London Travels – Bocconcino, Mayfair

Heading into the posh territory of Mayfair, the chances of an economical meal are dialled all the way down to zero. But top-quality is guaranteed…

Whenever I meet up with my old university friend Dean Connor in London, I always make a point of exploring an area of the capital otherwise unfamiliar to me. Appearances aside, I had never strayed into the heart of upmarket Mayfair until a couple of weeks ago. Where the price tags have price tags. This publication is called Expensive Tastes, and our next review lives up to the name.

Rather than walking in circles trying to find our restaurant like we did with our lunch at Fortnum & Mason earlier that day, Dean and I managed to find our venue of choice for dinner – an Italian called Bocconcino, regarded online as one of the slightly cheaper options in the area – quite easily.

We stopped for a drink at the nearby bar and nightclub Fifty9 to whet the appetite, whereupon we also came across another restaurant called Sexy Fish. We were actually intrigued as to whether it was a restaurant or just a weirdly-named strip club (with Dean posting on Instagram to get opinions). Either way, Bocconcino nearly lost us to Sexy Fish, but the far pricier menu brought us to our senses.

It was gorgeous inside this Italian. A spiral staircase leads downstairs to a thriving and ambient restaurant floor, with the kitchen visible. They must have been at full capacity down there, as we were led down a corridor to a second, spacious restaurant room. The hostesses were polite enough, though they only offered to take Dean’s coat, whereas I was obliged to have mine on the back of my chair. Dean’s relentless flirtation with everyone he meets obviously pays off…

Mozzarella di Bufala Campana alla Caprese — Buffalo Mozzarella with Pesto and baby Plum Tomatoes

The menu presented a huge number of choices — almost too many, in all honesty. Our starters took the forms of Calamari (pictured below) and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana alla Caprese (see pictured). Something very basic for both of us, but it was one of the best choices I had made all day. The cheese was light and subtle in flavour, which allowed the pesto to work to its full potential, injecting all those beautiful Mediterranean basil tastes into the mix. The jewels in this crown, however, were the baby plum tomatoes. I am usually reluctant to eat raw tomatoes — too often have I found them to be full of sour pulp; not a very pleasant taste at all. But these were gorgeously sweet. More like plums than tomatoes in both flavour and texture. A great, positive surprise.

Frittura di Calamari con Salsa Tartara — Calamari with Tartare Sauce

Now a brief mention of Dean’s Calamari, which seems to be a recurring theme of our visits to Italians, such as UNo. in Pimlico back in January, where I had a great newspaper cone of them. I would normally moan about rubbery calamari, but Dean’s assessment was that the texture allowed him more time to enjoy the flavours. When he put it that way, I could not disagree.

Linguine alle Vongole — Linguine with Clams

Having already had fish for my main at lunchtime, I was reluctant to have it again for my entrée this time around. Nevertheless, much as the Tagliatelle al Ragù di Cinghiale (or Tagliatelle with a Wild Boar ragù sauce) was tempting, I could not resist a dish of Linguine alle Vongole (see pictured). Also known as Linguine with Clams.

Pizza Quattro Stagioni — Four Seasons Pizza (Ham, Artichoke, Mushroom and Black Olive)

You will probably declare me an idiot when I tell you that dish of pasta and shellfish cost a coronary-inducing £22. When it came to quality of value, I would much rather have suffered the carbs involved in a pizza like Dean’s Quattro Stagioni (see pictured), priced at only £15. Pretty as the pasta dish was in terms of colours, I was disappointed by its size. Not to mention how many empty clam shells I had in mine. Definitely some escapees. I wasn’t over-enthralled by the flavours either — it didn’t exactly knock me off my chair with how good it was.

Dean’s comments about his pizza were far more positive, although he did admit it was easier to eat with a knife and fork, contrary to traditional pizza etiquette, and with all the ingredients mixed up. He remarked that the mushrooms making up one of the four seasons were particularly delicious.

A mixed bag by comparison to our usual London reviews. I’d go back to have those gorgeous tomatoes again. Next time, we’ll have to brave Sexy Fish instead…

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