Bocca di Lupo

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Caressing rays stream Bocca di Lupo’s terracotta-tinted façade. I survey the long Carrara counter from Ralph Fiennes’ favourite stool, feet dangling to terrazzo. While it’s a commanding vantage, I am unsure whether it is an auspicious one. The actor after all accrued ill repute at a specific seat. From 2K, Qantas to India, alleged moral turpitude occurred between A-lister and an air hostess. Although I know little about Bocca’s morals and Fiennes’ morals at Bocca, I can confirm the venue’s morels are very strong indeed…

Beside your correspondent, a rugged canvas shows a silt-coloured garfish jutting needle jaws south. The artist is Hollywood-born Haidee Becker, mother of head chef Jacob Kennedy whose new book launches in June. My guest is a lady who converted a tongue-in-cheek Twitter prize of haircut at my untested hands into decadent dining safari. A vision in cobalt, she not so much wears an understated but Ascot-grade hat as owns it. It occurs to me that it exists as symbolic protection in case the original award is applied. Below the brim, boldly painted lips meet blood orange blossom cocktail.

Despite the misery of jetlag, our eager waiter almost acts out specials, later revealing a theatrical bent for Burlesque and fanaticism for Stanley Tucci, who celebrated his 50th in the private room. I later view that richly appointed, subterranean square which has seen tenure too by Jack Black and Halle Berry. Conveniently, it nudges both cellar/sausage maturing room and pasta workshop.

In our midst, inspired by and in homage to Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and Liguria, immaculate and even made-up chefs contour impeccable ingredients. An unordered but welcome opener includes fresh, fried bocconcino. When punctured, its warmed mozzarella innards gush sweetly, suggestive of ethereal ectoplasm. Briskly fresh, signature Umbrian salad occurs as a nest of gossamer-thin scarlet and ebony radishes curled between crisp celeriac tongues and near-transparent Pecorino slithers. Detonating with nervy, tannic fruit intensity are adorning bullets of bright pomegranate, momentary punctuation to the cosy slipperiness of fragrant truffle vinaigrette.

As intoxicating as reels of film featuring Fiennes, honeycomb morels are bound by broad, extensive homemade ribbons of pert, classic custard-coloured tortellini. The special of ozone scallops is very special indeed, living up to the waiter’s sell. Perfectly pliant, they boast wondrously rare centres and act in temperamental contrast to orecchiette cupping fiercely hot, hot ticket, moist Calabrian sausage, nduja. An oval platter of sheer, slim asparagus javelins taste as green as green may taste. Alas, outsize foie sausage with globular farro transports us to a caricature of rusticity that is perhaps a caricature too far and too dirty for the manicured grit of media Soho. Fortunately, frosted cool, invigoratingly mineral Terre di Franciacorta bianco (Fratelli Berlucchi) provides cleansing bite to refresh and revitalise.

A trip to the gents exposes urinals packed with ice, resulting in two unexpected conversations. Firstly, our server proceeds to quell my surprised expression on leaving, with a detailed explanation as to how frigid cubes lead to a drama of condensation and reduced aromas. Secondly, listening in, a neighbouring lady luncher in from the provinces valiantly attempts to sell me the idea of her invention of a loo-friendly flexible silicon hygienic door handle (‘wristpull.com’). Making business out of business is her business. She quotes a survey of catering workers which shows 39p/c do not wash their hands after latrine activity. Although initially trying to protect my sublimely stylish guest from such lowly lavatorial debate, I eventually embrace the topic, agreeing that where there is muck there is money, my father having worked in the sector of disposable tissue manufacture for decades. As conversation calms, it strikes me that the toilet topic is somehow attributable to the curse of absentee Fiennes, who took hostess willing hostage in Qantas’ business class heads…

But everything ends sweetly. Although our neighbour’s burger-like brioche bap of pistachio, chestnut and hazelnut gelati is visually stirring, I prefer to dismount Fiennes’ pew and diagonally cross Archer Street to Bocca’s gelateria, Gelupo. All pastel woods and marble, it sports a chiselled wolf’s head in the window – fine work by Here Design – and guard to a long silvery counter of cool churn. Wafer-thin manager Simon kindly provides samples of every flavour while enthusiastically ingesting many himself. As he dispenses, he ensures we regard the way smoothly textured blobs lethargically kamikaze his scoop. The finest flavours are rousingly invigorating clementine sorbet then supple, sassy mint stracciatella. Judicious choices on this nearly hot day.

A much more civilised prize, my guest admits, after checking no ice cream has trespassed onto her hat, to follicle savagery…

Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, London. W1D 7BB. Tel: 020 7743 2223. Website.
Gelupo, 7 Archer Street, London. W1D 7BB. Tel: 020 7287 5555. Website.

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