightly oily when eaten on their own. The cream was a little disappointing for both an overabundance of crushed pistachios sprinkled on top, for the fact that the ricotta itself tasted slightly grainy rather than creamy, and for the lack of chocolate flavour.

Cannoli & calzoncelli

Cannoli & calzoncelli

We also shared a piece of calzoncelli, a fried chestnut, chocolate and anise pastry (£2). JK had wanted to order one each, but I managed to persuade her that we should only get to one to share as I was meant to be on a diet. “So what are you actually doing about this diet?” she asked in mock disbelief at my lack of effort and discipline thus far. Perhaps not much, but half of one piece, rather than one whole piece each, surely helped, no? In the end, it mattered not as the calzoncelli was awful. Both the pastry and chocolate filling were dry. Rarely do I leave a dessert unfinished (normally I just eat it all and suffer the bloated belly in silence), but on this occasion I did. We complained to the restaurant about this dessert, and as a consequence, they took it off the bill.

Sitting at the Chefs’ table was of course a fun experience, for it means you have a bird’s eye view of the kitchen. But peculiarly, the stools are quite low relative to the height of the marble counter. As JK and I are not the most statuesque of people, this meant that the food came all the way up to your chest and our elbows were bent at a 45 rather than a 90 degree angle. But as this fate seemed to afflict those diners to the left and right of us as well, we really can’t be that short. Sitting at the Chefs’ table also meant we escaped the overwhelming noise which is the echo of bantering that seems to permeate the dining room. But the most interesting thing of all about sitting there is that you are privy to a whole manner of sins, such as the waiters eating bread at the waiters’ station, which was easily visible from where we were sitting, although impossible to see from the main restaurant. Poor waiters, they must have been hungry, but it was a practice we found improper and slightly unhygienic. Other than this, the service was fine.

The food at Bocca di Lupo ranged from poor (the desserts) to average (the risotto) to good (lamb prosciutto). The food is inconsistent, and hardly special, not as special as proclaimed by some, and so Bocca doesn’t quite seem worthy of the idol status it has attained. But it has a Soho location, an elegant décor, and lots of good press. The wine list is also fabulous with lots of lovely wines by the glasses that are not commonly available at reasonable prices. And so it’s easy to see why on balance, Bocca di Lupo might just be so popular.



Summary information

Food rating:
Service rating:

Prices – Small plates range from £3.50 to £12. Large plates range from £9 to £24. Depending on the mix of small and large plates, a meal per head is likely to cost between £30 and £40. Excludes drinks and service.

Rating:★★★☆☆ 
Rating:★★★☆☆ 

Bocca di Lupo at:
12 Archer St
London W1D 7BB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 2223
Web: http://www.boccadilupo.com/

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

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20 Responses to “Bocca di Lupo”

  1. Oliver Says...

    Great review. I think you’re right – this place is good, but rather overrated. The lamb prosciutto looks delicious, though.

  2. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie Says...

    Very good review. It’s interesting how the trendy places are usually not as perfect as they seem they should be.

  3. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Oliver, its good to hear that I’m not the only one that thinks this place is overrated.

    Natasha, yes popularity doesn’t always mean good.

  4. Loving Annie Says...

    The peppercorn pecorino sounds wonderful !!! I’d love to grate it over spaghetti….

    Having an option between choosing small or large plates is a great thing. Inconsistent food isn’t. Sorry this was mostly a disappointment.

    I still think Zafferano’s is the best :)

  5. The Food Addicts Says...

    Cool concept for your blog! It’s good to read reviews of restaurants before actually going there. I like to use http://www.yelp.com which essentially is the same idea. Keep up the great work!

  6. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Loving Annie, Next time you’re in London maybe we can go to Zafferano’s together?

    Food Addicts, thanks for your lovely compliment. I hope you come visit again soon.

  7. canelvr Says...

    I think you’re very right, the success of a set of dishes at Bocca is best described as mixed on any given night. I do love the idea of scallop and fennel risotto though, shame they cocked it up for you!

  8. lickedspoon Says...

    Sorry this was such a mixed experience for you. I have to say, I love the idea of the fried lemon.

  9. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Hi Canelvr, yes I think that is the sense I got from Bocca. A bit uneven.

    Hi Licked spoon, yes I thought the fried lemon was particularly delicious. I would give it a go at home sometime.

  10. Gourmet Chick Says...

    What a shame to hear that you did not enjoy your Bocca di Lupo meal. I had a great meal there and maybe it helps to order more of the sharing plates? Still it seems like you had a really mixed experience which is a pity.

  11. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Hi Gourmet Chick, I find Bocca really interesting for it always seems to invoke such mixed opinions. Some people really love it, and some people think its mixed.

    On the whole, I think its good, but I don’t think its special.

    I might go again and take your advice to try more sharing plates.

  12. Sapuche Says...

    Ah, delayed gratification can be a wonderful thing sometimes! It’s a shame that Bocca di Lupo didn’t live up to its reputation, however, but it sounded like a nice evening nonetheless. I was hoping for a photo of the waiters eating bread at their stations, but then it might have gotten them in trouble. :) This was a wonderfully thorough review! Now I’m trying to decide whether or not to put this on my list of restaurants-to-try-when-in-London…

  13. Krista Says...

    Yeah, I felt pretty “eh” about BdL. It was good, and the menu was interestingly constructed, but I didn’t think the food was all that. Also, the dining room is pretty hotel-dining-room-esque if you ask me.

  14. Su-Lin Says...

    Oh dear – I still haven’t visited Bocca di Lupo but I was looking forward to it. I think it now goes down my list (of places to try) a little…no rush to try it!

  15. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Hi Krista and Su-Lin,
    Most of the people that I have talked to that like it very much seemed to have gone earlier on in the piece, when it first opened. So I am wondering if something has changed, eg, different chefs, etc. To me, the food deserves a ‘good’ rating, its not bad. But I don’t think its in any way special, or that it deserves some of the high praised lavished on it. It’s not a bad place to try, but temper your expectations.

  16. Hilary Says...

    I’ve decided you must be a lawyer, consultant, surgeon, investment banker or a wealthy kept woman :) How else do you afford to eat like this multiple times a week!? It never ceases to amaze me – and make me very jealous!

  17. 'A Girl Has to Eat' Says...

    Hi Hilary. If only it were true! :-) But unfortunately I must say its not. But the idea of being a kept woman certainly appeals… :-)

  18. Lee Says...

    Hi. Found your link via Urbanspoon and really enjoyed reading your review. I keep hearing about Bocca di Lupo, but always manage to forget where it is. I’ll try and remember this time round. Thanks again for such a lovely review :)

  19. Miranda Says...

    I really think that you should give it another go. I was thoroughly disappointed by my first visit to Bocca di Lupo. I had a really poor lunch there, but went back for a friend’s birthday and had a truly amazing meal. I have returned twice since and each experience has been increasingly delicious.

    Must Haves:

    Olive stuffed with minced pork and veal
    Crescentine, finocchiona & squacquerone
    Orecchiette with ‘nduja
    Roast suckling pig
    Caponata in agrodolce
    Cime di rapa

    Skip:

    Risotto
    Dessert (I love a good dessert, but have yet to taste one here)

  20. A Girl Has to Eat Says...

    Miranda
    I think you are right.
    Since my visit, time and time again I’ve heard people rave about it – real foodies.
    So I think I do need to give it another go….

    And I will definitely skip that risotto!