Sometimes a restaurant just feels right. The interior, the building, the service, the food combine for a creation so perfectly balanced it could become an acrobat were it not, you know, a restaurant. Maybe in another life.
Luca is one such restaurant. Opening in 2016, its combination of seasonal British ingredients with an Italian accent has picked up multiple awards, including a Michelin star this year. We’ll come to the food in a moment but let’s establish one thing: this is a simply gorgeous venue. Situated in a 19th-century building, the interior is a Tuscan dream of marble, oak, plaster and brickwork that somehow gives the impression of being entirely candlelit once the sun goes down.
That’s not all. There’s an open kitchen at the centre of the main dining room; a marble bar where you can enjoy a meal or simply sip a Negroni; a leafy courtyard decked out with a stone fireplace and unspeakable romance; three private dining spaces for those special occasions. On leaving, it’s a semi-surprise to emerge beneath the streetlights of Farringdon rather than the cobbled streets of some moonlit Italian village in the hills.
There’s some serious pedigree behind Luca: the restaurant was opened by The Clove Club Group, which you’ll be amazed to discover is also responsible for the two Michelin starred Clove Club in Shoreditch. Head chef Robert Chambers was raised by Italian grandparents and trained at The Ledbury. Not a bad CV.
What to order?
We put ourselves in the hands of chef Chambers and opted for his menu. It was a wise choice. Bear in mind that the menu is seasonal and may vary on any given night. What won’t vary is the guarantee of some seriously delicious food.
Parmesan fries are featherlight, exquisite. They look like churros but rather than a tube of sugar and dough these are all airy with a delicious cheesy kick. “They remind me of McDonald's,” says Tamara, my plus-one for the evening. “In the best possible way. Like a Proustian thing.”' Tam studied English literature, if you couldn't tell.
The antipasto included a wonderful sea bream crudo with cod’s roe, zerbinati melon, friggitelli pepper and almonds. The dish was light, creamy, with a delightful tang. It leaves you primed and ready for the goodness to come. Things start getting serious with the roast orkney scallop with Jerusalem artichoke and ‘nduja – delightful. That’s followed by a superb sheep ricotta ravioli in tomato sauce (or salsa rossa if you want to sound fancy).
And then the main event: Tamworth pork chop with sweetcorn, girolles, polenta and smoked bone marrow. It’s the most classic dish imaginable: meat with a plateful of vegetables, nothing too clever, just great ingredients cooked to perfection. “It feels quite Provincial,” says Tam. “Rustic yet sophisticated. Reminds me of that scene in Ratatouille.” (Presumably the one where the critic weeps at the beauty of the meal the rat has prepared for him.) A slab of caramelised lemon tart finished us off in style.
On matters of booze… Head sommelier Enzo Russomanno presides over an entirely Italian wine list. He expertly paired our dishes with some phenomenal vintages – a personal favourite being a 2018 Barolo di Serralunga d’Alba. A lovely Soave Classico Calvarino was another highlight. Oh, and be sure to order a Negroni at some point – it’s fantastic.
What’s the damage?
The chef’s tasting menu costs £95pp – not cheap by any means but you won’t be bellowing like Pavorotti on seeing the bill. However I don’t believe the wine was included so tread with caution. The list is extensive and runs from £9 glasses to £890 Magnums. Hiccup.
Anything else to note?
I can't think of many restaurants that demand a revisit as much as Luca. Not only will the menu be different, the variety of seating – the courtyard, the bars – will offer a very different experience. Try and tick them all off.
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8 St John St, London EC1M 4EH; Luca