Bocca di Lupo – classy Italian in Soho W1

From cheesy balls to Grandpa’s balls, Bocca di Lupo specialises in obscure, regional Italian cuisine and the menu changes twice a day. 

The first tip is to book well in advance. For our reservation for two this Friday evening, the only availability (having booked a couple of weeks beforehand) was at 7.15pm, perched on high stools at the counter.

On arrival, I was disappointed to see how little space there is for those dining at the bar overlooking the open-plan kitchen, with high stools close together.

Sea bream carpaccio starter @ £9.00

J had an amaretto sour cocktail @ £10 and I had a glass of Malvasia Nera ‘falo’ San Marzano @ £6.60 (see the red wine list here) while reading the enticing menu. Some dishes needed an explanation from our waiter, whose descriptions made them all the more exciting. It’s not a traditional Italian menu by any means – there’s definitely no pizza but there are plenty of appealing seafood options (if you like seafood). And the Italian region is given for each dish, to show where it’s a speciality.

Deep fried mozzarella bocconcino balls

We chose six small plates to share, tapas or cicchetti style:

Sea bream carpaccio with orange + rosemary @ £9.00
Buffalo mozzarella bocconcini deep fried in bread crumbs @ £2.50 each (tip: get two each!)
Ricotta ravioli with wild garlic, served with butter + hazelnuts @ £8.00
Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad @ £9.00
Caponata – aubergines, celery + tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce) @ £7.00
Orechiette di gran arso (burnt grain pasta) with cime di rapa (a variety of sprouting broccoli) + pecorino (hard sheep’s cheese) @ £7.50

Ricotta + wild garlic ravioli 

Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad

Caponata – aubergine, celery, tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce)

Orechiette di gran arso with cime di rapa + pecorino 

Tonight’s menu – 24 March 2017

All of these dishes were stunning, and I’d happily have all of them again next time. Being seated at the end of the bar next to the serving station, it was a busy thoroughfare. But on the plus side, it was easy to get service and great for eyeing up other dishes to try in the future (the roast wild turbot with lentils and salsa verde @ £24.00 served whole, got my attention).

From the dessert menu, we shared a bonet – chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding @ £7.00 (I’m not a huge chocolate fan and I don’t like coffee flavouring in food but this was gorgeous – you could really taste the amaretti almond bits in it; it’s perfect for sharing and not as sickly as it looks) and le palle del nonno or Grandpa’s balls – ricotta with chocolate, deep-fried in a light batter and sprinkled with icing sugar @ £7.00 (so good; take a closer look inside here).

We both had a 70 ml glass of Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine @ £3.50 – sweeter than I normally like, but it went really well with these desserts. So well in fact, I had another when J had a coffee…

Check out the dessert wine and grappa menu.

l: Le palle del nonno ‘grandpa’s balls’ – deep-fried ricotta
r: Bonet
– chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding

Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine – cosy, perched on the counter by the serving station

Bar seats at the counter – it’s a small space if you’re sharing a few plates

Open plan kitchen

The verdict: The quality of the food and drinks compensated for the discomfort of the tiny bar space. While this place isn’t cheap (our bill for two was £126.90 including service) you do get what you pay for – it’s more of a place to go for a treat than every day dining (you need to book well in advance anyway).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Italian
– Address: 12 Archer Street, Soho, London
– Postcode: W1D 7BB
– Nearest station: Piccadilly
– Website + menus: Bocca di Lupo website
– Bocca di Lupo photos: pics of Bocca di Lupo on flickr
– Location: Bocca di Lupo map

Bocca Di Lupo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2015

The most noticeable differences for this year’s Summer Exhibition are:

1. Vibrant colours
Multi-coloured stairs lead to the turquoise Wohl Central Hall. Gallery III is pink, and the Lecture Room blue – a bold move from the usual all-white backdrops, serving to create a bright, summery feel when stepping inside the light, cool RAA on a hot day

2. Sipsmith gin bar
Iced gin drinks are available in Gallery III – a nice touch, adding to this traditional London summer experience – @ £9.00 for a top quality Sipsmith gin and Fever Tree tonic

3. Social media + browse exhibits online
For the first time, you can browse all exhibits online and add your favourites to a ‘My Gallery‘. You can photograph most exhibits (only a few have a ‘no photography’ sign) and are encouraged to engage in social media – share your pictures and thoughts via facebook, twitter and instagram. Free publicity, yes, but also a pleasing indication that this institution can blend tradition (it’s the RA’s 247th Summer Exhibition) with what’s relevant today.


