Monday, 31 December 2012

An amazing birthday meal at Bocca di Lupo

A friend from work recommended Bocca di Lupo to me over a year ago, but for some reason I never got around to trying it out. When I finally ended up going there for my birthday meal a few weeks back, I was treated to one of the best meals I've had in London. Now I'm already planning my next visit (and kicking myself for not going there sooner), and for anyone who hasn't been, all I can say is...GO!

Bocca di Lupo offers a very traditional Italian dining experience: dishes are brought to your table in a near continuous stream of individual courses, and everyone tucks in together. It's a very social, relaxed way of eating, and because you don't get everything at once you are really able to appreciate the individual components of your meal. In addition to the delicious food, the service was exemplary - the friendly, efficient waitstaff really added to our enjoyment of our meal - and the atmosphere was great too: stylish yet somehow cozy and intimate at the same time.

Upon our arrival we had to wait 10 minutes or so for our table to become free, despite being on time. I suppose this is partly my fault for having my birthday a week before Christmas, as the restaurant was very busy with Christmas parties and the like! However,  the girl on the front desk was lovely, and more than made up for the inconvenience by getting us each a glass of prosecco, on the house.

Our meal got off to a good start, with a helping of those beautiful, vividly green Puglian olives (firm flesh; fresh, tangy, almost nutty flavour) that you are starting to see more and more nowadays, and a bread basket accompanied by a dish of fantastic olive oil.

Bocca di Lupo has an extensive menu, split into sections according to course and method of preparation (raw and cured or fritti antipasti; pasta; boiled, grilled or roasted meats...), and in an attempt to try dishes from as many categories as possible, we ordered a huge amount of food. First to arrive were the buffalo mozzarella bocconcini from the fritti romani menu. We chose these over tempting treats such as the deep-fried artichoke alla giudia, pork and veal mince-stuffed olives, and suppli (deep-fried risotto balls), and were not disappointed.

Despite what one may expect from a dish consisting of deep-fried cheese, the bocconcini were not at all greasy - in fact they were surprisingly light, with a delicate coating of golden breadcrumbs and a beautifully gooey mozzarella centre.

We also ordered a couple of the grilled scallops (at £10 each these were a bit pricey, but it was a special occasion!). The two enormous scallops - tender sweet, and obscenely plump - were served in their shell, and doused in an incredible thyme butter

Mindful of the need to save room for dessert, we decided to share only one dish from the pasta menu, and settled upon the tajarin (a brilliantly yellow, egg-rich pasta) with duck egg yolk and Parmesan, which we garnished with 1g of white truffle (you can add as much as you want - however, at £9 a gram we thought just a hint of truffle would be enough, and to be honest, it was plenty).

This was lovely - the heady flavour of the truffle infused into the rich, golden sauce, and paired perfectly with the strands of eggy tajarin. However, I would probably go for one of the other pasta dishes next time - the oriechette with 'nduja sausage, red onion and tomato perhaps, or the intriguing pumpkin and amaretti risotto - something a bit more adventurous than what, at the end of the day, could be described as a very fancy bacon-less carbonara.

For the meat course, my boyfriend selected the roast partridge. Moist and flavourful, and exuding delicious meaty juices, this served as an exotic alternative to chicken without being overly gamey.

Meanwhile I went for the grilled gilthead sea bream with rocket and lemon. The fish was seriously good, with crisp skin and tender, juicy flesh. Served with only a slice of lemon and a handful of oil-dressed rocket leaves, it was an incredibly simple dish, but the perfect execution and fantastic quality of the ingredients turned it into something really special.

We ordered two side dishes with our meat and fish course; the four cheese taragna polenta (Taleggio, Parmesan, Gorgonzola and Asiago) and a serving of caponata (without anchovies).

The polenta was fabulous - I don't normally like blue cheese, but the strong flavour of Gorgonzola really mellows with cooking, and this was delicious. Cheesy and rich, with an incredible velvety texture, it was particularly good with the meaty partridge.

Sadly the caponata failed to live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations. I ate some amazing caponata on holiday in Sicily a couple of years ago and have been craving it ever since. I had been hoping Bocca di Lupo may be the place to finally satisfy that craving (and with the procession of consistently flawless courses, my hopes climbed ever higher), but sadly it was not to be. This was slightly too oily, with an overwhelming celery flavour, and didn't quite achieve the delicate sweet/sour balance I enjoyed so much in the Sicilian version...Oh well!

Despite the high standard set by the earlier courses, the dessert was by far the highlight of the meal for me. Having observed the next table receiving their sweet course, I knew I wanted to try the zabaione, an Italian custard-like delicacy made from egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine.

Ladles of exquisite golden custard are spooned from a copper bowl over your choice of base. At the neighbouring table, one diner received an enormous (plate-sized, 3-inch thick) slice of what appeared to be lightly toasted panettone. Despite the oohs and ahhs this elicited when it was being served, he struggled to finish (eventually leaving most of the cake), and I felt this option would be better saved for another night...and perhaps shared between 3 or 4 people!

Instead I went for the pear poached in red wine as the base for my zabaione. Served warm, the combination of flavours was simply incredible - a heavenly melding of mellow pear, sweet red wine syrup, and rich golden zabaglione.

My boyfriend ordered the trio of "lucky dip" gelato cones - with ice cream from the celebrated Gelupo gelateria across the road. This was very good, but totally overshadowed by the flamboyant arrival of my zabaglione!

It wasn't a cheap meal...but then, it was my birthday: we ate a lot, ordered some pricier dishes from the menu, and had a bottle of prosecco too. Most things on the menu are actually pretty reasonable, and there's a great lunch and pre-theatre menu too. With so many dishes still to try (and with my newly discovered thirst for zabaione) I'll be going back at the next possible opportunity. In the meantime, I'm recommending it to everyone I know.

Bocca Di Lupo on UrbanspoonSquare Meal