Walking into Bocconcino from street level, straight onto a landing giving a bird’s eye view over the basement bar and restaurant, feels like you’ve entered via secret entrance. It looks much bigger at first; an illusion created by a wall of mirrors and the pristine glass spiral staircase, winding down and round, giving 360 degree views of the other diners and a prime opportunity to scope out what everyone else has ordered: an array of pizzas, mostly, fanning out like a kaleidoscopic feast.
After a fortnight of turkey and all the other ingredients of a greedy Christmas, Italian was a welcome change. As such the choice was overwhelming. I felt pressure to try the pizza, this being a pizzeria first and foremost, but this inaugural venture on the London underground in 2015, or indeed outdoors, warranted a hearty bowl of pasta for comfort.
To start, Mr went completely off piste, with the salmon tartare, while my default setting went for the burrata, as is obligatory whenever it is on the menu. There were some other antipasti that caught my eye: raw Sicilian red prawns or the tuna carpaccio, but a rule is a rule is a rule. It arrived bulbous, ready to burst, and as fresh as this young cheese and cream concoction should be. The salmon, chopped up with anchovies and capers, sat atop a round of equally juicy looking avocado; a raw quail egg, head chopped off, perched ready to be plucked and drizzled over. All in all, a successful first round.
We switched personalities for main course; I ordering what I’m very surprised Mr didn’t: the wild boar ragu tagliatelle, while he went for the seafood pizza, arriving like the net had been emptied artfully onto it: clams, mussels, prawns still in shell, and a sprinkle of squid for good measure, on a bed of thick, rich tomato sauce, and a generous base; super thin and charred round the edges, bubbling up from the wood-fired heat. “It’s nice. Very fresh and clean”, he announced during mouthfuls. Not words often used to describe pizza, especially the diavola-con-multiple-types-of-carne he usually orders. We’d pre-agreed to go halves, but my tagliatelle was too good to give up, and his pizza was not quite what I was after that eve, so when he seemingly forgot, I kept schtum.
Finishing off, I chose the millefeuille, three-tiers of crisp biscuit, raspberries and Chantilly cream, while Mr returned to his greedy self, and ordered the dessert that really should be labelled for four: the ‘restaurant speciality’ Pizza “Dolce” – warm dough, cool mascarpone, shavings of dark chocolate and a variety of berries. I’ve seen and scoffed at these things advertised on menus before, but this was a well-executed triumph; a noble house special. Really something you should consider ordering (and at £16, sharing).
Joining us that evening was a punchy bottle of the house red. They boast a selection covering the whole boot, from Trentino Alto Adige to Puglia; big brands to artisan, with a generous amount by glass. But better see what they deem as good house plonk, I figured (perfectly good, as it happens), and travel more on the next visit.
Bocconcino is in good company on Berkeley Street, with Nobu and Benares on the same row, where Lamborghinis purr past and The Ritz twinkles from the far end. Fellow clientele were a mixed bunch: a 2:2 family, children at that age when they eat without interest, tapping away at some shoot ‘em up or other; a table of six late-teens looking like they get far more pocket money than kids did in my day, placing their orders with practised perfection; some ladies who look like they regularly lunch; and a few like us – North Londonians with a penchant for eating out every now and again, for a treat.
Service is good; staff are polite and patient despite the many questions thrown at them, from ‘exactly how big is the pizza dolce’, to ‘is the house wine nice’, to ‘where are the brilliant candlesticks from?’, and on the ball when it comes to keeping the tap water glasses topped up. Surroundings are amenable: warm, dotted with exposed brick, cosy arched booths, bare filament bulb light fittings, a great vase stuffed with pizza paddles, and that spiral staircase, so detailed I almost tripped and head-butted the step when I reached down to touch it. Prices are agreeable, considering the postcode, hovering around the mid-range mark – starters: £4-£19; pizzas: £11-£20; desserts from £6 – which seem fair for the portions and standards.
In short, it has all the makings of a slightly upmarket, family-run Italian, with mama’s secret recipes drawn upon. Except this ain’t no family-run Italian restaurant, it’s the first UK outpost from Moscow restaurateur Mikhail Gokhner, and his 7th overall (the others are all in Russia). After falling for the flavours from holidaying in the Tuscan seaside town of Forte dei Marmi, Gokhner took them back to his hometown, opening his first Bocconcino in 2006. Interestingly, and no doubt strategically, there’s no mention of this on the website, for fear of alienating traditionalists, perhaps. But, I don’t have a grain of Italian in me, yet I whip up a fine lasagne and salute with the best of them, so what does it matter?. Bocconcino delivers what you’d expect from a good pizzeria: giant, crispy bases, with an array (30 in this case) of interesting and traditional flavour combos; homemade pasta coated with some delicious sauce or other, and seafood or meat cooked over an open fire. Not sure what mama would make of its Russian roots, but I’d happily head back for a primi or two.
Bocconcino, 19 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, London W1J 8ED. Tel: (0)20 7499 4510. Website.