RAA summer exhibition 2015 – my select highlights


Because there’s a ton of multi-media info out there already about this exhibition, I’m simply going to share a few of my favourites.


i. Secretly looks like home?
IMG_2713_174_At the gas rig_ClementinaRd_Gallery1_FAVE
#174 At the gas rig, Clementina Road by R.W.M. Hunt – my fave


That someone was inspired to create this colourful painting from a scene as mundane as a gasworks and a street lamp really draws me to it. There’s nothing of great beauty in the scene and yet there’s something touchingly simple and optimistic – it’s just ‘real life’ – reflected in the painting. The green character is appealingly simple too (East London’s answer to Berlin’s Ampelmann?). I really love it and I can’t stop looking at it.

Bottom line: It’s not just obvious beauty but also the mundane, the everyday life – even the dreary, that can inspire (provoke?) creativity.

And ironically – now I’ve looked up where Clementina Road is (E10) – it turns out that the first flat I tried to buy in London was near here (by the River Lea in the Lee Valley Park).

Perhaps it secretly looks like home?



ii. Hairy corset
IMG_2725_542_Cilice with my own hair_Gallery4_FAVE
#542 Cilice with my own hair by Clancey Gebler Davies


This appeals to me not least because I love corsets/basques but also because I could realistically imagine creating this from my own excess hair and hair balls (I’m constantly moulting).

I wonder how long it took to make?



iii. Looking up through a canopy of trees?
#500 Rainfall by Ermioni Avramidou


I love this because – when I first looked at it – it felt like looking up through a canopy of trees in a wood towards the sky, with daylight filtering through between the leaves. Beautiful.

At first look, K felt something underwater about it – looking up to the water’s surface.



iv. Cranes and construction in white
#530 From Vauxhall Bridge by Andy Finlay


Vauxhall Bridge is just up the road from my previous home of 7 years. I guess I like the white minimalism and that you have to work at it, to focus, and see the image details emerge.



v. Cute
#790 Rabbit by Tracey Emin


Because I’m a sucker for Emin’s animal sketches (even if it’s not as cute as ‘Space Monkey – we have lift off’, from summer exhibition 2009).



vi. Humument
IMG_2768_A Humument_Gallery10
#1111 Humument by Tom Phillips – pen, ink + collage on bookpages.


Tom Phillips’ work in progress since 1966 (continuously revised since 1973) – he bought a second hand book called A Human Document and altered every page using pen, ink and collage techniques to create a completely new version, A Humument (more info here).



vii. Etching featuring King Kebab + Tesco Express
#596 After Escher by Martin Langford


What’s not to like about an Escher style etching featuring a ‘King Kebab’ shop, Tesco Express, and a billboard’s accident insurance ad approved by The Society of Ambulance Chasers?



viii. Border illusion?
IMG_2705_142_Trance Map_in Gallery2
#142 Trance Map by Trevor Sutton


Are the blocks different ‘shades’ of white, or do the pencil borders create that illusion?



ix. Someone’s got a steady hand!
#2 Zobop by Jim Lambie – coloured vinyl tape


A colourfully striking welcome on entering the Royal Academy of Arts.



x. Old bin bags?
#1100 Erebus (man on fire version II) sculpture by Tim Shaw RA


In mixed media (painted foam, polythene and steel). In the blue Lecture Room.


That’s just ten exhibits that stand out to me. It’s an eclectic display with more than 1,100 works of diverse styles and mediums, created by both established and unknown artists (the Summer Exhibition is the world’s oldest open-submission exhibition – with over 12,000 entries this year), comprising paintings, prints, sculptures, architectural models and creations, and photography – a vibrant summer of colour.


~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – select photo highlights
~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – all of my photos
~ Summer Exhibition 2009 – LardButty blogpost, Aug 2009

Criterion – Piccadilly

It’s worth seeing inside the Criterion restaurant just for its opulent gold and marble decor. The Neo-Byzantine architecture is stunning and it feels like stepping into a bygone age.

