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Posts Tagged ‘Italian in London’

fried shoestring courgettes (£2.50)

Two Fridays ago, Gourmet Chick and I went on a double date to Tinello, a newish Italian that’s gotten lots of publicity thanks to its association with Locanda Locatelli, where Tinello’s owners used to work as sous chef and sommelier. As Gourmet Chick has already noted in her excellent blog post about that evening, our husbands struck a rich vein of conversation in voicing the indignities they suffer at the hands of their food-blogger wives. There was even talk of creating an anti-food-blogger blog. (Good luck with that, guys).

fried artichoke (carciofi) £3.50

Gourmet Chick has covered the evening pretty well, so I highly recommend that you read her post. My own thoughts on the place are:

  • The interior’s mix of exposed brick walls and stylish lighting fixtures is both cool and welcoming, especially for a spot so close to not-usually-either Sloane Square.
  • Appetizers of the bacaro-small-plates variety were boring/classic, but generally very tasty. The person manning the fryer knows what’s up.
  • Our server’s wine suggestion was spot-on in terms of both the budget and style of wine we described as desirable. So I’d definitely recommend Tinello as a great place for snacks and wine.

chicken liver crostini (£1.90)

calamari chickpea (£7)

  • Things got a little rocky when it came to mains and desserts at Tinello. In fairness to the restaurant, we didn’t try any of the meat or fish courses, and instead we stuck to the pastas, which turned out to be nothing special.

pumpkin ravioli (£11.50)

  • My pumpkin ravioli was by far the best pasta ordered at the table that evening, and although there were a few too-large-and-therefore-too-tough chunks of pumpkin lurking in the ravioli, overall, I enjoyed the pasta.

Gnudi (£11)

  • Gourmet Chick’s gnudi wasn’t the fluffy-fresh ricotta-gnocchi fest I was expecting. It tasted like loose filling swimming in olive oil, which wasn’t appealing.

paccheri with burrata and nduja sausage (£11)

Jon and MTV Boyfriend both ordered the paccheri with burrata and nduja, a spicy, spreadable sausage. We hit a bump in service when both men thought their pastas were still crunchy in parts (i.e., a bit too al dente).

Our servers seemed conflicted between wanting to continue offering friendly, helpful service (and taking the dishes back for reheating or remaking) and falling into an unpleasant “the customer is wrong” mode (explaining to us that the dish was meant to be this way/al dente). It was awkward all around, and even though ultimately our servers took the dishes away to be remade or heated until the pasta was softer, the damage was done. And we felt both indignant and embarrassed at the same time.

By the time the dishes arrived again at our table, Gourmet Chick and I had finished our mains, and nobody was in the mood to appreciate the contrast between the silky-cool cream of the burrata and the spicy heat of the tomato-nduja sauce. Service really can make-or-break a meal.

"apple cake" on the menu, apple strudel on the plate (£4.50)

We finished our dinner with a generous hunk of pecorino with bite (£5.50) and something that was described on the menu as “apple cake,” but was instead a passable apple strudel.

With teas, coffees and a tasty bottle of wine (a Carmignano) for £45, our total came to a modest £30 per person before service.  If not for the service hiccup, I’d say Tinello was a pleasant, reasonably-priced addition to the Sloane Square dining scene.

Tinello Restaurant, 87 Pimlico Road, SW1W 8PH; 0207 730 3663; closest tube station: Sloane Square
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fried goodies: suppli (£2), bocconcini (£2.50), artichoke a la Giudia (£5), and in the background, a fried courgette flower (£4)

When I was at Bocca di Lupo a year ago, I had a lot of fun, but the service and food were a mixed bag.  I left thinking that while I wouldn’t object to going again, I also wasn’t dying to revisit.

However, not having been to Bocca di Lupo and being a lover of all things Italian, Jon has long wanted to go, and with the recent buzz around good-quality, low-to-mid-priced Italians  opening in London, the time seemed right to revisit BdL.  Which is how we found ourselves there for dinner last week.

First impressions were great.  Still the warm, exciting atmosphere that I recall from my last visit, and the flattering lighting never hurts, either.  The bar seats were packed with diners who appeared to be having a good time, and the few tables at the back of the room were also full.  Not too shabby for a Tuesday evening.

