Radish, Celeriac and Pomegranate Salad at Bocco di Lupo

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“Earthy”, “Deep”, “Woody”, “Complex” – words that you might naturally associate with truffle. The impact of these fungal morsels is usually to deliver a rich, comforting elegance matching a creamy sauce – the height of indulgence. So “crisp” and “fresh” wouldn’t normally be the first thing you’d expect from a salad dressed with truffle oil. Yet this is what Jacob Kenedy has achieved with Bocca di Lupo’s simple yet superb salad.

“[Y]ou’re not going to make a lunch of a plate of these roots”

Whisper-thin slices of radish and celeriac make up the bulk of the platter, with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds adding sweetness and titbits of pecorino hidden away to deliver a salty, nutty zing. A light, citrusy, truffly dressing plays off these simple, crunchy vegetables and makes what would risk dreariness something special.

Okay, so you’re not going to make a lunch of a plate of these roots, but the ethic of this up-market trattoria is to encourage the sharing of a number of plates from across Italian regions and cooking styles, and you should make sure you do so. Interestingly, prices are no real indication of sizes of dishes, and you can easily eat well here very cheaply, or quite expensively, as your budget, mood, and company takes you.

Just make sure you don’t forget to pop across the road to their sister ice-cream parlour, Gelupo, for surely London’s best cone!

Veal Chop at Zucca

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Blimey, that’s some slab of meat” is inevitably the first thought you’ll have on seeing this dish. It’s certainly what I felt, on being presented with a huge hunk of veal – about as far from a thin, elegant schnitzel as you can get. That’s not to say it isn’t an appealing offering itself, just that it’s one that’s significantly more intimidating!

“I’m not sure this shows off everything Zucca’s talented chefs can do”

On a bed of spinach and lemon, the accompaniment isn’t there to vie for affection with the main – and is never going to stand up to this wall of griddle-charred meat. I’ll admit, this is a more pure carnivorous event than I’d usually opt for, ordering from the menu at will, and, if I’m honest, I’d have been fine with half the meat and twice the veg. That said, it was genuinely delicious, with a depth of flavour, and pure, juicy animality that can often be lost in the subtlety of veal. A guilty feeling crosses my mind that this is pretty different from the image of miserable, vulnerable, poorly-treated cow-babies that does tend to make me feel a pang of regret (or at least naughtiness) on the rare occasions when I eat veal.

I’ve been to Zucca before, but not had the veal chop, and that means I’ve seen just how brilliant their high-class (high-price!) cooking can be. I’m not certain that this dish would have conveyed that to me, and only so-so desserts left me wishing that I’d ordered one of the mouth-wateringly-described starters. I’ll come back, and I’ll order more adventurously (given the freedom to do so). This is a meat-lover’s delight – but for a connoisseur of flavour and variety, I’m not sure this shows off everything Zucca’s talented chefs can do.

Beetroot ravioli at Bistrot Bruno Loubet

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I don’t hate beetroot. Hate is quite a strong word. I can eat it, but I generally wouldn’t choose to, so a high bar was set for these ravioli to excite me. Yet thrill me they did!

“Delicate, ethereal ravioli with simple rocket and parmesan”

Rather than having that peaty, acid taste that exudes purple, these parcels of fresh, light pasta were filled with a subtly fragrant, but unmistakably beet flavour.

And rather than the popular, three massive lumps of pasta that you tend to get served as a starter these days, making up for quantity with a punch and a half of full-on-spinach-or-beef, this was a large plate matching several delicate, ethereal ravioli with simple rocket and parmesan.

I followed this with wild duck – excellent, brimming with flavour, much more than the farmed sort, but smaller in size. Competent, not-try-hard French cuisine is what this place does, and I’ll be back. I’d probably even order the beetroot ravioli!

20/100 of Time Out’s list

Salted Caramel Ice Cream at Oddono’s

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Oddono’s is right opposite GBK, where we’d just indulged in Kiwi Burgers (another of the Chowdown Showdown list). I’d resisted the black and white malt option with my burger, since I’d known we were stopping off across the road for ice cream – so the expectations laid on this gelateria were high.

“I’ll certainly be heading back to Oddonno’s”

Like any of the new breed of London ice cream shops specialising in traditional Italian gelato, the flavours are numerous and range from the obvious – dark chocolate – to the unusual – panettone. As you might imagine, the latter is seasonal, and Oddonno’s recently announced that Salted Caramel had been promoted from occasional treat to permanent flavour. Is this a sign that Salted Caramel is now over? Rachael asserts this happened when they started selling salted caramel truffles in M&S. I can’t deny it’s a more standard pairing than even two years ago – but rightly so, they go together like cheese and pickle, like eggs and bacon, like hot dog and onion. Though not necessarily all in ice cream form!

