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Oct 18, 2009 04:38 AM

[London] Bocca Di Lupo

Finally managed to make it here, after a lot of anticipation. Didnt make a reservation as such but got a place at the bar about 10.30.. The place was buzzing. Great decor, friendly staff. The (complimentary?) olives, foccacia and bread were served with a very nice olive oil

Sadly, I was not on form with my ordering and for some reason managed order some rather duff dishes which was a big disappointment.. For some reason i went for the two 'street food' options, which was definitely a school boy error. First up was the Sicilian speciality Pani Ca Meusa, )lung and spleen on focaccia with onions and smoked ricotta.) The dish was a bit tough, lukewarm and just a bit underwhelming. Probably best left for the streets of Palermo.

Then came the spaghetti with mullet Bottarga fritatta. One of my favourite dishes is mentaiko spaghetti, (spicy japanese pollock roe spaghetti). I was hoping for something along those lines, but sadly what came out was a clump of spaghetti set in eggs, virtually no bottarga what so ever. Although it didn't taste bad, it was disappointing to pay £16 for a rather bland disc of carbs. Bottarga is certainly not cheap, but there was none in there!! I brought this up with the host and he admitted it 'wasn't their most exciting dish' which brought me to ask why they serve it in the first place....

Friends did fair much better with Grilled Squid, lobster and mussel spaghetti with ginger (which was very nice but could probably be made just as well at home), and a pork, ham and mortadella tortellini in a cream sauce w/ nutmeg ..

Desserts were great.. kept the Sicilian theme by ordering grape and strawberry granita with cream, and burnt almond granita with dark chocolate gelato. Both fresh, flavourful and the right level of sweetness.

Despite the underwhelming experience, i'd definitely return and try some other things. If anyone has some recs, please advise!

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  1. Sad you were disappointed. I eat lunch here fairly regularly, alone at the bar, normally ordering a bowl of their pasta amatriciana with one or two other things, and I have to say I think the lung and spleen sandwich is my favorite thing I've eaten this year. Perhaps a tired kitchen weren't up to scratch at the end of a busy service, but on the two occasions I've had it it's been transcendently good: yielding, rich, warm and comforting, quite the opposite of how you describe. For anyone who hasn't tried it, it can be delicious, please don't be put off. The spleen has the flavour of a very mild boudin noir, and a similar, though naturally less grainy texture. The ricotta curds and the light focaccia lift this rendition head and shoulders above the versions I've had in Italy. Nowhere ever lives up to hype, that's the point of hype, it goes over the top, but Bocca di Lupo is a genuinely good restaurant at the moment. I would also add that the floor staff probably have no say in what's put on the menu, so a server who acknowledges the merits and demerits of various dishes is to be commended for their honesty, no? It may be slightly disloyal to the kitchen, but a good waiter should tell you, if asked, what in their opinion is good and not so good. A frequently changing menu from a busy kitchen is never going to get everything right. Anyway, I would advise you to go back for a bowl of pasta at the bar, chat with the chefs, find out what's good, and order a couple of little things. I should add that I've never actually enjoyed a 'main' course here, and now exclusively order starters. Anyway, hope this doesn't put you off, thanks for your report!

    6 Replies
    1. re: skut

      You wrote the magic word... 'amatriciana.' That is my favourite sauce. Is it usually easy to grab a seat at the bar for lunchtime? I will hear there soon,

      1. re: zuriga1

        Generally there is space at the bar after two. Sometimes I call to check, sometimes I just turn up on a whim. The pasta amatriciana is huge and costs about £8. This is a meal in itself, but out of greed I often supplement it with one or two other things, as the pasta is generous and delicious, rather than being sensational, if that distinction makes sense.

        1. re: zuriga1

          zuriga - this is a ridiculously easy sauce to make at home


          1. re: howler

            What makes you think I've never made it at home? :-) Old, Jewish ladies know how to cook their favorite sauces!! They also know how to use the web when in doubt... did that for puy lentil salad with pine nuts the other day.

            Seriously, I did enjoy that website you sent and will try their recipe for something tough like sauce Bolognese which is unknown in the States. We just called it meat sauce.

        2. re: skut

          Don't get me wrong, i totally acknowledge this place is a really decent restaurant. It was just a bit of bad luck.