Jon and I started with assorted fried goodies, which you order by the piece.  Fried artichoke (carciofi alla giudia) was especially good, with a nutty crunch to the exterior, and a moist, buttery heart.  Fried courgette flower included a powerful kick of anchovy, which I love, and both snacks brought back memories of Rome, a definite bonus.  Suppli and fried bocconcini were fine, but the bland comforts of fried cheese inevitably paled in comparison to the flavorsome artichoke and courgette flower.

nettle and ricotta ravioli in a pansotti walnut sauce (£6)

orecchiette with tomato and spicy salami (£7)

Our pasta courses were both very good, though I slightly preferred the spicy sweetness of the orecchiette to the creamy nuttiness of the nettle-and-ricotta ravioli.  The walnut sauce on the ravioli was a bit too heavy given that pasta was just a “course” for us (i.e., there was still a meat course to follow).

foie gras sausage and fregola (£9)

Foie gras Italian sausage was a revelation.  Usually, I’m skeptical of any dish where foie gras is an ingredient – it usually turns out to be a waste of foie gras.  But here, the foie’s creamy, rich meatiness was matched perfectly with the crumbly, fennel-scented pork of the sausage.  Without the foie gras, the sausage would have been pretty lean and dry, in fact.  The coarse, slightly-nutty fregola absorbed and blended with the sausage’s intense flavor.  This is a dish I’ll be craving as the days get darker and colder.

We skipped dessert in order to walk across the street to BdL’s gelateria, Gelupo, which is a worth a visit in its own right

With a couple of sides priced at £5 and a £40 bottle of wine, our dinner for two totaled £98, which I thought was great value given the quality of our food.  If you skipped the wine, all this food for £30 a person would be almost a steal, really.  In fact, Bocca di Lupo is what nearby and much-loved Polpo could be if Polpo took reservations.  And had good lighting.  And a happenin’ bar.

I’m already looking forward to going back.  This time, it won’t take me a year.

Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB; 0207 734 2223; closest Tube station: Piccadilly Circus.

Gelupo gelateria, 7 Archer Street, W1D 7AU (i.e., across the street from Bocca di Lupo); 0207 287 5555.  Open until 1 am on weekends!  And at the back of the gelateria, there’s a small grocery where you can buy foie gras sausage to cook at home.  What’s not to love?
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Jamie Oliver's Fifteen (Italian) Restaurant

Having eaten a delicious dinner at Trullo last week (which was opened a few weeks ago by one of the first fifteen chef-apprentices trained at Fifteen restaurant), Jon and I thought it was about time we tried eating at Fifteen. It is, after all, just a 20-minute walk away from our house, right off the stretch of City Road between Old Street and Angel stations.

It’s hard to be tough on Fifteen because it’s such a worthy venture, offering chef apprenticeships to what Jamie Oliver‘s website calls “disadvantaged youngsters.” Additionally, all profits go towards the foundation that owns and operates the restaurant.

Eight years in, though, Fifteen offers a menu that seems too routine to justify £8 starters and £20 main courses.  Perhaps Fifteen and Jamie Oliver are victims of their own success – many of us now value knowing where our food comes from and insist on seasonal, quality produce.  So restaurants have followed suit, and so what used to be quite special now seems ho-hum.  Our dinner at Fifteen reminded me of the time I ate at Chez Panisse and left wondering what all the fuss was about. I suspect that part of the reason Chez Panisse seemed so ordinary by the time I got there is because chef-owner Alice Waters had already single-handedly changed the way we ate.

pizza bianco with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto alla Genovese (£8)

Menu descriptions seemed a bit too fussy, as if masking the ordinariness of the dishes.  A white pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes and “pesto alla Genovese” (aka regular ol’ pesto made from basil and pinenuts) was tasty but also something you could picture at any half-decent gastropub in London these days.

ravioli stuffed with smashed peas and ricotta in a butter-and-mint sauce (£10)

On a hot day, the ravioli stuffed with smashed peas and served in a mint-butter sauce sounded perfect.  But the peas were rather tough and not sweet, and the butter “sauce” appeared to have been made by merely melting a lot of butter on top of the ravioli.  (I generally like to pretend that throwing in a few shallots and white wine makes it healthier).

