Hungry Like the Wolf @ London’s Bocca di Lupo

Slowly but surely, after numerous trips to London, I am building up my “Must-Eat” list of places to dine when I am in this wonderful city. A melting pot of different cuisines, with a plethora of choice from cheap and cheerful to luxurious and extravagant, London’s food scene is tongue-titillatingly exciting! What I find lacking in Hong Kong are the mid-range priced restaurants that serve GOOD food, unlike so many establishments where a HK$400 spend will get you:

a) a glass of wine and a portion of two wonderfully delicious yet overly priced foie gras mini-burgers

or

b) a glass of wine, a plate of nachos and a superbly mediocre burger.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit, and I don’t mean to knock my own city. You all know that I eat out a lot in Hong Kong, and that I enjoy a lot of what I eat. In fact, if you care to participate in this debate, I challenge and invite you to comment on this post!  Let me know your favorite meals in Hong Kong in the $400 per person range (and that’s including a glass of tipple), restaurants that surprised you the first time you went, and that consistently serve fresh, tasty and (most importantly) thoughtful food. I will one day write a post about this topic, but for now will keep my list to myself.

As always, I digress.

A warm and welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

A warm, welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

One of my new London favorites is now Bocca di Lupo (i.e. the mouth of the wolf), just a hop, skip and a jump away from Picadilly Station and Leicester Square Station. No need for Scottie to beam you up to Italy, you can just take the London Underground!

BDL was opened in 2008 by Jacob Kenedy, an academic turned chef who approaches his food in an informed way. The dishes can be sampled in small and large plates, allowing diners to design their dinner experience.  Each item on the menu is classified by the region in Italy that it originates from, and other dishes are creations of the chef.

At the time of my visit, their menu featured a B.Y.O TRUFFLES OPTION! Forget “V” for vegetarian, dishes marked with a “T” are recommended as ideal to have with truffles, which you can buy at Gelapo across the street.  Genius.

All of this technical stuff aside, the food is simple, honest, fresh and so gosh-darn tasty – your appetite becomes like that of the wolf. You want to devour everything. I went to BDL twice during my 2 weeks trip to London, and I am nowhere near satiated.

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Watching the chef’s at work in their small open kitchen, from our chef’s counter bar seats

From the Crudi e Salumi section, we ordered a selection of seafood carpaccio. I am a big fan of sashimi sweet prawns, and those Mediterranean red prawns are as sweet as you can find them. The burrata came next, a creamy ball of goodness, smothered in olive oil and bursting over a bed of grilled vegetables – adding fresh mint instead of basil was an interesting touch. After this came the rose veal tartare, a delicate and flavorful meat that wasn’t seasoned like a  normal tartare, and didn’t really need to be.

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Crudità di mare – raw red prawns, sea bream & scallop carpaccio. GBP 14

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Burrata with marinated grilled aubergines, tomato, chilli & mint. GBP 9.50

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Battuto – rose veal tartare with a little oil & little else. GBP 9

We skipped the Fritti section and went straight onto Paste & Risotti. The venison and the wild boar ragús were rich and filling, with clean and crips flavours. By this point in the meal, we were getting pretty stuffed. It was the first time I had tried gnudi – (pronounced “nu-dee”), a type of gnocci made with ricotta and flour which that hails from Tuscany. They were light and fluffy, and a great match with the ragú.

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(Uncertain) Chifferi with venison ragú GBP 8 – although the pasta isn’t ‘olive leaf shaped’

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Sheeps Ricotta Gnudi with Lamb Ragu GBP 10

The star of the show for me, the dish that really blew my mind, was the Lobster Spaghettini! This is the stuff of pasta wet dreams – a succulent Scottish lobster, teeming with roe and cholesterol-y goodness, with a punch of chili, a scent of ginger, and topped with fat mussels. The ginger was really the most interesting addition to this dish – it perfumed the pasta and gave a hint of ginger flavour that was just right.

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

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Catalunya comes to Hong Kong!

Thanks to our friends AB and VZ, we managed to get a table at Catalunya last weekend, Hong Kong’s newest Spanish restaurant. Until now, we have had a few Spanish restaurants to choose from (Fofo By El Willi being my personal favorite), but I must say, none as classy as Catalunya. Earthy and sensual tones, plush banquets, wood paneled ceilings, warm red walls and a stunning central lighting fixture: there’s only one word for it, and that is sumptuous.

The choice of location is a strange one, off the Wan Chai Road, on a street that houses an office building, a Baptist Church, Queen Elizabeth Stadium, a hospital. In other words, after a certain time of day, the only activity on this road comes from Catalunya, and the flashing lights of ambulances as they pass the restaurant. Nonetheless, the restaurant was packed, and we were seated in the Cocktail Lounge for a short while to wait for our table. Not to worry at all, we kept ourselves busy with sangria, cava, and something to whet our appetites.

The word has already been spread that Catalunya’s Executive Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa honed his skills for 1o years at El Bulli with Ferran Adria, a molecular master of creative and thought-provoking cuisine, which I sadly never got to try. But Catalunya is very different, it’s warm, comforting, indulgent, and introduces you to tapas that are different from the run-of-the-mill. Here they serve a cross-section of Catalan favorites – a tortilla is not just a tortilla, and bikini is not a bikini.

You’ll see what I mean …

We started off with the only molecular item on the menu, a ‘spherical olive’, created by the process of ‘inverse spherification’. Olives are pressed for their juice, mixed with calcium chlorate, then submerged in sodium alginate (!!), which causes the outer layer of olive juice to harden, but not all the way through. The result is olive juice that looks like an olive, is shaped like an olive, but bursts in your mouth upon the slightest pressure of your tongue. I haven’t had many experiences with molecular cuisine, and it is a curious thing to bite down on something that you think is one thing, but is in actuality, quite another.

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Spherical Olives @ $15 each

“Have them in one bite and watch out for the pit!” Many of Catalunya’s individual dish descriptions on the menu have these cute, tongue-in-cheek comments which I found quite amusing. It made reading the menu fun, and also entices you to order certain dishes that you may not have ordered, because sometimes the title itself doesn’t jump out at you.

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Iberico Ham

We were very generously given a few appetisers to start with while we were waiting, so I wasn’t exactly sure what they were, and whether they represent the regular portion size. All I can say is that this ham was incredible.

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Pa Amb Tomaquet HK$55

“Your first introduction to Tapas” the Pa Amb Tomaquet, or tomato bread, was a good start – a sweet tomato sauce, garlic scent and rustic bread.

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Mediterranean Red Prawns HK$500 (portion unknown)

You choose the style, we give the flavour.” Aaah the famed gamba roja. I say famed because I recently watched an episode of “Around the World in 80 Plates” where the contestants travel to Barcelona and cook with them – ever since I’ve wanted to try one. Ours were served grilled, and the flavour of the prawn was just incredible. I loved the richness of the prawn head juice … is there a proper name for that stuff? We were completely spoiled with this starter, and it was on this high that we were then seated at our table.

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Ham Cheese and Truffle ‘Bikini’ HK$115

“You’re not getting a swimsuit!” These little parcels of calorific goodness are not to be missed! Truffle shavings, heaps of melted cheese and ham in between two pieces of pan-fried bread. As for why it’s called a bikini? Well, I’ve read that in Catalonia, the ‘bikini’ is a tapas bar staple – a Catalonian truffle, ham and cheese sandwich, if you will. When it’s cut into quarters diagonally, each piece resembles biniki bottoms!

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