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Menuwatch: Bocca di Lupo

26 January 2009
Menuwatch: Bocca di Lupo

The olives at Bocca di Lupo perfectly sum up what Jacob Kenedy is trying to do with his first solo venture. The shining bright-green fruits - which diners can expect to greet them as they take their seats - are gargantuan, green-apple-sweet and sing of warm Italian olive groves. Their honest, delicious simplicity echoes Kenedy's mantra for his new restaurant: "We're cooking some of the simplest food from Italy, but we're trying to do it very well indeed," he says.

Regional Italian Tucked away down a nondescript street in London's Soho, the restaurant isn't exactly what you'd expect from a typical trattoria - the informal type of Italian restaurant Kenedy and his business partner Victor Hugo have based it on. Like the traditional trattoria, Bocca di Lupo serves unpretentious regional Italian food, and wine is available by the decanter as well as bottle, but Kenedy admits: "It's more upmarket than that more of a ristorante, really."

Walking into the striking ground floor of the restaurant, you can see what he means. The long terrazzo marble bar plays host to up to 30 diners, who can sit and watch the four-strong brigade in the open kitchen cooking their dishes. Past the bar is a 45-seat dining room with an imposing Apsleys-esque chandelier and large canvases by the artist Haidee Becker. Downstairs is another kitchen, from which the 32-seat private dining area is serviced. "I don't have food travelling between floors," insists Kenedy.

In its shining newness the restaurant is contemporary, understated and chic. It's in the menu that Kenedy has pared things down. "I felt there was a real need in the market for high-quality, simple Italian food," he says. "It's something which has been neglected, especially in this area. There are a large number of Italian restaurants that tend to be very high-end and fine-dining - which we're not - and there's also a lot of basic taparia around that I don't think are quite good enough.

"I've gone back to basics, because it ultimately gives you a better result," he says. "We can only move forward by learning from traditions."

Homage to these traditions is not paid just in the dishes and flavours at Bocca di Lupo, but in the culinary techniques Kenedy uses, many of which have fallen out of practice in most kitchens. All the restaurant's pasta, salamis and ice-cream are made on the premises - the ice-cream using a rare Cattabriga ice-cream machine and the pasta with a piece of kit Kenedy describes as "600 kilos of 1960s metalwork".

Other ingredients are "caught and grown in the UK and Italy", the Italian ingredients of fruit, vegetables and olive oil coming from markets in Milan and Fondi. Dishes like the Umbria-inspired shaved radish, celeriac and pecorino salad with pomegranates and truffle oil (£4/£8) show Kenedy's flair for using ingredients in winning combinations - the smoky, creamy flavours of truffle and celeriac punctuated by the acidic fruit and peppery radish.

Most of the dishes are available as small plates - the idea being similar to tapas - and every dish belongs to a region. More luxurious dishes like spaghetti with lobster, mussels and ginger (£12/£24) sit alongside rustic stews such as the cotechino with lentils in balsamic vinegar (£7/£14), and sides include the Sicilian staple, caponata (£5/£10), a stew of aubergine, tomato and anchovies, and the Toscana dish, cannellini beans with tomato (£3).

Made in-house The pork and foie gras sausage with buckwheat and porcini mushrooms (£6.50/£13) is fast becoming a best-selling dish, and Kenedy puts this down to the fact that the sausages are made in-house. At lunch a short menu of one-dish meals for £7-£11 is available.

David Cook joins Kenedy in the kitchen as his number two, the pair having worked together over a number of years at Moro, which Kenedy cites as a significant influence. He says: "Moro is very good at paring down food to its simplest elements and celebrating them as such, which is what we are trying to do here. Simple food is harder to do because there's nothing to hide behind."


What's on the menu

â- Tuna tartare with orange zest, capers and pine nuts, £8/£16

â- Treviso, Castelfranco and almond salad, £4/£8

â- Fritto di mare: soft shell prawns, squid and soft-shell crab, £8.50/£17

â- Bone marrow, Barolo and radicchio risotto, £7/£14

â- Fritto Romano: whole fried artichokes with veal sweetbreads, £9/£18

â- Tagliata of grilled rib of beef with Parmesan, rocket and rosemary, £15.50 for two

â- Sanguinacchio - sweet pÁ¢té of pigs' blood and chocolate with sourdough, £6

â- Taleggio with fennel, grape and rosehip honey salad, £4.50

â- Lemon and avocado mousse with almond biscuits, £5

Away from the stove

"Bar Shu, a Szechuan restaurant just down the road, is outstanding. It's full of offal and chilli pepper and it's deliciously cooked. Szechuan chilli is numbing. I love it."

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