Italian sausage with dressed Castellucia lentils with Swiss chard and salsa rosa (£19)

Jon *loved* his Italian sausages, and I must admit that they were pretty darn good, with a sweet-spicy flavor from all the anise and fennel seeds in there.  We troll London markets regularly looking for Italian sausage (with often disappointing results), so these were a treat, though £19 seemed a bit steep for what was essentially three grilled sausages.

Angus ribeye with roast garlic-tarragon butter, rocket and pecorino (£22.50)

Ribeye was fine.  Rare.  Juicy.  You know, steak.

risotto ai frutti di mare (£14)

Risotto with ‘fruit of the sea’ was too al dente, I thought.  I think the rice could have used just a little more liquid or oil, at least – it just tasted kind of dry and unpleasant.  The tomato sauce was overly bright and didn’t provide enough moisture.  Kind of a bummer, really.

linguine carbonara - the guanciale was the best part (£15)

Last but not least – the linquine carbonara was saved from utter blandness (because of under-seasoning) by the amazingly-fatty-and-smoky guanciale.  I would have asked for salt, but as attentive as our server was in some ways (bringing plenty of pitchers of tap water to our table without our asking), she was hard to flag down.

Fifteen is still going strong, which is nice to see given its giving-back-to-the-community mission.  On a Sunday evening, the place was packed, and the room is comfortable and still stylish after all these years.  The food is better-than-average, so it’s a nice option to have if you’re in need of a mid-priced meal in Hoxton.  Then again, on the basis of food and price alone, I’d rather walk a tad further to eat at Pizza East or stay in my neighborhood and walk to Trullo.

Total tab for two shared starters, four mains and a £30 bottle of wine (i.e., more than enough to feed and water four people):   £34 a person.

Fifteen Restaurant, 13 Westland Place, N1 7LP, 0871 330 1515; closest tube station: Old Street

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Trullo restaurant

One of my favorite things about keeping a blog is to read the comments left by readers. Last week, I blogged about Palmers, an ambitious restaurant near Victoria Park, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In the comments section of that blog post, one reader, Mike, recommended that I check out Trullo, an Italian restaurant with River Cafe connections that recently opened close to where I live. I did some googling, and this glowing Dos Hermanos review turned up, so I made a booking asap.

pigeon radicchio salad (£6.50)

Late last Friday evening, Trullo was packed and buzzy. Jon and I were offered the only available two-person table, which was wedged near the kitchen, but the maitre d’ offered to move us to more spacious quarters once tables opened up. We appreciated the offer, but our table was fine once our neighbors left. (Otherwise, the tables do seem very close together).

I started with a pigeon and radicchio salad with Moscatel dressing, which was exactly what I expected and more. The pigeon was rare and tender, and the bitter crunch of the radicchio was balanced by the sweet dressing. I was reminded of some of the outstanding radicchio dishes at Baita Pie’ Tofana in Cortina. Even better than this walk down memory lane was the toast topped with creamy chicken liver. It hadn’t been included in the menu description, so I considered it a bonus. A well-executed and generous portion for £6.50.

tagliarini with brown shrimp and courgettes (£8)

My main course pasta was deliciously simple, as the best pasta tends to be. Tagliarini were silky and delicate, matched perfectly with a giant portion of flavorsome brown shrimp, crunchy courgette slices. The glutton in me wished it had been a larger portion, but actually, it was good that we saved room for a cheese plate and dessert.

scallops grilled on a skewer with Padron peppers and borlotti beans (£16.50)

Jon chose scallops from the “charcoal grill” section of the menu and was rewarded with sweet, raw-on-the-inside, smoky-with-char-on-the-outside scallops. Creamy, firm borlotti beans were a nice, neutral accompaniment.

cheese plate (£7)

By the time we reached the cheese plate and outstanding strawberry-almond tart (£4.50), it was dark outside, so my ability to take photos disappeared.

Trullo is a *very* welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I’m looking forward to bringing friends there. The food’s good, the service is helpful, and the prices are reasonable. I have a feeling I may never get to Zucca now that I have Trullo within walking distance of my house. Actually, even if you live further afield, Trullo is worth a visit.

