Friday, March 05, 2010
Bocca di Lupo: Our Best Lunch Ever
The alchemy of a fantastic meal is difficult, but not impossible, to define. Is it the anticipation? Is it the company? Is it the surroundings? Is it the service? Is it the food? Likely it is a combination of all of these things, but the formula is never the same. But when you have a truly memorable, astounding meal, the joy of the experience will last several days.
Our recent lunch at Bocca di Lupo left me so full of good food that I was happy for two days afterward. It was that good.
To get there, we traversed Leicester Square and walked past Chinatown, and took a left to get to this small restaurant on a side street in Soho. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically, which helped enormously on a cold day in February. Unlike Locanda Locatelli, where it seems as though you have to take a Hipness Test just to secure a table, there is no attitude at Bocca di Lupo.
As we could only get a reservation at the counter, they asked us if we would like to be close to the chef. We thought that would be great fun, so we said "Please." When we got to our seats, I thought it would be terrible, because we were on the end where all of the waiters go to pick up the food. How wrong I was. They were the Best Seats in the House.
As Head Chef Jacob Kenedy wasn't there, we could see the handiwork of David Cook, the second chef, up close. We could see him discard a dish because it had too much parsley on it. We learned as soon as he did that they had run out of the brioche dessert. We saw him yell at one waiter that he was rushing the diners, and then he told us he was talking about us. We could ask him questions about certain ingredients. We could see what dishes were the most popular-- Cream of Langoustine Risotto went through the pass several times-- and the ones that were hardly ever ordered-- Coda all Vaccinara (braised oxtail).
Bocca di Lupo could be described as Italian tapas, because you can order either the small sized dish or the large dish. We ordered seven small dishes shared between the two of us, and that satisfied us until breakfast the next day. The highlights were the Spaghetti & Parmesan Frittata (fresh eggs + careful preparation = gorgeous dish) and the Crescentini (fried bread) with finocchiona, speck and squacquerone (a fresh runny cheese with a big salt kick=delicious).
When we return, and you better believe we'll be back, we'll probably sit at the counter again just for the Food Theatre. The chef never measured anuthing with a measuring cup, he did it all by handfuls, tastes and smells. When we asked about the squacquerone, we agreed that it was sublime but probably also not very healthy."If you're going to pick your poison," I said, "I want it to taste good."
We finished off with a build-your-own Cannoli and a Bombe Calde (freshly fried donut with a chocolate cream filling). By then we were very fully, very satisfied and very happy.
Once we recognized during the meal that this was going to be one for the record books, we took a trip a down memory lane ranking our favourite meals out. In the Top 5 were the Connaught Hotel with Angela Hartnett for our 10th anniversary in 2005, a place in Dijon we went to on our honeymoon in 1995 and will never find again, any night at Pastafina in Chicago (our local when we were courting and beyond (1991-1998), grilled halibut fresh off the docks in Homer, Alaska (1996), and Bocca di Lupo (2010).
The science of alchemy is a mystery, just like the variables at work in our Top 5 Favourite Meals of All Time. But when you get it right, it's pure gold.
Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, Soho, London W1D 7BB. 020.7734.2223.