I like it. In fact, I really like it. I made the mistake of asking for panettone with salted caramel on top, so the flavour wouldn’t be masked by the melting panettone, but the waitress took this to mean I’d like less of the salted caramel. Which was a shame, as I thought it was a stand-out flavour. Luckily, I’ve got a voucher for a litre takeaway tub, so at least half of that will be salted caramel.

What else can I say about ice cream? Well, it isn’t Gelupo, and it doesn’t have the same sense of adventure in its range. If you’re trying to impress a date you should definitely take them to Bocca’s frozen sibling. But I’ll certainly be heading back to Oddono’s. At least for another litre!

56/100 Time Out recommended dishes in London

Spicy pork and fennel meatballs at Polpo

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There’s something deeply comforting and homely about meatballs. But I wasn’t sure whether they could be truly gourmet food. One of the criteria we’re using to judge is the ‘daydream test’. I.e. do we find ourselves dreaming about eating the dish again, in that deeply evocative way that tastes and smells can be. I was, quite simply, wrong. I’ve daydreamed about these several times.

“Whatever it is, I’m in heaven”

These meatballs were a cut above. In fact, they were several cuts above. These are effectively skinless spicy Italian sausages – but you can tell immediately that no horror pig-parts feature here. They managed to be light, and almost fluffy, not leaden lumps of gristle or solid meat. But they achieved this whilst also managing to avoid floury stodginess – these were no pork dumplings.

Presented in their threes simply in a bowl of the freshest, like-your-Italian-momma-used-to-make tomato sauce, this dish is intended to be shared (as the waitress was at pains to point out when we ordered three portions). But the dish, remarkably, stands up well on its own – not just in terms of portion size, which was just right (at least, after a day of remorseless eating), but also in terms of mix of flavours. Not one bite became boring.

“I’ll be back for these again. And again”

Perhaps it’s the chilli-warmth, that’s like sitting in front of a wood-burning stove. Or maybe the hint of aniseedy fennel. The pairing with the crisp, tart sauce. Or maybe it’s the sheer comforting indulgence of eating what feels a little like it belong on the kids menu, or out of a can. Whatever it is, I’m in heaven. I’ll be back for these again. And again.

12/100 best dishes in London

Blood Orange Granita at Gelupo

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[with peanut butter ice cream on top]

Bocco di Lupo, the Italian across the road is spectacular. I went for a birthday and loved it. And its head chef, Jacob Kenedy, happened to do Philosophy of Science with me at university. Gelupo is its gelateria, and offers traditional and modern flavours for every palette.

“This was, excuse the pun, bloody delicious”

We were here for the blood orange granita, which for the uninitiated is a bit like a slush puppy – or rather, a slush puppy is like it. Shaved ice with liquid flavour, poured over and enjoyed with a spoon and straw. This was, excuse the pun, bloody delicious. The sharp, rich, complex sweetness of the blood orange makes for a refreshing, tangy and almost spicy dessert. Rather than being bland and watered down, it is mega-flavourful. And it’s so bloody red you’ll want to dye clothes with it!

20/100 of the best dishes in London

Beef lasagna with Heston’s white sauce

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I was fairly intrigued when I first read about Heston Blumenthal’s no-roux white sauce. Instead of starting with the traditional butter and flour lump and then gradually adding milk, and cheese being optional, he advises reducing white wine (significantly), adding chicken stock, then melting in cheese, coated in a couple of teaspoons of cornflour (the only flour).

It seemed just as easy as normal white sauce, with a boatload more flavour. But judge for yourself.

Beef lasagna with Heston's white sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 300 ml white wine
  • 150 ml chicken stock (warmed through)
  • 200 g mature cheese (I used cheddar)
  • Cornflour, to dust (2 tsp approx)
  • 300 g lean beef mince
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 150 g spinach
  • 12 sheets lasagna
Instructions
  1. In a small pan, reduce the wine to a concentrated 30ml.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the beef for five minutes (you shouldn't need any additional oil), then add the chopped onion, and fry for another three minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the beef, and reduce slightly, then add the spinach and wilt for a minute or two and remove from the heat.
  4. Stir the heated stock into the reduced wine, then dust the cheese (reserving a handful to sprinkle on top) with the cornflour, mixing to coat, then stir into the stock until nice and thick.
  5. Layer in a large dish - beef and tomato sauce, lasagna sheets, white sauce. I aim for as many layers as possible (it's all about the pasta!), so be sparing with the sauces, while ensuring there is enough wet for the pasta to absorb.
  6. Sprinkle on top the reserved cheese, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. The pasta should be al-dente, and have taken on the flavours of the sauce.