For two starters, two mains, cheese, dessert and a half bottle of wine for £12, our tab was £60.50.

Trullo Restaurant, 300-302 St. Paul’s Road, N1 2LH; 0207 226 2733; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington
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Pizza east interior at lunchtime

I’ve been pretty lazy since returning from Egypt.  Long, heavy meals or lengthy journeys across town have had little appeal the last two weeks.  So last week, when a few coworkers wanted to go out for lunch, Pizza East sounded like the perfect option:  it’s a 5-minute walk from my office, and a meal doesn’t get faster or simpler than pizza.

Having been to Shoreditch House, I’d stayed away from Pizza East partly because it’s one thing for a bar to be a  “scene,” and another for a pizza place to be one (Shoreditch House Group owns Pizza East).  For lunch on a Wednesday, though, Pizza East is pleasantly quiet and sunny.

I ate with two friends from work, and we each ordered a pizza, so I can’t comment on the starters or desserts, but our server was friendly and quick, and our pizzas arrived at our table hot-out-of-the oven.

margherita pizza (£7)

Sticking with my “keep it simple” plan, I ordered the buffalo mozzarella pizza, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Crispy, thin crust; generous portions of creamy mozzarella; and a fresh-tasting  sauce with a nice balance of sweet and tart flavors.  I would’ve preferred having the pizza toppings spread further out on the pizza (i.e., there was quite a large edge of crust on the pizza), but otherwise, it was very good.

spicy sausage and purple sprouting broccoli (£11)

One of my friends ordered the spicy sausage pizza, whose toppings were also very good, but again, there was just a little bit too much “edge” to the pizza crust.  Otherwise, it was a very tasty pizza — I really had to pressure him into trading a slice of pizza with me.

On the whole, a perfect lunch spot.  I’ve walked by Pizza East at night when it’s packed to the rafters and super noisy, so it’ll probably be a while before I show up for an evening out.  But for a quiet, quick, cheap lunch, Pizza East is an excellent option if you work near Spitalfields Market/ Liverpool Street station.  We were in and out in under an hour without feeling rushed.

Pizza East, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ; 0207 729 1888; closest tube station:  Liverpool Street
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pretty excellent tiramisu at Princi bakery in Soho

pretty excellent tiramisu at Princi bakery in Soho

I’ve been on a theater kick lately (the second half of Arcadia is a stand-out, by the way), and one of the major challenges associated with theater-going is finding a place to eat that’s quick, tasty and near the theater. So I finally got around to trying Princi, the Alan Yau-backed London branch of a Milanese bakery chain.

First, the pros:

  • The decor is super attractive — all beige marble and sleek water fountains.
  • The displays of hot food and baked sweets are similarly attractive.
  • The food is inexpensive (e.g., you can choose a cold salad plate that includes generous portions of two dishes for £6.50).
  • The tiramisu was deliciously creamy, not too sweet, and zippy with coffee flavor. Good value for £3.50
  • The service is fast and efficient, despite the crowds (see “cons” below).
lasagne at Princi - eh.

lasagne at Princi - eh.

arancini at Princi - attractive, but still eh.

arancini at Princi - attractive, but still eh.

Now, the cons:

  • The place is a total zoo. Even at the early hour of 6:30 pm, it was almost impossible to find a space for two.  So don’t even think about going with a group for a sit-down meal.
  • The food Jon and I chose tasted so-so despite favorable appearances:
    A beetroot-and-blue cheese salad was skimpy on blue cheese.
    A tasty-looking slice of pizza for £2.50 was strangely flavorless (the biggest flaw being the sauce with no zing).
    A lasagne, which Jon loves (because he goes to Princi somewhat regularly for lunch), but which I thought was ridiculously salty.  To be fair, I always prefer a tomato-sauce-based lasagne over a béchamel-based one like Princi’s.
    Arancini and ricotta-filled pastry puffs that, again, looked lovely, but tasted stale.  Given the crowds of diners, you’d think rapid turnover would prevent this sort of “sitting around for a while” issue.

Including a £15 cheap-and-cheery rose, our tab totaled £40 for two people. If the place had been 95% calmer and quieter, I think our meal would’ve counted as a good value on the basis of stylin’ decor and quality ingredients, but £20 a person for what is essentially high-end cafeteria dining was unimpressive.

