"But it was the cotechino I was really waiting for; all delicious fatty pork, gelatinous pork skin, earthy green lentils and luscious, spicy mustard fruits..."
Another week, another restaurant review, another hip Soho joint serving small plates of regional Italian food. No it's not Polpo, it's not even Polpetto, it's Bocca di Lupo. But before we get on to the food, there is another issue that needs exploring. Why did they name it after a wolf's mouth? After all, it isn't the traditional route most Italian places go down - usually its Da Mario, Luigi's, Locanda this and Trattoria della that.
Those of us with a classical education might suggest that it they were inspired by the female wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Slightly more prosaically, a bit of internet sleuthing suggests it’s an allusion to the Italian phrase 'avere una fama da lupo', to be hungry like a wolf! In any case, I'd give it the award for London restaurant with the coolest name! But to have a cool name is one thing, you definitely don't want to be a restaurant that's all wolf's mouth and no furry trousers.
I've been to Bocca di Lupo a couple of times and have previously praised the high standard quality of cooking on offer there, so you would assume that I'm a fan of Jacob Kennedy's work. Before this trip, I'd have said you'd be absolutely correct; however, Masterchef style, I'm going to artificially create a bit of tension and you'll have to wait til the end of the review to find out whether this is still the case!
One thing I will say for them is that they make choosing your food difficult. There's so many appealing dishes on the menu that it took all my resolve not go a little bit crazy and order the whole lot (especially the beef with white truffle). Deciding in the end for a couple of fritti romani, pumpkin cappellacci, sardines, some fried squacquerone cheese (how can you not!) and cotechino sausage with lentils and mostarda, I sat back and waited for the magic to begin.
There was a very promising start: the pumpkin cappellacci was excellent and a good example of that now fairly standard combination of pumpkin, sage and amaretti. The squacqurone with fennel salami and cresentine was decent, as were the grilled sardines. But then you can't expect too much from a humble grilled sardine, especially when you're in the heart of London in the depths of winter.
But it was the cotechino I was really waiting for; all delicious fatty pork, gelatinous pork skin, earthy green lentils and luscious, spicy mustard fruits. It was very nice, but I ordered a large portion and had visions of a steaming pile of lentils, topped with the mighty sausage and adorned with plenty of the jewel like mostarda. What arrived was just a bit too dainty, more suited to a ladies' lunch than a hunter's dinner. This was a very cold evening, I was as hungry as a wolf and in the mood for something a bit heartier.
Moving onwards to dessert. I have a massive weakness for ice-cream of any sort and also for tiramisu, even the ones you get next to the yoghurt in the supermarket. So the tiramisu gelato was right up my street and thankfully lived up to its billing - VD (my usual date on these occasions) didn't even get a look in. Last time we ate here, she braved the saguinaccio, a chocolate paté with a porky surprise of pig's blood lurking at its heart: a dish for the curious, but not perhaps the squeamish. Once bitten is twice shy, so she rounded things off with another gelato.
So what's the verdict then? As previously, the cooking was very good, but on reflection, I detected a slight meaness to some of the portions on offer, at odds with the traditional Italian way of doing things. Small plates they may be, but a fiver for a small fried artichoke seemed a bit steep.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t hesitate in going back. But whether the cooking is much better than what is on offer at Polpo, as I claimed on these very pages just a couple of weeks ago, is up for debate. Still I’m sure to return in the hope that they’ve upsized that cotechino.
Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, London, W1D 7BB
020 7734 2223
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner
Approximately £50 a head, including wine