Neo-Byzantine architecture

I first came here in 2001 on a work’s party night. We had a large table at the back (near the loos) and were entertained by a magician. It was a great experience. K and I returned shortly thereafter and ate from the pre-theatre menu (an extremely limited set menu and the food tasted so dry it was as if it had been prepared well in advance and left out all day). It was a contrastingly disappointing experience so we didn’t return. Well, not for a long time.

Over ten years on, ownership has changed and we decided to give it another try while my parents were visiting London. As a historical landmark, it is worth seeing after all.

Summer set menu – two courses + a Pimms + lemonade @ £20.00

In a restaurant with such extravagant gold and marble interiors bejewelled with mosaics and mirrors, you’d probably expect a formal dining experience with impeccable service.

Surprisingly, the summer set menu @ £20.00 for two courses including a Pimms and lemonade was exceptionally good value, and had a reasonable amount of choice (for a set menu). Food portions weren’t huge but it was all good quality although service was a bit of a let-down (one waiter didn’t seem to understand or speak English at all which was problematic, while another was so super stressed and panicky he reminded us of Basil Fawlty).

For starters, I had salmon gravlax on rye bread with a lemon mousse, capers and pickled shallots; K had thinly sliced rare roast beef with rocket salad and horseradish cream (@ £2.00 supplement), and B and K both had ham hock and black pudding terrine with gooseberry jam, pickled vegetables and croutons.

Salmon gravlax on rye bread starter

Thinly sliced rare roast beef – £2.00 supplement on the set menu

Ham hock + black pudding terrine

For main course, K and I both had ginger and chilli meat balls with potato gnocchi, peas, broad beans and celery cress (@ £2.00 supplement) while B and K both had confit of guinea fowl leg, potato purée, beetroot and peas.

Meat balls + potato gnocchi with peas and broad beans – £2.00 supplement on the set menu

Confit of guinea fowl leg, potato, beetroot and peas

The verdict: Worth seeing the impressive interiors of one of London’s oldest restaurants but overall – a bit hit and miss. Perhaps afternoon tea or a drink at the bar would be enough.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: British, International
~ Address: Criterion Restaurant, 224 Piccadilly, London
~ Postcode: W1J 9HP
~ Nearest station: Piccadilly
~ Website + menus: Criterion restaurant website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Criterion restaurant
~ Location: Criterion restaurant map

More West End (London) dining:
~ Andrew Edmunds
~ Asia de Cuba
~ Cây Tre
~ Mint Leaf Haymarket
~ Wagamama Soho

Criterion Restaurant on Urbanspoon


In a prestigious location on Piccadilly in Mayfair, Fakhreldine serves top-end Lebanese cuisine. The first floor restaurant has great views over Green Park, comfy cushioned seating and a large central bar area.

Between two of us, we shared a starter of calamari mekli @ £7.85 (huge portion of deep fried squid – the most tender I’ve ever eaten – with a sesame and lemon dip) followed by main dishes of boneless chicken from the grill @ £19.50 (grilled chicken with roasted new potatoes and garlic sauce) and five-spice lamb and bukhari rice @ £20.00 (slowly cooked lamb shank with flavoursome cumin and cinnamon rice) and mixed vegetables.

Five-spice lamb at Fakhreldine – Lardbutty restaurant of the week

Although we opted for main courses, there’s an appealing mezze menu too (set mezze menus are available, starting from £32.50 per person).

We had no complaints with the food – that was all really good. The service however, was a bit ropey and the toilets were quite grim.

This restaurant was recommended to me, very passionately, back in 2007 and I can’t help but wonder if standards have since slipped. I’m very pleased to have finally tried it and wasn’t disappointed with the food. But, given the number of other good middle eastern restaurants in London, with more reasonably priced menus (take Yalla Yalla or Sidi Maarouf for instance) I doubt I’ll return.

Another diner who also ate here last night was even less impressed, judging by their review posted this morning.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, middle-eastern
~ Address: 85 Piccadilly, London
~ Postcode: W1J 7NB
~ Tel: 020 7493 3424
~ Nearest tube station: Green Park
~ Website + menus: Fakhreldine website
~ Location: Fakhreldine restaurant map

Fakhreldine Lebanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Rowley’s char-grilled entrecote

**UPDATE, MARCH 2011**
K and I went to Rowley’s last night, 29th March, and had a brilliant time. We were served by a really lovely, bubbly Hungarian girl – service was really great. We both had rare steaks (the house speciality in butter sauce) which were perfectly cooked and tender. As they’re served on a metal platter over a flame, it seemed a good idea to order them rare then you can leave them to cook through a bit further if you wish to. We also tried a mushroom tart for starter which was amazing – divine crumbly pastry and really tasty mushrooms. The atmosphere early evening was much more relaxed than the Friday lunchtime I came previously. And, if you dine before 7pm you can currently download a ‘50% off food’ voucher from Rowley’s website. So, it’s always worth checking their website for latest offers.

