Being a lover of food, by default, makes me a lover of Italy. Whether you’re in a fancy five-star ristorante or a local, family run trattoria, you’re bound to rub your tummy in satisfaction afterwards. I’ve been lucky enough to eat my way from Piedmont to Naples on a food trip (in a 1950s Alfa Romeo, no less) and along the way developed a good understanding of the micro-cuisines which make up this marvellous country. When Bocconcino, ‘Mayfair’s finest sophisticated Italian restaurant’ invited me along to try their take on my favourite cuisine, of course, I accepted.
Crispy, salty, rosemary-y
The restaurant is situated on fancy Berkley Street, a stone’s throw from Green Park and the iconic Ritz. As such, I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that the prices are on the high side. The restaurant is in two parts – downstairs is more of a casual pizza area and straight on, through the corridor, is a formal dining room. That’s where we sat – it’s not so formal you feel bad if you haven’t polished your shoes or anything, but it’s a nice place. Most of the punters are in business suits and look like port-and-cigars type folk. And I’m sure there will have been a few world domination plans made in that room. The staff are extremely friendly and really make you feel welcome from the moment you step inside.
The menu is huge. I normally find this correlates with a lack of care or attention to detail, but I’m glad to say that wasn’t the case for Bocconcino. Antipasti, pastas, pizzas, salads, mains and desserts each have their own page and what’s on offer seems to have most of the Italian regions and styles covered.
The starter that caught my eye was the baby octopus, Luciana style. Luciana is in the Tuscany region of Italy, famous for rich sauces and chunky stews. I was keen to see how baby octopus could be made hearty. As it arrived, my eyes lit up – a generous portion of whole baby octopi (first time I’ve ever used that word) is coated in a smoky, deeply flavoured sauce packed full with fresh parsley. The slight spice adds warmth and it sensibly comes served with bread for bowl-cleaning. I will be returning to Bocconcino for more of this.
The other starter of yellow fin tuna tartare is fresh, tasty and a much lighter option, but it was never going to win over the killer blow of the aforementioned octopus.
After starters, we skipped pasta and pizza and went straight for the secondis. The Scottish fillet of beef is confidently perched on a stark plank of wood with just a few leaves, tomato and a giant mushroom to accompany it. We asked for it to be cooked medium-rare and that’s exactly how it was served. It’s such a bold and unforgiving way to serve fillet but when it works, it works. Just as good (if not better) is the rack of lamb with an edging of finely chopped dill held on with a mustard glue; a winning combination which really brings out the earthiness of the lamb. Presentation, again, is simple and ballsy.
And what’s a trip to an Italian without a tiramisu? Gustoso.
This cooking shows that Bocconcino cares about putting up great food and isn’t going to sit back and let the local wealth be taken for granted, as could be said for some neighbouring restaurants. They clearly take pride in their work and are interested in serving up tasty food which represents the best of Italy. P.S. the wine list is a beauty, too. My top tip for a pricey restaurant is to abandon shame and just order the cheapest – you know a place like this would never serve a bad one, so why not?
Bocconcino Restaurant 19 Berkeley St, London W1J 8ED, bocconcinorestaurant.co.uk, Tel: 020 7499 4510