Usually when your job requires you spend the night in…
Bocca di Lupo 12 Archer Street, off Rupert Street, Soho, London W1D 7BB
And then we ate this! And then we had that! And then…
...You’ll have to forgive me if I mumble my words on this post. I feel like an overexcited child after their summer holidays, desperate to get everything out…
It’s because I’ve just had one of the most incredible meals of my life: dish after dish of rustic and regional Italian perfection. I’ve wiped plates clean of nouvelle Czech cuisine in Tabór, grazed on street-side snacks in Kerala, gorged on gourmet raw food in Brooklyn, but it was the shaved radish, celeriac and pecorino salad with pomegranate and truffle dressing at the ‘chef’s counter’ of London‘s brightest young Italian eaterie that clinched it as my best-ever feast to date. Thank you, chef Jacob Kenedy and deputy, David Cook. Even the giant apple-crisp olives were spine-tingling.
You’ll always remember your first time. Trust me. The side-by-side seats at the chef-view counter of this Italian restaurant was the perfect rendezvous for a low-key-but-luxe soirée with a glam amica, and our dining debut at Bocca di Lupo. Sexy contemporary chandeliers, sleek creamy marble bar, chic art deco flourishes – the elegance of this trattoria comes as a surprise, just a swerve off a seedy Soho sidestreet. GM, co-owner and Hollywood-charming maître d’ Victor Hugo welcomed us and had aperitivi in our hand quick-smart as he navigated us to our special cook-side table. As it was Kirsty’s birthday, prosecco added a splash of sparkle and set a suitable special-occasion tone. Victor then seamlessly passed the baton of affable-but-professional hospitality to our delightful waiter, Richard. Also as masterful as a Barnum performer when treading that tightrope between friendly and fraternising, Richard talked us expertly through the exciting array of dishes and ingredients hailing from the toe to the thigh of this food-loving boot-shaped land.
The seemingly informal à la carte menu was as titillating as the smells and sizzles that emanated from the crew of foodsmiths chopping, stirring before us. We crosschecked cruditá di mare with what the photograph-fit plates being lovingly ladled in front of our eyes, and it was even more mouthwatering in reality. Any grazers (or, put less graciously, gluttons) will love that servings come in small and large. Order in a lots-of-little-plates tapas way, or play it trad and enjoy a more conventional five-course Italian banquet, primo, secondo, contorno and so on. Now the only snag on my visit with my fashionista friend was that she’s a veggie. It’s all very noble not eating any animals, but sidestepping meaty creations such as grilled rib of beef, even if the passatelli (Romagnan breadcrumb and Parmesan pasta with red onion, tomato and rocket) and trofie (Ligurian dish with green beans, potato and pesto) was delicious, seemed a travesty. And frankly the veal and pork agnolotti with butter and sage smelled to die for. (If pushed, I’d reckon I’d have rolled up my sleeves and sacrificed a cute little fluffy sheep personally just to have a taste of the rack of lamb with caponata I could spy hitting the pass. Sorry, Kirst.) The crispy fried artichokes are a speciality but a deep-fry too far for these ladies perhaps.
So the second time, I took my pa. Decidedly less glamorous in a dress, but always a more willing partner in carnivoristic crime. And appropriately (and on this occasion, less-cringingly), an all-R-rolling, all-Repubblica-referencing Italophile. As we rested on our ringside stools, Dad even fleshed out what the name of the place means. (By now, I’d come to think of those chef’s counter chairs as much my rightful perch as Norm in Cheers’ seat at the bar; but with better posture/sartorial sense, I’m hoping.) ‘It’s what Italians say to encourage those about to undertake a daunting feat,’ Dad said eyeballing the grilled squid with gremolata, ‘Such as before final exams, a fateful interview, or a downhill ski race,’ he continued. ‘In bocca di lupo!’ he boomed, a tiny morsel of homemade focaccia studded with potato and rosemary flying from his mouth onto the sizzling griddle ahead. (I’m relieved to report that I don’t think anyone noticed.) Translating literally as the ‘Mouth of the wolf’, but an expression meaning the same as our ‘Break a leg’, we took that as a cue to our own challenge. We steeled ourselves and wished each other the best of luck in making sure we tried every darned thing we could fit into our greedy gullets in one two-hour sitting before Dad head to the airport to return to Canada. The only headline act we didn’t manage? The rustic pork and foie gras sausage with farro and porcini. Sigh.
Next to us on that Tuesday lunchtime sat two sharp-suited gents who couldn’t have better affected a look of high-ranking Italian diplomat and professional epicurean after a day with the BBC’s chief wardrobe mistresses. Below, in the more formal dining room at the back, groomed-to-perfection socialities gossiped alongside business heavyweights brokering big deals. Beyond, a family of four enjoying a relaxed, inexpensive lunch and seemed almost incongruous backdropped by the sophisticated glossy beige decor. But dredging these characters from my memory comes at a push frankly – my strongest recollection is simply all the delicious flavours devoured from many, many small plates paraded in front of us.
In spite of all the heavenly morsels we had oohed and ahhed over, when the time finally came to say arrivederci, I was a little thrown when Dad turned and looked at me most solemnly. As we skulked out back into the afternoon light, he frowned. ‘I just wish we’d tried that foie gras sausage,’ he sighed. When I say I could swear I saw a tear, believe me I’m not exaggerating. I wouldn’t be surprised if he flew back from Canada especially.
Book seats at the ‘chef’s counter’, the less formal bar seating by the chefs, ring 020 7734 2223 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to stay near Bocca di Lupo?
Soho Hotel Modern British wit in central secrecy Rates £255–£2,500 plus VAT and breakfast.
Haymarket Hotel Witty British bolthole on Theatreland thoroughfare Rates Doubles, £250–£310; Junior suites, £385; superior suites, from £1,750 up to £4,500 for a two- to five-bedroom townhouse. Rates exclude VAT and breakfast (£18.50 a person).
No 5 Maddox Street Hotel Fit-for-a-film-star pieds-à-terre in Mayfair Rates One-bedroom Executive Suites start at £245 a night excluding VAT, two-bedroom suites from £495, and the three-bedroom Bartlett Suite from £750.