Tuesday, 2 August 2011

[Restaurant - Italian] Hungry like a Wolf; Bocca di Lupo of Soho

Location - Soho, London [UK]

Anticipation. It has the habit of either being your BFF or a factor of disappointment that you will rue until the demise of time. Or if you don't embellish such concepts, do not take particular notice from, but rather use it as a reminder of how in the end anticipation counts for little, but can add to a certain experience. On this occasion, I have been left stranded - I am an avid subscriber of having to experience something or never finding out, rather than relying on hearsay, semantics and shamanistic predictions, but even so, when an experience does not fulfil the grandeur created, it still hurts. Even a widdle bit. Spoiler? Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe the slightly malformed Good Wish labelling of Bocca di Lupo was an obscure indication.

Sentiment amply set, helping to eradicate some further anticipation. Though in essence I'm writing to myself so I will only be self-surprised. My obsession with Bocca di Lupo started in the infancy of my research for restaurants to sample in the beginning of this perpetual infatuation with, well, eating. Beyond subsistence that is. I was immediately woo'd by the menu, for one reason alone - it included regionality! Henceforth it automatically made the food delectable as if they go through the trouble of such traditional courses they certainly must have done their homework. Just saying. Makes sense in my head! And so my insistence began, for well aeons. Despite the fact that it was located in Skanktown Soho. Apparently this place was popular, as on our first visit it was obvious that drop-by's are delusional at best. This was confirmed by an attempted booking of a few days advance when I was informed that they are usually booked upto 3-4 weeks in advance. Ah.

Third time was the charm - one of the non-believers of the restaurant who had previously assumed the restaurant to be a "Babidi Boobidi" Skank false-Italian eatery had recently been enamoured with their menu, wishing to sample their "Fiorentina" steak, so I decided to attempt a booking for his return from a short break. Success. However, on his return the surprise was in a swift move, foiled. As he had decided to surprise me with a booking at the same restaurant. However my timing was better so we used it instead. Third time the charm then. Getting lost and actually walking circles around Leicester Square only served to stoke our appetites, thus this would obviously become another overindulgence. As. There is no such thing as willpower in this mind of mine. Once found and sat inside, the menus were perused, facetiously for me as I had obviously prepared for this occurrence of destiny well in advance, though that concept was ruined for George after informing him that the Fiorentina was a fake, not being from the traditional Chianina Beef in Italy, and rather from an Irish Cow. And they copied our flag. Heathens.

With Duran Duran echoing in our minds, and bellies as we got Hungy like Wolves [apparently a requisite for here], we continued on to order like piggies. Including a shared main of a little piggy. You know, in order to broaden by tasting a wide variety, to hell with the physical size of our stomachs, they are just semantics.

~ Starter ~
- Fried Tripe
- Lamb Prosciutto with Figs
- "Pani ca Meusa" - Spleen & Ricotta Tartine
- Linguine with Spider Crab, Tomato & Basil

Yup, another "taster" selection of starters, and obviously the awkward ones were my main selections:

  • Fried Tripe - The notion of the "sampler" starters keeps getting more obscured each time it is attempted, especially when receiving such mountainous portions as the tripe came as. Bah! I was firstly concerned about the lack of pecorino and other included ingredients, but had already progressed beyond caring and had proceeded to taking a bite into the little tripe croquettes. Beyond the soft and almost creamy texture of tripe, there really was not much else prevalent in the tripe flavour-wise. Granted I was not sure what to expect, considering the only other time I had had tripe was more than 10 years ago, and done in a stew "Alla Romana", but it was decidedly boring. Wish it had the promised pecorino. How rude of them.
  • Lamb Prosciutto with Figs - A peculiarity in that I have never tried cured lamb meat before, the prosciutto was quite redolent of coppa, with the same subdued saltiness. However, this stank a lot more than coppa, or prosciutto for that matter. The figs, were, incredible. I had never had such sweet figs, despite being entirely green and seemingly very young - not even the figs from Galoupet could compare. Then it was combined with the prosciutto. My word, this works better than melon. A staple. The sweetness of the fig married, honeymooned and made offspring perfectly with the saltiness of the prosciutto, subduing its aroma to the point of letting through a subtle and pure flavour of the prosciutto after the sweetness. It was delectable - I always find with melon that the water content just sort of washes your mouth out. The fig was just perfect. And helps digestion too! Which we'd certainly need..
  • "Pani ca Meusa" - Another of my left-field choices, and one I was not really looking forward to much, other to just experience it. I don't think many people look forward to eating spleen. So it was. It essentially was a subtler tasting liver. And I loathe liver. Being subtler though, I did not loathe this as much. However, probably not one to try again I would think. The Ricotta was imperceptible, despite being there in reasonable amounts - the portion was rather small though, expecting a full tartine to the half provided. Probably for the better then.
  • Linguine with Spider Crab, Tomato & Basil - One of George's orders, quite bland, with a sparse sprinkling of crab. The pasta was nicely al dente though. That is about all there was to recall about it. 

