Surely I’m the last one in the London food blog community to make it to Bocca di Lupo. But it’s not for lack of trying. I’d heard the place served mid-priced, high-quality Italian cooking. So *of course* I’d tried multiple times to get a booking. I was always negged, though. Clearly no mojo.
Finally, last Wednesday, my friends Shamini, Fabrizio dell Amore (seriously, that’s what he wants to be called) and I showed up without a booking and managed to snag seats at the Barrafina-like bar.
Even at 10 pm, the place was still packed, noisy and fun.
The service took a while to get going: we asked at least three times to have our order taken. But then things on the service front were all good from there. Everyone at Bocca di Lupo was responsive to feedback, and Shamini managed to charm a little back-and-forth with our server (you know the type of friend I’m talking about, don’t you?), so we ended the evening with at least three freebies thrown in. Nothing high-ticket, but gestures go a long way to making customers feel valued.
For starters, we had a lamb prosciutto, which, while a bit dry, was saved by the excellent accompanying pecorino. Fried mozzarella balls (bocconcini) were creamy and almost-sweet inside; lightly breaded and golden brown on the outside. Really, an outstanding example of its kind for £8, and the start of a trend: all fried foods that night at Bocca di Lupo were excellent.
Crudita di mare was also the start of a trend: that seafood was generally so-so value. The raw scallop was sweet, but creamy in a not-so fresh way, and it was too much money at £9.50 a portion.
Shamini’s quail (£16) was outstanding – tasting like the juicy little poultry it should be. Fabrizio’s pork chop was over-cooked and under-cooked in various places, and generally bland. I wouldn’t recommend it, though he did complain to the chef, who then gave him Freebie 1 of the evening, which was delish: a beautifully-crisped and grease-free fried pastry filled with more creamy cheese and served with a fluffy ball of burrata (understandably the cheese du jour). The accompanying paper-thin slices of spicy salami were icing on the cake.
My main of baked sardines and tomatoes could’ve been served hotter and crispier. And sardines were a bit overwhelmed by the breadcrumbs, which was sad. Overall, the dish was OK, so £14 seemed a bit much.
Because the spring pea starter we ordered was taking ages to prepare, the chef comped us Freebie 2 of the evening: a dish of buttery, thin-sliced, grilled courgettes, which you really can’t go wrong with, seeing as how butter + thinly-sliced anything = tastiness.
When the spring peas arrived, they were worth the wait. Sweet and firm. Not a mealy, flavorless one to be found. Totally worth the £7.50. I know. I’ve shelled peas from the farmer’s market enough times to know how time consuming it is to get a good yield!
By the time we reached desserts, Bocca di Lupo had run out of donuts (SAD). But our server recommended the torta caprese, which was a good choice. It tasted like a lemon pound cake layered with an almond chocolate cake, and the genius was having the tart citrus complement the nutty sweetness. Cool.
Despite my skepticism, though, the dessert of the evening was Fabrizio’s choice: cherries in ice water (pictured at top). I mocked him for ordering fruit in a bowl of ice. But this generous serving of deep burgundy cherries was outstanding. Firm, deeply sweet cherries served icy cold. A great value for £6.50.
Shamini, continuing to use her magical charm powers, convinced our server to offer Freebie 3 of the evening: the pigs’ blood and chocolate pudding. We each took a scoop to try it out. And you know, I can’t say I’m a fan. The chocolate was extra creamy, but it had that mineral tang that signals blood is in there. No thanks. The dried orange peel and pine nuts that had gone soft in the fridge didn’t help. Glad we tried it, but nothing I’d order again.
With a carafe of inexpensive wine, we paid £38 per person for an enormous, fun and generally-tasty meal. I can’t say I got super excited about many of the dishes there, though the fried foods and the puddings were especially strong suits. For the service and atmosphere alone, I’d go back. Overall, Bocca di Lupo deserves its popularity.
Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB; 0207 734 2223; closest tube station: Piccadilly Circus