Everything about Princi *looked* great, but if there’s a next time, I’ll pick up only desserts and only on a takeaway basis. For future West End pre-theatre dining, I’ll stick with a quick bite at Leong’s, which remains a trusty standby.

For other views and photos of Princi, see Gourmet Chick’s and Tamarind & Thyme‘s posts.

Princi, 135 Wardour Street, W1F 0UT; (0)20 7478 8888.
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San Marzano tomatoes and burrata at Murano restaurant in Mayfair

San Marzano tomatoes and burrata at Murano restaurant in Mayfair

Last December, I tried Murano’s £25 lunch menu, which was outstanding value. I knew I’d be back, but as a testament to how slow I am to put words into action, I didn’t return until just last week. In the meantime, Murano picked up a Michelin star in January this year, and I can see why. Dinner at Murano was delicious and high quality (a bit like eating at the Ledbury, but with more formal service).

Murano offers two menus at dinner: a three-course a la carte menu for £55, and an eight-course tasting menu for £75. Encouraged by the same lovely freebies that I remembered from my £25 lunch – the fragrant white-truffle arancini, the melt-in-your-mouth coppa – Jon and I chose the tasting menu, which, interestingly enough, offers two options for most of the courses.

grilled foie gras with sweet and sour tomatoes

grilled foie gras with sweet and sour tomatoes

Apparently I was lying when I claimed to be foie gras‘d out after a week in the Loire Valley:  the instant I saw grilled foie gras among the tasting menu options, it was a no-brainer. One of these days, I’ll try cooking foie gras at home, but for now, I remain in awe of how one grills it. It’s got to be like grilling butter, no? I mean, how do you keep it from melting on the grill? In any event, Murano’s grilled foie was silky, creamy-meaty, and beautifully complemented by the intensely-sweet tomatoes, which had a caramelized flavor despite not showing any signs of having been caramelized. Quite a mystery but delight of a dish.

swiss chard and Sairass ricotta tortelli

swiss chard and Sairass ricotta tortelli

rocket and pecorino risotto

rocket and pecorino risotto

Generally, I’m rarely interested in pastas or risottos in high-end restaurants, but both dishes at Murano were intense and cheesy in a way that I could never duplicate at home (probably bc I’m not heavy-handed enough with the butter), and I loved them both. (Jon and I each ordered different ones and then did the old switcheroo so we each ended up eating a half portion).

pan-fried seabass with garden peas

pan-fried seabass with garden peas

I didn’t get too excited about the fish course, which was cooked just past raw and just shy of tough. In other words, it was cooked just right. But still, I find fish to be nothing special unless it’s sushi or I’m sitting by a large body of water while eating it.

herb salad with apples and cider vinaigrette

herb salad with apples and cider vinaigrette

Herb salads. Indulge me in a pet peeve rant: I know it’s intended as a palate cleanser, but what was wrong with the good ol’ sorbet? When I eat an herb salad, I feel like I’m eating an ingredient, rather than a meal.

Gressingham duck breast, carrot puree and white asparagus

Gressingham duck breast, carrot puree and white asparagus

roasted Cornish lamb served with neck bolognese and grilled courgettes

roasted Cornish lamb served with neck bolognese and grilled courgettes

Things were back on track with the meat courses. Duck was tender and sliced paper-thin. It really did melt in your mouth. Jon’s lamb was similarly luscious. There are moments when you’re sure you could never be a vegetarian, and this was one of them.

pistachio souffle served with warm chocolate sauce and macaron

pistachio souffle served with warm chocolate sauce and macaron

Feeling quite full after tiers of fun-flavored, jewel-like ice creams were served, I didn’t think we’d make it through dessert. But never underestimate the power of a *perfectly*-baked pistachio souffle. Just digging into the pillowy top was a treat, and I was so impatient to dig in that it was hard to let our server first pour liquid chocolate into it. The interior was yielding and moist without being liquidy. Brilliant. And is there a more perfect flavor marriage than that of pistachio and chocolate? I think not. The macaron was a nice visual accompaniment, but tough and crunchy (and altogether forgettable).