          As i said, i'll be back to try some other things. The lunch menu looks like great value and some really good looking things on there.

          Looks like Jasper Gerard had the same idea about the spleen dish

          1. Bocca Di Lupo: Four years down the road.

            I came here on the strength of the deluge of lavish Yelp reviews, with more than one reviewer talking about their "emotional" reaction to Bocca's supposedly exceptional cuisine: "It was so good I want to cry", "For me a trip to London is not complete without eating at BDL!", "This place is absolutely exceptional", etc, etc.

            Can you blame me if I actually stepped into this place with more than heightened expectations?

            Well, turned out the meal was *just* okay - it was actually something like the 'Chez Panisse' of London, i.e. they can serve anything and everything and still get the *exceptional* rating from their adoring fans.

            My dinner:

            - Cream of langoustine & red prawn risotto: good, not exceptional nor great. The risotto was over-salted and the prawns weren't fresh;

            - Roast suckling pig & fennel with wine and bay leaf: *parts" of the pig-skin was wonderfully crunchy but was unevenly cooked. The pork had a great texture, but the taste was pretty one-dimensional.

            - Dessert was a Brioche 'sandwich' of ricotta-sour cherry & coconut gelato: here again, my expectations probably reached unrealistic heights after BDL fans sang praises about the gelato here. And yet again, what you get here wasn't really *that* much different from those one would find in most gelateria around London.

            Sitting at the bar was no fun really - perched on an uncomfortable stool and hemmed in (elbow-to-elbow) with strangers was *not* my idea of a relaxing, fun dinner. Seeing the action in an open kitchen no longer held any attraction for me (and probably not for many other diners, too).

            Not really keen to return.

            Address details
            Boca Di Lupo
            12 Archer St
            London W1D 7BB
            Tel: +44 20 7734 2223

            15 Replies
            1. re: klyeoh

              Hmmm... well, I guess we'll give it a try regardless. We're supposed to have a wonderful Italian place near where we live, but I never think it's very good and I've stopped going there. I don't think I've had many good Italian meals in England - they don't rival my memories of Italian food in the States, but maybe I've gone to the wrong chefs.

              1. re: zuriga1

                zuriga1, have you tried Locanda Locatelli? I'd heard good things about it (but then, I can say the same about Bocca Di Lupo!)

                I'm planning to do that either this week, or else late next week when I'm back from Brussels.

                I'm like you - I'd had quite a few good Italian meals in the US, and somehow their London counterparts did not quite measure up.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  It was 2008 when we made our only trip to Locatelli. Mrs H had been wanting to go for a long time but we couldnt tie in getting to London with them having a table available.

                  In the event, it was an unsatisfactory meal. Didnt like being crammed in. Didnt like the service ( we are doing you a favour letting you eat here).. And the food was exceptionally average. At the time, the Good Food Guide gave it a 6, now downrated to 4 which seems about right. Unless it has bucked up considerably, I am suprised it's held its star.

                  (2008 review here, FWIW -

                  1. re: Harters

                    Well, Harters, it's now 2013 and we're *still* crammed in elbow-to-elbow at the bar counter-seats. I felt like I'm eating whilst seated in the middle seat of a coach-class airline cabin, but with greater noise level. Luckily the lady on my left, and the man on my right were both friendly-like, but I still had to sit and eat with a permanent "shrugged-shoulders-elbows-tucked-in" position for close to 90 minutes. I guess it didn't help much that I'm 6 feet 2 and 230 lbs (average size of Chowhounds).

                    I don't blame BDL though - they *are* trying to cater to overwhelming market demand: it's permanently full, and people are literally gagging to snare a seat.

                  2. re: klyeoh

                    When I first arrived here, Locatelli was high on my list, but somehow we've never gotten there. Locatelli was on a recent TV show here touring around Italy with a well-known art critic, and it was a really good programme, combining the two sides of life.

                    I guess I'll get there one day and will let you know when I do. I'm glad you agree with my views on British, Italian meals. I'm not sure why so many Italian chefs seem to not do as well here as they do at home. For one thing, I don't think American, Italian restaurants put so much chili into every dish.. maybe because they are mostly Sicilian. Northern Italian food was a rarity in the States until a few decades back.

                    I've got a thing about all the chili used over here!

