Charles Bukowski – poet, novelist, chronicler of Los Angeles lowlife and heroic drunk – once had a job in a pickle factory. Whether this has influenced the menu at Bukowski, a new Soho grill restaurant, I am unsure, but it does serve very fine pickles, especially the smoked gherkins, which are works of genius.
He also worked at a slaughterhouse, which might explain much of the rest of the menu. This is a carnivore’s palace, where choice cuts of rare-breed cattle, Gloucester Old Spot pigs and Swaledale lambs meet the flame and smoke of a charcoal grill to auspicious effect.
There is a Cajun-inspired dish of smoked pig’s cheek with peach relish; meltingly tender beef rib (pictured) cooked for 72 hours and served with deep-fried “tobacco” onions; sweet, piquant baby back pork ribs that yield to the merest tug of the teeth; and smoked chicken wings that, if eaten with incendiary “barn burner” sauce, are free to those who finish all six.
Vegetarians need not despair, however. The menu also makes room for a terrific salad of pickled watermelon, jalapeños, feta, peanuts and coriander; cauliflower fritters with blue cheese sauce; and a meat-free burger (although the Essex beef versions – try the Fat Gringo – have my vote). Throw in a few cocktails (smoky Old Fashioneds, barrel-aged Negronis), a lively soundtrack and a casual, not to say industrial, approach to decor, and you have the sort of joint in which the late Mr Bukowski would have felt very much at home.
He would not, I suspect, have been quite so comfortable at L’Anima, the smart, modern Italian near Liverpool Street; I, however, having wolfed my way through the Bukowski menu, thought I should eschew meat, at least for a while, and restrict my diet to fish.
When the quality of the cooking is as high as it is at L’Anima, this is hardly a penance. After Francesco Mazzei’s departure to Sartoria, Lello Favuzzi has taken the helm, and his delicate, assured style of cooking is a delight.
Witness a perfect raviolo filled with langoustine and prawn, surrounded by the finest dice of vegetables and bathed in a shimmering lobster broth. Sparklingly fresh crab is perched on a pool of fresh tomato sauce, an ink‑black disc of pane carasau set at a rakish tilt and scattered with bottarga; beetroot “tortelli” is stuffed with smoked burrata and ricotta. Then black cod: marinated, for a change, in prosecco and paprika, not miso paste, and sublimely flaky, dressed with a few little clams.
Bukowski, I suspect, would have found all this elegance and intricacy rather wearing: he could, though, have consoled himself with L’Anima’s extensive selection of Italian wines. Or, more likely, he could have propped up the very stylish bar and drunk it dry of Negronis.