All opinion articles are independent and not paid for by any establishment
Wonderfully Rustic and Authentic
The Specials Board was very inviting
Update at bottom
Having tried the neighbouring Cuttlefish restaurant (formerly Fishers) on St Clements just a week or so ago, I had a hankering to try the more established La Cucina, run by the same people.
Just a stone’s throw from Magdalen Bridge, La Cucina is slightly deceptive. At the front, it could be an Italian cafe for shoppers or students and I’m sure during the day it gets used as just that, but beyond the few front tables it is a spacious and stylish Italian restaurant with great character, wine bottle lined walls, an open kitchen featuring an open stone oven and a hive of ‘cheffy busyness’. The decor is maybe understated, bordering on the edge of utilitarian but this no-fuss approach leaves you in no doubt that the food here is what is important.
La Cucina’s menu is authentically Italian and offers a pretty excellent menu, including various pasta dishes, some staggeringly good looking pizzas, a couple of risottos, meat and fish dishes and a hand chalked Specials Board.
I love a Specials Board, it immediately makes me feel that these are dishes that the chefs really care about. Flat bread with pear and Gorgonzola, a confit duck dish, pasta with sea bass and a guinea fowl dish were this Friday evening’s specials.
‘The Seabass is wonderful’ she said, “I’ll have that then,”
A couple of women sitting at an adjacent table had been served their main courses and were digging in with much enthusiasm. As our masked waitress came to take our order one of the women saw me eyeing their dishes for inspiration and said ‘The Seabass is wonderful’. It did look good – “I’ll have that then,” I said to our waitress. My wife ordered a ribeye steak with rocket and balsamic and we decided to share a flat bread with Gorgonzola and pear as a starter.
The oblong flatbread was wonderfully simple, it was exactly as described, oozing Gorgonzola with a slice of pear on top of each rectangular slice. Even though the pear hadn’t got oodles of flavour it was simply gorgeous. Taking a sip of my wife’s Aperol Spritz I was happily transported to somewhere on the Adriatic. This was rustic food with no pretensions and I loved it. We both initially held back a little on eating it all as we didn’t want to fill up. I say initially as by the time our mains arrived, which wasn’t long, we had devoured 90% of it!
Our mains arrived. A whole Seabass fillet on top of a bed of very thick spaghetti (maybe spaghettoni, I’m not sure) with finely diced onions, courgette and tomatoes tied together by a delicious sauce – accompanied by a bowl of green beans.
My wife’s gargantuan rib-eye steak almost perfectly cooked to medium rare with Rocket and a balsamic dressing and bowl of roasted potatoes.
The Seabass was nicely cooked, although disappointingly not with a crisp skin, however I think that lack of crispiness helped it to remain beautifully moist and flaky. The pasta was very well prepared with a very delicate sauce and some lovely crunchy vegetables. I immediately wanted a shaving or two of parmesan, as I am so used to it being served with pasta, but its strong flavour would have overtaken the fish and would have ruined the overall flavours.
The green beans tasted very Italian – ever so slightly overcooked by today’s standards and swimming in garlic butter – Very rustic and very lovely.
The Ribeye steak was, according to my wife, amazing with a delicate charring and except for a slightly thicker end which was a bit under, it was perfectly cooked. “Would you have it again?” I enquired, ‘In a heartbeat’ she responded with greedy enthusiasm.
I may well be back sooner than expected
We rounded off our meal with a Lemoncello and an Affogato, something I’ve never had before despite numerous trips to Italy – Vanilla ice cream with an espresso coffee shot poured over it. Luckily another spoon arrived so that we could share. We were both in raptures – quite the loveliest of things and one we can’t wait to have again.
Actually, I think I may well be back sooner than expected, maybe during the day as a cafe experience to have a flatbread and an Affogato all to myself.
Note to management – If the Flatbread with Gorgonzola and Pear isn’t a standard on the menu, you’re making a massive mistake, IMHO !!
Love it, Love it, Love it.
Yes, I went back sooner than expected
Not that I needed much excuse to revisit La Cucina but I used a visiting cousin as a reason to get an Italian fix last Friday.
The welcome was warm and hospitable. Coincidentally we were seated at the same table as our first visit, in the front part of the restaurant, which in a way was a shame as I’d have quite like to have been within the hustle and bustle near the open kitchen.
The specials board thankfully still had the Pear and Gorgonzola flatbread which was even better than the last time I had it (the pears had more flavour).
The mains on the specials board presented me (and only me) with a little dilemma. I really wanted pasta, not just any pasta but a dripping bowl of garlicy, tangy loveliness. I could of course have ordered off the standard menu but I’m a sucker for a specials board, where sadly there was none – apart from the Fregula with the swordfish. Instead I went for something totally unfamiliar to me – a rustic Italian beef stew covered in egg, which sort of acted as a lid to keep the rich beef flavours in.
My wife’s Swordfish steak on the above mentioned Fregula (small round pasta) was cooked to her medium rare requirements and was divine.
Whilst I enjoyed the dish I had and it was wonderful to have something I’d never had before, hand on heart I wouldn’t have it again. There was nothing wrong with it whatsoever, the meat was deliciously tender but the egg covering, (sort of like a thin gravy soaked omelette) just wasn’t for me.
The Affogato was divine, again