Service at Murano was friendly and attentive. The dining room is small and discreetly luxe. Factor in the tasty, easy-t0-love food, and it’s no surprise Murano earned its first Michelin star so soon after opening. I won’t be surprised to see it earn a second.

Murano Restaurant, 22 Queen Stret, W1J 5PR; 0207 592 1222; closest tube station: Green Park

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L'Anima Italian restauarant

L'Anima Italian restaurant

When I leave the office on Fridays, I’m always excited about the possibilities of the upcoming weekend. And the best way to start the weekend, in my opinion, is to have drinks and dinner with Jon.

Last Friday was Jon’s turn to plan our weekly “date night.” We met at a bar after work, and Jon announced we were going to L’Anima, which I’d heard of, but had no idea where it was located. Imagine my surprise to find it was near Liverpool Street station, about five minutes’ walk from my office. So it was like going back to work, pretty much, which was a bummer. I tried not to hold L’Anima’s location against it, but really, who wants to leave work on Friday and then end up eating dinner a stone’s throw away? Plus, while L’Anima’s sleek, all-white interior is lovely to look at, the views of the EDF office across the way (whose decor would be charitably described as utilitarian) didn’t bring to mind carefree glamour.

fritto misto at L'Anima

fritto misto at L'Anima

Luckily, Jon knows me well, and I was able to forget the whole location-near-my-office thing once our starters arrived. You see, part of the reason we were at L’Anima was so I could order the fritto misto. A year ago, we were in Venice and I was scarfing down as much fritto misto as humanly possible, and since then, I have craved that type of high-quality, fried seafood bounty. L’Anima’s version really does live up to the hype. There was a good variety of seafood in there (whole prawns, softshell crab, calamari, fish) and everything was crispy, grease-free and perfectly salted. Definitely worth the £14.25.

pappardelle with duck and pistachio ragu

pappardelle with duck ragu and toasted pistachios

Our pasta courses were slightly less appealing. Jon’s pappardelle with a duck ragu and pistachios (£11) was too intense. I hardly tasted anything except salt, which was a shame considering the luscious texture of the pappardelle.

chili and crab tagliolini - with tons of dill

taglierini with garlic, chilli and crab (and tons of dill)

And whenever I see a pasta with garlic, chilli and crab, I can’t resist ordering it. L’Anima’s version was served, inexplicably, with a ton of dill mixed in. It was overpowering. And it doesn’t help that I really dislike dill. So despite the generosity of crab meat and the wonderful al dente taglierini in this dish, it was hard for me to finish it. For £17.50, I expected a lot better. (Which means I’ll stick with the version served at Olivo in Belgravia, then. It’s so good there that occasionally I forgo their creamy-fishy spaghetti bottarga to have the linguine al granchio, which seems like a bargain now at £14.50).

grilled sea bream at L'Anima

grilled sea bream at L'Anima

Jon’s grilled sea bream (£16) tasted like summertime, with a smoky charred skin and a silky, firm flesh. Simple and good.

three-cheese plate

three-cheese plate

Although we were stuffed, the three-cheese plate for £10 seemed too good a deal to pass up. The generosity of pecorino, taleggio and gorgonzola were a nice way to end our meal.

Overall, I’d go back to L’Anima (especially for that fritto misto), but next time, I’ll skip the pastas. With a £30 bottle of an easy-drinking soave, our bill totaled £115 for two.

L’Anima, 1 Snowden Street, EC2A 2DQ, 020 7422 7000; closest Tube station: Liverpool Street Station.
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cherries in ice water at Bocca di Lupo

cherries in ice water at Bocca di Lupo

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.

lamb prosciutto at Bocca di Lupo

lamb prosciutto at Bocca di Lupo

bocconcino at Bocca di Lupo

bocconcino at Bocca di Lupo

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.

grilled pork chop at Bocca di Lupo

grilled pork chop at Bocca di Lupo

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.

stuffed tomatoes and sardines

stuffed tomatoes and sardines

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!

torta caprese at Bocca di Lupo

torta caprese at Bocca di Lupo

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.

pig's bloog and chocolate pudding

pig's bloog and chocolate pudding

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
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prosciutto and salami at Murano

prosciutto and salami at Murano

and breads, of course

and breads, of course

After a hectic past few weeks, I’m finally away for the holidays. Yay! A foot of snow has just dumped down on the northeast US, and now that I’m no longer traveling, it’s lovely to see the blanket of white outside.

