On a Soho backstreet, moments from the sordid nucleus of sex shops and two-bit strip clubs, there lies an Italian restaurant with a difference. Since opening in 2008, Bocca Di Lupo has forever been swamped by an adoring fanbase for its unquestionable atmosphere and region-bending approach to Italian cuisine.
To the paying customer that equates to an amalgam of Italian recipes whose origins are rooted in various regions. The lack of theme is the theme. If you are utterly clueless as to where specific dishes come from – as is almost everyone who eats here – worry not for they’ve gone to the trouble of listing the region by its corresponding dish throughout the menu.
Bocca Di Lupo is a popular place so don’t expect to land one of the fourteen tables by ringing up on the day you want it. It’s one of those happening establishments where the background noise constantly sounds like subdued canned-laughter. However the odds of acquiring a seat at the chef’s counter on short notice are more favourable.
Along with the multi-regional concept another feature of the menu is the option of having a small or large version of almost every available dish, which is a good way to get to try a few different things if you’re dining solo – as I often am – or conversely ordering large plates lends itself to sharing if you’re lucky enough to have friends.
Chifferi with wild kid goat ragù & pecorino £9.00
Pasta is a useful arbiter by which to gauge an Italian restaurant, so I begin with that. It’s chifferi in a wild kid goat ragù sprinkled with pecorino. It’s good, not great. Not of the same calibre you’d find at say Zucca in Bermondsey at a similar price point. The ragù is everything you’d want it to be but the pasta – which is made in-house – is just a sliver beyond al dente so the texture suffers slightly.
Foie gras luganega £8.00
Sausages are also conjured on the premises. I just picked the one that sounded most lavish: foie gras luganega – a sausage seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. The meat is quite coarsely chopped yet soft and oily. Think Cumberland sausage but richer.
Tripe with guanciale, chilli & tomato £7.50
The tripe was easy to stomach (Punhouse! whole lotta fun, prizes to be won!) for it came smothered in guanciale bacon, cheese, chilli and tomato which not only took the psychological edge off it but took the flavour to a whole other level. If you’re on the fence when it comes to tripe, this is as good as place as any to start testing your metal.
Sicilian red prawn £7.00 each
A Sicilian red prawn came grilled and was a short-lived but enjoyable hit of the sea. I wish I’d chosen more of the seafood, but something had to give. Two men dining near me received an attention seeking plate of squid, prawns, monkfish and soft shell crab piled about six inches high, known as fritto misto from a separate lunch & pre-theatre menu. It looked like something worth ordering, but it was so big it wouldn’t have left room for anything else. Another time.
A selection of game birds were on offer. There was partidge; pigeon; wigeon; and teal which was denoted on the menu as a ‘tiny, exquisite duck’. Seeing as the other three were relegated to adjectives merely describing how light or dark the meat was and the degree of gameyness, you aren’t exactly left scratching your head. Why have £22 ‘medium, meaty duck’ when you could have £17 ‘exquisite duck’? They may as well have used a highlighter pen. Anyway, this was my first time with teal and it came roasted and topped with a strip of delicious guanciale bacon. It tasted powerful, and sustained its flavour on your palate. It was a little tough to cut into, but you make do.
3 profiteroles £8.00
Turn to the back of the menu and there’s a choice of gelati from Gelupo across the street. Then there’s more extravagant desserts such as sanguinaccio – a sweet pâté of pig’s blood and chocolate. Profiteroles were three, each filled with one of pistachio, hazelnut and chestnut gelati, then finished with a warm chocolate sauce. It was easy to decipher which was which and choux pastry was light and textured.
Everything found a way to please and that includes the service and extends as far as the bill. The constantly packed house speaks for itself. The volume of others never settles nor does it get in the way of your own conversation. You’d never have taken this for a family run outfit, but it is. Bocca Di Lupo successfully distorts the notion of a trattoria by generating electricity and blending regions in the way that it does. It will continue being one of Soho’s little firecrackers for as long as it wants.
food : 8/10
service : 8/10
ambience : 9/10
value : 8.5/10
Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street, London, W1D 7BB
0207 734 2223