Rowley’s may seem a bit twee at first: it’s on gentrified Jermyn Street (famous for its tailors) and is usually filled with an older clientele and pin-striped business-men when I stroll past and peek through the glass frontage during my lunch breaks.

But it is ‘tweeness’ of a good sort – Rowley’s is situated where the Walls meat business began in the eighteenth century. And if you’re a meat eater, you simply have to try their steaks.

Rowley’s house speciality is their ‘famous char grilled entrecote’. Choose from
~ 6 oz – £24.00
~ 10 oz – £32.00
~ 6 oz w/ Larder Trim – £19.50
~ 10 oz w/ Larder Trim – £26.50
~ 6 oz Rump – £17.50
~ or corn-fed chicken breast for £16.50

All are served with a delicious herb and butter sauce and unlimited French Fries or a portion of chunky chips. And, if you’re still hungry you can get a second 6 oz steak or chicken breast for £10 (prices as of November 2010 and subject to change).

I went at lunchtime and the 6oz steak @ £24 with chunky chips and a side of green beans was more than sufficient (although a complimentary bread basket had been served when we initially sat at the table). The meat was served on a platter over a flame, keeping the butter sauce melted (slightly caramelising) and the meat warm – it was such a good cut it really did just melt in my mouth and was cooked medium-rare (as requested) perfectly. Absolutely divine.

rare steak with herb butter sauce over a flame

Having bought discount vouchers from Groupon in advance (£12 for £35 worth of food and drink from the a la carte menu) this was outstanding value. For such quality food, the menu is reasonably priced when it’s full price but do check their website for latest offers (50% discounts are offered if you eat at off-peak times).

A special place to take friends and relatives when they visit London. Twee shhmee.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: British fine dining
~ Address: 113 Jermyn Street, London
~ Postcode: SW1Y 6HJ
~ Tel: 020 7930 2707
~ Nearest tube station: Piccadilly
~ Website + menus: Rowley’s website
~ Location: Rowley’s restaurant map

Rowley's on Urbanspoon


Lardbutty index: Yoshino take-away

Great news: Yoshino, who used to make sushi sold at the old Japan Centre on Piccadilly, are still selling sushi and Japanese food; not at the new Japan Centre but at Yoshino premises on Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue.

I was delighted to have this realisation this week! Their low-fat tuna nigiri was always my favourite, and their sushi comes with wasabi already in it, between the rice and fish topping, just how I prefer it (as opposed to Umai at the new Japan Centre who don’t put wasabi in the sushi but include a sachet on the side, along with the obligatory soy sauce of course).

While Yoshino’s delicatessen is on Shaftesbury Avenue, there’s also a small take-away counter on the ground floor of Yoshino’s restaurant at 3 Piccadilly Place (just behind Abbey bank on Piccadilly). Excellent – a little pleasure’s been re-introduced to lunch times.

I visited Yoshino’s first-floor restaurant one lunchtime a few weeks ago (I was slightly confused then by the ground floor counter which reminded me of the old Japan Centre) and thoroughly enjoyed a Yoshino Zen bento box, comprising a chicken main dish and chilli katsu sauce, divine tuna carpaccio, tuna roll, seaweed salad, fine beans in sesame dressing, a honeyed carrot/potato salad and homemade pickles @ £9.80.

It was on noticing this the other day on the delicatessen website: “Delicatessen Yoshino is no longer trading at the Japan Centre. Please note that, contrary to popular belief, Yoshino does not supply Sushi to the Japan Centre”, which finally clarified things for me.

mix nigiri + avocado wasabi maki

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Japanese, sushi
~ Restaurant address: 3 Piccadilly Place, London, W1J 0DB
~ Delicatessen/ shop address: 59 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6LF
~ Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus
~ Website: Yoshino restaurant Yoshino delicatessen
~ Restaurant menu: Yoshino menu
~ Locations: Yoshino restaurant map and Yoshino shop + delicatessen map