~ Main Course ~
- Roast Suckling Pig with Grapes
- Caponata with Anchovies

Expecting a serving of piglet, perhaps ambitious for the size of the table, I was rather elated at the sensible portion provided - and I had already planned the demise of the exquisitely crispy looking crackling. Attempting to split the portion in half was rendered difficult by the obstinance of a particularly large bone, so rather the pig was just split into plenty of pieces. There was a lot of fat, which was a mixed blessing as it would mean yay for less meat, but also boo for less meat. More flavour though. And it was quite flavourful, and very juicy - the taste and aroma immediately brought to mind the porchetta of Lazio, which is what I presume this dish was supposed to recreate, with its provenance influence by Lazio on the menu. The crackling was very thin, but lovely, and all of it was mine as it would seem that eating pig skin does not factor for Russians. More for me, happy days.

The grapes seemed to have little purpose - I was expecting a sauce, what we got was a punnet, stalks and all. And they were rather scalding. Awkward. And yet more shattered expectations [heavens!] </3. It did combine well enough with the pork though, punctuating the juicy meat with a nice sweetness. Though its purpose still perplexes. 

The Caponata came a bit late in the meal, supposing to be a side, but essentially arriving after the piglet was devoured. And whilst George was about to abandon me and let me consume the hillock of vegetables on my own, my pleasure moans thankfully convinced him otherwise. Yet another surprising plate of produce - the red peppers were so wonderfully sweet, and marinated perfectly. Every component was just unfathomably sweet for vegetables, no doubt helped by the caramelised onions. The anchovies seemed a bit of an odd addition, just being there to add saltiness, but I had never had anchovies, so, plus one for another thing tried. Badly timed but splendid side dish. And possibly healthy had we not consumed industrial amounts of starters prior. 

~ Dessert ~
- Sanguinaccio

This dessert was actually chosen at the beginning of this year, when I first set eyes on the menu. Blood & Chocolate pudding. Done. However, the execution was not nearly as eccentric as I had previewed. What arrived was a small pot of the pudding [I thought it would arrive as the "sausage" type] topped with candied citrus fruit peels and a few slices of crostino bread, much to the detriment of my flanks. It had not occurred to me that essentially this dessert comprised of Nutella and bread. With blood. Though on first sampling of the Sanguinaccio this was quite clear, tasting essentially of a slightly less sweet, dark chocolate Nutella, with a bit of a sour note on the finish. Quite basic in reality and a bit of a disappointment for the sensationalism created. Entirely by me naturally. This dessert essentially amounted to Nutella and Bread. Hmph.

~ Drinks ~
- Vermentino di Something
- Ben Rye; Passito di Pantelleria
- Caffe' allo Zabaione 

Despite my general reluctance for drinking alcohol, primarily by dint of its empty calories and such [hush you dissenters], I obviously did not hold back on this occasion, especially as two of the drinks were some I had wanted to experience for better part of six months. What anticipation?

The wine, a White Wine from Sardinia, was quite lovely - very fruity and light with a good body, a bit like a Pinot Grigio. Quite a drinkable wine [as opposed to solid and undrinkable?], not sure how it combined with the plethora of foods consumed, but it was generally enjoyable. The Passito however..well. It shook my notion of existence to its core. I am far from a saint, yet I could recognise this drink as divine. It was holy. I was not worthy. Insert other overblown embellished descriptives here. It was simply, decadent. I had only ever had a Passito once before, in Sorrento in 2008, wherein I instantly fell in love - rather understandable as I heart fortified and sweet wines as a general. This was something else though. Passito is generally far richer in body and aroma by dint of sun-drying the grapes. This Passito was also singularly unrelenting in its character - it had an aroma and resultant flavour of pure peaches and apricots, intensely so. Rich but not to the point of feeling sickly, and perfectly suited to the heavy chocolate Sanguinaccio. If ever a drink I wish would carry on forever, it was this. George's Passito was almost as epic, though slightly less so. As it was not my order, obviously. A bit more aged, and as a result quite a bit of cask evident in its character, perhaps slightly lighter natured than mine. 

Then obviously the restaurant got tired of us and tried to kill us with Coffees that were sweetened to kill. The Caffe allo zabaione, that is, coffee with a sweetened egg yolk mousse [sounded delectable], was just a diabetic episode waiting to happen, though thankfully my limbs remained attached.


Thus finally, the dinner was concluded. About time as well, it would seem I have lost my "Stop" button recently. And whilst on the whole it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal, punctuated by moments of faceplant clarity such as with the Passito, the experience generally left me a bit..empty. Figuratively. As I would be digesting this meal for another 6 months.

I would think the crux of that feeling is that for all the anticipation I had built, creating a notion that for providing such a specifically regional menu that the experience should accurately recreate an Italian persona, this facet never really came to fruition. Despite an Italian waiter. Even somehow the charcuterie board of the Lamb's Prosciutto seemed somehow unauthentic in some unquantifiable manner, somehow contrived, perhaps in its layout and providing measly slices instead of a full leg of lamb prosciutto. It just did not seem very Italian, but rather, Italian influenced. I guess this is the nature of a lot of restaurants not located in their countries of origins - despite efforts gone to finely recreate dishes, use the ingredients of the same provenance, down to even using diversity of region in the creating an atmosphere, the result is just not the same. Here it was especially so. That is not to say that the food was not engaging - no plate was left with so much as a speck on it. I was however, left feeling more than a tinge of disappointment, despite not really buying into anticipation, hearsay and voodoo predictions.

At least however, I was no longer hungry like a wolf. As I had eaten about a Wolf's worth.

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