                    1. re: zuriga1

                      Phil, I find that too many dishes in too many restaurants here feel they have to make things very spicy. I'm more used to it now than before, but it seems to be in way too many recipes. I do know what you mean about the Americans using way too many tomatoes at times.

                    2. re: klyeoh

                      Strange you mention LL it doesn't feature on my London must try list. I really want to try Apsley's, Zafferinino, River Cafe and Murano. Not tried any of them - but how do they stack up.

                      Odd comment from Zuriga regarding Chilli - not something I have ever noticed. My criticism of US Italian is they use too much tomato and smother much in overly sweet sauces.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        I must have tried River Cafe eons ago and had not returned to it since Jaime Oliver was working there!

                        Zafferano was really good, but I couldn't recall what I had anymore when I last ate there - during my pre-Chowhound days - an old college pal (she's from Quito) who's an Ecuadoran envoy was a regular there, and she brought me there in 2005-2006 thereabouts.

                        Murano intimidates me - it seems very stiff and formal, so if I have to dine there tonight, I may have to keep on my business suit and tie, something I'm loathe to do unless absolutely necessary.

                        But Apsleys look interesting - I may check that out. It's also quite near a couple of hotels (owned by Singapore relatives) which I usually stayed at: the Metropolitan and the Halkin.

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          Speaking of the River Cafe, ex head chef, Theo Randall, has been at his eponymous restaurant at the Intercontinental in Mayfair for some time. Rarely seems to get a mention amongst Italian places in the capital.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Following established chefs around in London can be quite a challenge, whilst trying not to let up-and-coming new talents fall by wayside - for example, I don't think Giorgio Locatelli himself was cooking at Zafferano anymore when I ate there back in 2005/6, but it didn't detract from the excellent quality of produce and stellar cooking there and then.

                            I'm just curious how Locanda (his decade-old restaurant) which has retained its 1-Michelin-star 8 times in a row stacks up against Zafferano.

                          2. re: klyeoh

                            I often wonder if you can really do cheap Italian in London given the dishes are so ingredient driven and often best is a "less is more". Great Buratta needs to be spanking fresh, tomatoes need to be fresh off the vine etc.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Some of the best mozzarella I've had in London has been at the Italian places in Brixton market. Paola at Casa Sibilla also has great olive oil from her family's land in Puglia, and vegetables from there that she's preserved herself. She can also be seen making orechiette with her mother (when she's visiting).

                          3. re: PhilD

                            I thought the River Cafe was amazing on my one-and-only trip there last year. Really exceptional food. Plus Ruth Rogers came over to say hello to us, because my fellow diner had mentioned to the waitress how much she'd enjoyed cooking from the River Cafe books with her young daughter (who was also there).

                            I have also been to Bocca de Lupo - my experience chimes with klyeoh's. Good but not great.

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              Zucca features highly on my list to try. I've heard very good things about it. It's a bit more casual than LL.

                              I've tried Apsleys and Murano and thought both were decent but not amazing. I did have a standout dish at Murano though--the scallops tartar. They also do a 3 course lunch for £30. The atmosphere is a bit formal and quiet, but no need for a tie.

                              1. re: FooDiY

                                Thanks for the info, FooDiY. Weekday lunch is out for me, I'm afraid - we have less than 1 hour and my office is off the Strand.

                    3. Has anyone been to Assaggi in Notting Hill recently? I had an excellent lunch there several years ago...but it wasn't cheap.

                      1. Ate there recently - didn't seem as good as my first visit years ago when they first opened -- on the whole it was very good but not great.

                        Fried artichoke was a bit more fried that I would have liked -- a dark tan rather than golden. Pleasant crispiness, and medium soft interior.

                        Trofie with pesto, potato and green beans is a Ligurian classic. In this rendition, the pasta was perfectly cooked, with a lovely chewy texture. Pesto tasted fresh and flavoursome, potatoes were ok, but I wished that the soft green beans were more lightly cooked, for a sharper vegetal flavour and snap to contrast the pesto.

                        The breadcrumb and parmesan topping was light and crunchy on the half lobster, which was tender and sweet -- as should be expected of native lobsters, unlike the bigger and tougher varieties from Canada that some places use.

                        The grilled sausages were juicy and savoury; I particularly liked the spicy one. But felt somewhat overpriced at ~£6-7 per sausage.