Bocca di Lupo

Why go here:

To try Modern Italian dishes inspired by different regions of Italy. Also, this restaurant is consistently ranked as one of London’s best Italian restaurants.

What it looks like:

Situated right in the heart of Soho, the restaurant has seating at the marble bar which is perfect for people watching if you’re by the windows or you can choose to sit in the formal dining area with an all wooden decor and lots of paintings of food all around.

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The food:

The dishes are supposed to made of ingredients sourced either from Italy or prepared in-house such as with the breads, sausages, pastas and pickles. All the dishes come in small or large sizes so you can choose to have a tapas style or a standard 3 course meal. We opted for the tapas style because there were too many dishes that we liked the look of on the menu.

We started with the Radish, Celeriac, Pomegranate and Pecorino salad, the signature dish of the restaurant and rightly so. The paper-thin slices of celeriac and radish were crunchy and sweet and the lashings of truffle dressing really made this salad into an indulgent dish. The pecorino cheese slabs added to the bite and enhanced the flavour of the truffle further.

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Next we had the White Polenta and Brown Shrimps cooked in brown butter and lemon. This simple sounding dish was surprisingly delectable and probably my favourite dish of the meal. The polenta was silky smooth and the sweet, crispy and buttery shrimps made an unbeatable combo with it.

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The Guinea Fowl with grilled panzanella, peas, beans and rocket came in a tasty, garlic-y sauce made with the juices of the grilled fowl, tomatoes and wine.

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From the seafood section, we opted for the Skate fish in crazy water. The fish was white, meaty and fresh and had only one bone down the middle and was partenered with a tomato broth with chunky onions, capers, olives and leeks, which was very rustic and toothsome.

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To finish, we ordered the Caffe Alla Nocciola- a sweetened, Hazelnut-flavoured, utterly creamy coffee which was brought to us on the house!

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Verdict:

Every dish at Bocca di Lupo is of superb quality, with authentic & freshly-sourced or in-house ingredients and very enjoyable. It goes to show that Italian cuisine stretches so much beyond linguines and lasagne. This place is a must try for all foodies out there that like Italian- this is modern Italian at its best.

Polpo

Why go here:

It is one of its kind in London- a Bacaro, which is supposed to be a ‘humble’ restaurant serving good Italian and Venetian plates and great wines, all for reasonable prices. Simply put, it is a tiny Italian tapas and wine bar that aims to serve affordable, delicious food.

What it looks like:

There are a few different branches of Polpo. The one I visited is situated in the heart of Soho. The restaurant has bare brick walls, minimal lighting and unpolished wooden furniture. There are two bars- one next to the dining room upstairs and a bigger one downstairs with cosy seating, where you’ll find the diners awaiting their tables and sitting, sipping on wines.

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We did find the bars to be understaffed though and the only girl serving the downstairs bar was also getting calling to wait tables, which meant that I had to wait for more than a good half an hour for my drink and when I finally did get to place my order, I found that they had run out of the wine I wanted. The dining experience was thankfully much better.

The food:

For starters, we ordered the Chopped Liver Crostini and the Jerusalem Artichoke, Pecorino and Truffle Oil Bruschetta. The chopped liver was warm and smoky but the bruschetta is what stole my heart. Slabs of pecorino cheese and uniformly sliced artichoke slices with lashings of truffle oil make every mouthful of this dish heavenly.

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For mains, I tried the Cod Cheeks with Lentils and Salsa Verde.The cod cheeks were well cooked yet not tough and the lentils added to the texture but the salsa verde was lacking from the dish. There was too little of the salsa to taste, which was a shame because it was very fragrant and spicy and would have complemented the otherwise, mild and simple lentils and cod dish quite well.

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My friend ordered the pork belly which was crispy skinned and juicy inside and the combination with the hazelnuts really did add to the texture and the taste, although the dish did feel a little dry at times and could have done with some more sauce drizzled on the pork belly.

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Dessert was a flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake. I wish I could find the recipe for it. It was like eating a massive Nutella-flavoured brownie. It was dense and luscious and packed with chopped hazelnuts.

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Verdict:

One of the best valued eateries in Soho and with a regularly changing menu of Venetian dishes. I suggest ordering several dishes and sharing. Remember to order the Jerusalem Artichoke Bruschetta and the Flourless Hazelnut cake- you’re unlikely to find equivalent dishes anywhere else!

City Social

Why go here:

For a sophisticated, luxurious dining experience with stunning views of the City.

What it looks like:

Overlooking the Gherkin and housed high up on the 24th Floor of Tower 42, the old Natwest Tower, the restaurant is an embodiment of sophistication. Leather booths, spotlights being shone on tables and overlooking London’s landmark skyscrapers.

