Tag Archives: Italian

Bocca di Lupo: a gem among the tourist traps

It’s good to have a few places like Bocca di Lupo up your sleeve, where you can escape to in an overcrowded neighborhood filled with tourists and tourist traps.

Although the restaurant has received various high-profile awards since it opened in 2008, Bocca di Lupo still feels like a hidden gem. Perhaps it’s more of a forgotten gem; five years is a long time in the restaurant industry and this buzzy spot is talked about less as dozens of new restaurants open every month in London. But novelty is overrated next to places which have continued to thrive over time, through many fickle trends.

Bocca di Lupo is a mere three minute walk from the madness of Piccadilly Circus, but tucked away on the unassuming Archer St, you really have to know where you’re going to find it.

However this is the kind of place that doesn’t need to worry about attracting passing traffic; it has a loyal fanbase of regulars who adore the restaurant’s stripped-down food “from all across Italy’s twenty regions” as the restaurant’s website says.

Chef Jacob Kennedy is an Italianophile Londoner who trained at another London dining favourite, Moro.

The restaurant is small with just a few tables, but I prefer popping in for a glass of wine and a few bites at the bar. Wherever you sit, you will want to clap your hands with joy as each plate is served.

Is this or is this not the best way to serve artichoke?! Stuffed with crab:

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The dish looks beautifully simple but imagine the amount of work that goes into it. Artichoke and crab are two fine ingredients but also two of the most fiddly to prep; I’m more than happy to pay someone else to do the hard graft.

Every last thistly bit of the artichoke was painstakingly removed and the crab was picked carefully from its shell. A little bowl of top quality olive oil scented with lemon zest was served alongside for dipping the leaves.

Our lovely waitress almost cheered when she cleared the plate, saying that many people are too shy to scrape all of the artichoke flesh from the leaves with their teeth in public, even though the restaurant positively encourages this – such a waste!

These darling dumplings were so plump and fluffy, you could lay your head against them for a quick snooze. They’re called gnudi and were served with a lamb ragu.

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Caponata is one of those magical dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; a mix of slow-cooked, sweet vegetables is cut through with a sharp dressing of anchovy, vinegar and capers. I haven’t tasted a better one in London than Bocca’s.

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A scoop or two from Gelupo, the restaurant’s gelato shop across the road is the perfect way to end a delightful Sunday supper.

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It’s also the perfect accessory to pretend you’re a glamorous Italian languidly promenading past Piazza Navona, instead of a harried Londoner elbowing your way through the Piccadilly Circus throng back to the tube.

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Returning after long-term travels and the joy of local restaurants

“There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Far from being the end of the adventure, coming home after six months of travelling around the world was another whirlwind altogether.

A few weeks ago, early on a Wednesday morning, Mark and I landed at Heathrow where we were greeted by this lovely sight:

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my parents holding balloons, flowers and a “welcome home” banner

We had just a couple of days to shift all of our belongings from my parents’ attic (which had miraculously fit without causing their ceiling to fall in), down the rickety old ladder, into a rented van to battle against the traffic all the way from Zone 6 back to our flat in Battersea. The combination of heavy lifting, the sweltering heatwave and jetlag was pretty painful.

On Saturday we were off again, to the countryside for Mark’s cousin’s wedding, which wrote off most of Sunday for recovery. Before we knew it, it was Monday and we were back to work, struggling to believe that just a few days before, we had been on the other side of the world.

In a way, the whirlwind probably helped us adapt; not having time to stop meant that we simply had to get on with the routine of the Monday-Friday working week.

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me, back at work – another lovely welcome!

As a Londoner it’s easy to fall into the typical urban quick march: head down, brisk pace, tutting at anyone who dares to impede your progress. A couple of weeks in and it was almost like we had never been away. The novelty of being home, noticing what had changed since we left, going back to familiar haunts and catching up with family & friends was wonderful but was beginning to wear off.

I feared that the ultimate post-holiday blues were threatening to kick in as quickly as our tans were fading.

In a bid to hang on to our post-travel zen, Mark and I decided to live like tourists in our own city.

We are so lucky to live right among London’s historic streets, characterful buildings and interesting neighbourhoods so we vowed to take advantage of the attractions which bring millions of tourists to the Big Smoke every year.

Our first free weekend together in London was the August bank holiday weekend and we began hatching plans to go on walking tours, visit exhibitions, museums, galleries and so on. I was especially excited to check out a number of new restaurants that had opened while we were away, as well as the chance to revisit old favourites.

In true British fashion, it absolutely pissed down with rain on the Saturday of the long weekend and our ambitious plans were well and truly scuppered. With reports of serious flooding in some parts of the country, the most we could bring ourselves to do was dig out raincoats and umbrellas from still-unpacked boxes and dash down our local high street.

Luckily, Clapham Junction has a pretty good range of restaurants and cafes. When Mark first persuaded me to move to this area, it wasn’t my favourite – it can be nauseatingly “nappy valley” at times. But I have to say it’s grown on me, thanks to local gems like Mien Tay and Soif not to mention branches of the awesome Franco Manca and Byron burger.

The phrase “neighbourhood restaurant” is often used in a somewhat derogatory way, as if they are satisfactory venues to stumble into from your doorstep, but aren’t worth the effort of a longer trip. I think this is unfair – surely everyone craves that homely “where everybody knows your name” feel, especially on a miserably damp evening? And somewhere that has been around for over twenty years – no mean feat for a restaurant anywhere in London – like Osteria Antica Bologna deserves a look.

Mark started with pappardelle with chicken livers, butter and sage – apparently this recipe is a signature of the restaurant and featured in Waitrose’s magazine.
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The slippery ribbons of pasta were the perfect vehicle for the rich, herby juices and the chicken livers were tender and silky.

I started with the pasta of the day, a generous portion of cavatielli in a sausage and tomato sauce. The curls of the cavatielli pasta shape caught the hearty, robust sauce well.

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It was a great choice for the weather – my cockles were thoroughly warmed.

Mark’s secondi was the fish of the day, hake with sweet peppers and capers.

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I went for sarde beccafico, stuffed baked sardines with a crunchy coating of breadcrumbs.

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Everything was boldly seasoned to the point of being aggressively salty – but as a result the bottle of barbera nicolaoi was even more enjoyable.

With friendly service and a relaxing ambience, Osteria Antica Bologna was a great low-key date venue. In fact, it’s the kind of warm, welcoming place that would always make you feel like you’ve finally come home from halfway around the world, even if you’ve just been hanging out in your flat up the road.

Which may be just what we need to stave off those post-travel blues. I look forward to returning, again and again.