Just before I left London, I tried the £25 lunch menu at Angela Hartnett’s Murano, and it ticked all the boxes: great service, lovely linens/china, and flashes of creativity on the understandably-limited menu – all at a fantabulous price.

The restaurant is still offering a decadent white truffle tasting menu (a £65 supplement for every white truffle course you add to your meal), and our waiter carried over a box of the precious fungus so we could have a peek and sniff (those are free). It’s heady stuff, that white truffle. We got our little taste of the good life in the fresh-out-of-the fryer white truffle arancini that arrived while we browsed the menu options.

And as if the creamy-crispy arancini weren’t pre-starter enough, after we placed our order, a generous pile of salumi arrived. I’d love to know who Murano’s supplier is, because I could have eaten that prosciutto all day. For vegetarians, there was a smoked aubergine puree dip that was creamy, sweet and nutty – a delish topping for the fresh, varied breads in our bread basket, but no match for the beauties of cured meat.

grilled mackerel tart with confit lemon green olive vinaigrette

grilled mackerel tart with confit lemon green olive vinaigrette

My starter of grilled mackerel tart was meaty and moist without any of the stinky fishiness that ruins mackerel’s popularity. And the sharp sweetness of the tomato-red “tart crust” added flavor and taste contrast. I enjoyed my starter immensely.

roasted guinea fowl with braised thigh, crosnes and Savoy cabbage puree

roasted guinea fowl with braised thigh, crosnes and Savoy cabbage puree

Roasted guinea fowl was juicy, but nothing too memorable, especially compared to the guinea fowl I had at Petershan Nurseries. On the other hand, the cost of the guinea fowl alone at Petersham approximated that of our entire lunch menu at Murano . . . .

pan-fried stonebass, sauce basquaise, chorizo and butter beans

pan-fried stonebass, sauce basquaise, chorizo and butter beans

The stonebass was beautifully pan fried so that its skin turned into crackling while the white, flaky meat stayed moist, but the treats hidden in the sauce basquaise were the highlight. Chorizo makes everything good. Murano knows how to source, no question.

sorbets in a rainbow of colors and flavors

sorbets in a rainbow of colors and flavors

The palate-cleansers were so fun – we couldn’t help smiling at the colors and flavors. Rich and creamy banana; refreshing and light basil; tart black currant were my faves, but polishing off all of the sorbets was no problem.

chocolate brownie with bloord oranges

fudge brownie with blood oranges

Dessert options were pretty unimaginative. Then again, it may be no more than a dressed-up brownie, but it was still worth the calories.

fruit tuiles, chocolates and panettone

petit fours: fruit tuiles, chocolates and panettone

I loved the petit fours – chocolate truffles, fruit tuiles and fresh, warm hunks of panettone. I’m still thinking of that panettone – its eggy texture and sweet tartness of candied citrus, balanced with plump sweet raisins. Nothing like those monsters that come in pretty boxes at this time of year.

What a steal for £25. Considering how much I loved all the goodies that came in between our courses, I’m guessing I’d love a full-on meal at Murano. To do in 2009, then.

Murano, 20 Queen Street, W1J 5PR, 0207 592 1222; closest tube station: Green Park
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Vigata Ristorante in Islington

Vigata Ristorante in Islington

Except for when I schlep down to Olivo and its sibling Oliveto in Belgravia, I’ve been disappointed when I eat at Italian restaurants in London. Compared to New York, London doesn’t have a huge number of Italian restos, so when I want to go Italian, I feel like I have few choices between a chain like Carluccio’s or a high-end place like Locanda Locatelli. During our (almost) three years In London, Jon and I have missed having a reasonably-priced, local neighborhood Italian resto to take the pressure off a weeknight when we’re too tired to cook.

Imagine our excitement when we saw that the always-empty Shahnaz Tandoor was finally shutting down and that an Italian resto, Vigata, would be opening in its place.

Vigata opened for business on 17 July. Jon and I have already eaten there twice. The menu prices have changed about a dozen times already. It’s fair to say that Vigata is still working out the kinks, but here’s what I think is promising about Vigata: (more…)

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