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The bathrooms were particularly cool, with dressing mirrors and comfy stools set right by the all glass wall panels, so that you can enjoy the panoramic views while touching up your makeup!

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The food:

The dishes here are mostly works of art- in terms of ingredients, techniques and presentation. The Chestnut Tagliatelle with smoked chestnuts and butternut squash came with a silky sage-infused with veloute. The tagliatelle was the softest, most flavourful I’d ever had.

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The seafood linguine was dished with an abundance of fresh seafood and their tongue tantalising juices formed a beautifully fragrant sauce.

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The ‘Navnon’ of lamb was a bit surprising since I had expected a big bowl of lamb casserole with seasonal vegetables. Instead, I was served a juicy lamb fillet with a drizzle of mint sauce and caramelised shallots, all topped with a crispy bacon crumb.

You have to get the desserts here. Every single item on the desserts menu looked great but based on recommendations from the waitress, we went for the Peanut , Banana and Chocolate ‘Old-fashioned’ and the Lemon & Vanilla Tart. The Old -fashioned came with an utterly scrumptious peanut butter parfait and a rich dark, chocolate ganache and freshly made banana ice cream.

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The lemon and vanilla tart was sweet and not too tangy and the fennel in the accompanying yoghurt sorbet had an unusual flavour but complemented the lemon tart well.

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Service was also very attentive with our glasses and bread baskets getting topped up seamlessly.

Verdict:

You should go to City Social if you’re looking to try food that looks like masterpieces of art and is of Michelin star quality, while enjoying spectacular views of London in superbly luxurious settings.

Bellaria

Why go here:

Authentic Italian food in a candlelit underground cellar in the centre of London.

What it looks like:

Located in the West-End, the restaurant had two floors- a street level standard cafe-style eatery and the basement level cellar. The latter comprises of stone walls, candles, low ceilings and an extensive wine collection. You can see why it’s popular amongst couples.

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The food:

We started with the crepes filled with ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and porchini mushrooms served with a red pepper coulis. The crepes were soft and the filling was gooey and delicious.

For mains, I had the tortellini with roast pumpkin, ricotta and nutmeg in a butter and sage sauce, all topped with pomegranate seeds and rocket. The tortellini was freshly made and the combination of pumpkin & sage was warm and earthy.

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The tiramisu we ordered was the only disappointing aspect of the meal. The biscuit base was a bit soggy and the only strawberry used for the presentation was a bit too large and had slipped off the top, causing the tiramisu’s shape to be a bit distorted.

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Verdict:

This place is good if you wish to try fresh, authentic handmade pastas. Worth going to for a date – the dimly-lit cellar is ideal for couples that are into the whole ‘quiet-and-segregated-in-an-underground-tunnel-with-food-n-booze’ kind of thing.

Pizza East

Why go here:

To try gourmet pizza – and no, Pizza Express doesn’t count as gourmet.

What it looks like:

The restaurant is in a warehouse with bare bricked walls, wooden benches and dimly lit. I was pleasantly surprised when I happened to wander downstairs to the toilets, to find their very own photo booths – free for you to use!

The waiters were friendly, tattooed hipsters but there were not as many of them considering how busy the place was, causing the service to be quite slow.

The food:

Before we tucked into pizzas, we decided to try some of their antipasti and this was definitely one of our best decisions of the day. The Jerusalem Artichoke dish and the Chilli, Almond Broccoli salad were so flavoursome, I could have easily had more of them instead of moving onto pizza at all.

But, I didn’t want to miss out on what Pizza East promises to do best.  So I did end up ordering the Butternut Squash and Fontina Pizza. Being seated at the bar counter had the advantage of getting to see the chefs do their magic with the pizzas – expertly rolling out the dough, sprinkling on all the freshly prepared toppings and the cheese and smoothly sliding them into the clay oven. It was almost like a factory process with the timings of the chefs perfectly coordinated to maximise the pizzas being dished out every minute.

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Having witnessed your pizza being prepared really does impact your patience in waiting to get to eat it. When my pizza finally arrived, I devoured it in seconds. The butternut squash was sweet and the base had the right thickness and crunch. My only complain would have to be the amount of cheese- this might be me being greedy but I did feel that my pizza was almost too healthy. Although, this might have been my choice of pizza because my friend had less of this issue with her Veal meatballs, Prosciutto and Cream pizza.

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Verdict:

Next time you get a girl joking about getting pizza for a dinner date, surprise her by taking her to Pizza East. Pizza doesn’t get any more gourmet and fun than this.