One of my favourite places to eat in the world is the front bar at Cal Peps in Barcelona. Twelve or so bar stools along the brown marbled topped bar and an endless parade of the best food in the city. My last trip ended with two stunning meals in the restaurant and it's served as a benchmark for similar set-ups every since. I love its democratic sensibility, you arrive, you queue up enjoying a fino or two and when a seat comes up you eat. Given Barcelona's place in the history of Spain it feels somehow very correct that you can eat some of the best food in the city simply by turning up and waiting your turn. Barrafina on Frith Street, which is a near carbon copy of Pep's is equally egalitarian but we Londoners aren't nearly as patient and you can feel the hot needles boring into your back from people waiting to take your place and whilst the food is entirely competent, I always begrudge the cost and the clientele can grate at such close quarters.
Sitting at the bar in Bocca di Lupo I found myself cursing quietly. See, I’d planned this post rather meticulously. Restaurants where you eat at the bar are better when they are democratic and freed from the tyranny of the booking sheet. Eating at the bar alongside your fellow diners felt proper if you had waited your turn, queued with the self same fellow diners, rich man, poor man, beggar man and thief. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I fell in love somewhat with Bocca di Lupo and I’d booked my table a week ahead of time. Hence the cursing. Maybe I should go wait in the line at Polpo in Soho for an hour to rescue the post, I thought.
I didn’t as my Negroni arrived. Its bitter medicinal sweetness working alongside probably the best olives I’ve eaten in London. For those that don’t know Bocca di Lupo does regional Italian in small tasting plates or massive tasting plates (also known as main courses) depending on your mood. In the spirit of democracy that this meal started with we opted to try something from every section of the generous menu.
Lamb prosciutto, sliced wafer thin on the Cadillac of slicers pictured above, with pecorino sardo and a few raw broad beans set the pace with a simple elegance and home spun feel as we picked the beans from the pod ourselves. Roman fritti pitched up next, two perfect olives stuffed with minced pork and veal and two deep fried bocconcini, tender, moist and messy. Things eased off the throttle a little with a frittata of spaghetti & parmesan which was too heavy a load alongside the simplicity of the other dishes.
A second wave of dishes included clams with cannellini beans, tomato & basil which was spicy and warming and, as far as I was concerned the star of the show, a pot-roasted escarole endive stuffed with pine nuts, raisins & anchovy which was achingly tender; the bitterness of the endive pitch perfect against the salty sweetness of the stuffing. A big friendly childish chocolate filled donut brought the proceedings to a sugary high and all that was left was to pay the ferociously reasonable bill and fall off the bar stools into the warm clutch of the elitist, bourgeois, leather clad interior of the waiting taxi.