Situated on St Clements, La Cucina looks rather unassuming to the passer-by. If you were to sneak a look in from the street, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a quiet café or deli. But, if you go beyond the front bar, you’ll find a spacious and sleek Italian restaurant with bags of character and amazing food on offer.
Splitting the restaurant into two sections is particularly effective as not only does it create a ready-made café area for busy shoppers, tourists and students to pop in for a quick coffee without feeling like they’re sitting in an empty restaurant, but it also means that the bulk of the tables are removed from the bustle of the street, so evening diners avoid the constant stream of buses and coaches pulling up outside. There aren’t any gimmicks here; the décor is understated and warm and both the furniture and the tableware are simple and carefully selected. La Cucina’s modest aesthetic allows the food to be at the forefront, reinforced by the combination of having an open kitchen (complete with a gorgeous brick oven and huge bowls of fresh ingredients) and walls stacked with wine and traditional Italian produce.
The waiting staff were all extremely attentive and professional throughout our visit, seating us as soon as we arrived and allowing us just the right amount of time to decide what we wanted to order. Plus – they put up with our poor Italian pronunciation, though the ‘Beginners' Italian’ CD playing in the bathrooms does suggest they’d like their customers to be a little more prepared when they order!
La Cucina’s menu is authentically Italian and offers far more than the usual pasta and pizza fare – expect to be able to choose from risotto, a variety of meat and fish mains, and a full vegan menu that’s not just in place for the ever-trendy Veganuary. While the specials sounded delicious and our party of five were tempted by many of the dishes on the expansive menu, we ultimately decided to stick to the classics when we ordered. We were craving comfort food so ordered a ‘Schiacciatella con aglio e formaggio’
(cheesy garlic bread to the layman) to start, which arrived swiftly and was the perfect amount for five of us to share. For mains we settled on; Gnocchi, in a sauce of gorgonzola, spinach and walnuts; Pappardelle in a rich duck, tomato and red wine sauce; Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, rocket and truffle oil; and a Pizza Parmigiana topped with rocket, parmesan and parma ham.
I opted for the gnocchi, whose gorgonzola sauce was just cheesy enough to not be overpowering, the walnuts and spinach offering a welcome variety of texture and taste to a dish that could otherwise have veered into being too heavy. The other pasta dishes were delicately flavoured with a perfect sauce-to-pasta ratio and the only disappointment from the table was the pizza, which wasn’t particularly cheesy with a base that wasn’t to everyone’s liking. That being said – when the pizza was offered up to the rest of us, most found it more than satisfactory. The portion sizes across the board were perfectly pitched, and thanks to the garlic bread starter we were all pleasantly full by the end of the meal. It should also be noted that La Cucina has a broad drinks menu ranging from the reasonably priced to the indulgently lavish!
Overall we had a delightful meal and would recommend La Cucina for any occasion – during our dinner we spotted other groups of friends, students being treated by their parents and what was unmistakably a first date. La Cucina is a restaurant I wish I could have taken my Italian grandparents to – I know they would have approved.