Bocca di Lupo (London): a bit of a letdown

(Visited December 2012)

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It had been a long time since we’d come, in the early weeks of opening when it was all the rage, and we were really looking forward to our lunch at Bocca di Lupo. We love the concept of a grand tour of regional, often lesser known abroad, Italian dishes. It is not that all that common to find agnolotti del Plin in London!

Sadly, this time the best thing was the promising menu, and unfulfilled promises have a sour taste. The bread started out reasonably well:

Bread basket

Bread basket

In the savoury dishes, the overwhelming note was the heavy hand: too much salt, but most importantly too much oil, and when we say too much we really mean it. Ok, let’s explain.

We go with a number of dishes to share – starting with the said ravioli del plin:

Ravioli del plin in a slimmed down version

Ravioli del plin in a slimmed down version

While not disastrous, these ravioli begin a sense of letdown. The filling is nowhere enough, the dough dominates, and therefore the crucial meat flavour is sadly lacking (imagine that the very traditional way of eating them is in a napkin with NO condiment at all: all flavour must really come from the filling, not from immensely copious butter and cheese as here – the link at the beginning provides a pretty good idea of the real thing). Better to have half of the ravioli with double the filling.

The rest of the meal was a “Carciofo alla Giudia”. As proof of our enthusiasm, we jumped on it before remembering to take a picture – here are the remains of the artichoke:

The remains of the artichoke

The remains of the artichoke

a veal tartare:

Veal tartare

Veal tartare

a couple of pieces of Bollito (a slice of veal tongue and one of cotechino)

Bollito

Bollito

a puntarelle salad:

Puntarelle salaad

Puntarelle salad

and a chargrilled red radicchio.

Red Radicchio

Red Radicchio

The artichoke was good, but dripping oil profusely- sure, it is deep fried, but especially in view of the fact that this specimen was very trimmed, you don’t have the usual motive of a lot of leaves trapping the oil. It was just poor frying. The puntarelle salad, though the puntarelle were of good quality, again swam in oil. Not to mention the excess of salt that coupled with the salty anchovies was near murderous. Even the veal tartare (with many stringy bits left in, what a dishearteningly sloppy preparation) was soaked in oil, the meat of acceptable quality but a far cry from e.g. this one:

Trio Consorzio, Turin, NOT Bocca di Lupo!

since we are talking regional cuisine. Why don’t they just put the olive oil bottle on the table and let the customer take care of the dressing?

The red radicchio escaped the oil onslaught, but the “balsamic vinegar” dressing was rather sharp, in other words it was that not-th-real-thing balsamic that should be banned from existence – and with the radicchio being bitter (and, if that wasn’t enough, chargrilled!) this dish sang markedly out of tune.

The bollito was the best savoury dish, fine and simple and accompanied by good sauces.

At this point, we weren’t quite sure we should proceed with desserts – but we saw a Bunet (of which we eat tons when in Turin), and decided to share. And then Man saw the sabayon with poached pears, and Woman said no let’s leave it we make a perfect one at home, and Man said but come on on a dreary day like this it’s nice to have homely comfort food, and in the end red wine poached pears with sabayon were also ordered…

Well… the Bunet

Bunet/Bonet

Bunet/Bonet

was ok – though really different from any other Bunet we’ve ever tried – it is supposed to be a variation on the creme caramel, where coffee, amaretto biscuits and chocolate are added to the mixture. This one felt very different in texture, with the interior gooey and closer to a fondant – but no complaints here, as it tasted very good. But the pear:

not-so-enticing untrimmed pears in red wine

not-so-enticing untrimmed pears in red wine

Sabayon on the pears

Sabayon on the pears

oh dear, the pear and sabayon: just wrong. First of all, the pears were stone cold, and so was the plate they were on, as well as the pool of red wine syrup that bathed them. Ok, we could live with that, had it not been for the fact that upon contact the sabayon struggled to retain any warmth. Add to this that:

1. the glacial red wine syrup, diluted the poor sabayon into a cold, sorry, soggy, watery mess;

2. the pears were not peeled;

3. the pears had been cut in half but not stoned (stoning a pear isn’t beyond the wit of anyone while keeping the pear whole, but leaving it like that once you’ve opened is just like shouting ‘I don’t care’);

and we couldn’t avoid feeling shortchanged – mind you, we’d be fine with this in Aunt Mary’s greasy spoon, but once you are being charged £7.o0,  yes seven pounds ladies and gentlemen for a conference pear with egg yolk  whisked with a tablespoon of sugar and one of booze, you start bloody well demanding more attention to detail.

There are places in London nowadays offering well made, truly regional Italian fare at knock down prices (the way it should be, by the way, with this type of traditional cuisine where you do not bother with jus and turning of vegetables)  and our experience at Briciole just a couple of days earlier couldn’t be a more dramatic contrast with this one. They have the good ingredients, they have the skill, why do they not seem to care at Bocca di Lupo? Was it an off day, just before x-mas?  Or have Kennedy and Hugo (the minds behind BdL) taken their eyes off the ball terminally? Who knows, but it’ll take us a long while to be tempted to check again.

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2 comments on “Bocca di Lupo (London): a bit of a letdown

  1. maurozz says:

    I just take one sentence out of your post: “Why don’t they just put the olive oil bottle on the table and let the customer take care of the dressing?”

    this is a perfect example of how italian food should be perceived abroad (I’m more on germany trips but the story perfectly applies also there) … and the fun is that many chef are italian indeed, but I asked one of them and he admitted: “my friend, nobody here wanna eat italian food, they wanna eat what they think italian food is … and I have to keep a restaurant open”.

  2. absolutely, we’ve heard that line too…

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