Luca, a new Clerkenwell Italian from the bods behind the Clove Club, is a classy joint. I dread to think how much they spent on it. From the airy and marble-clad bar section, to the lofty dining room, with deco-rustic fittings and billowy drapes, and the faded-palazzo loos, all burnished mirrors and taupe plaster, it’s a handsome spot.
This warmth extends to the menu: trad-rustic and occasionally finicky, this is upscale country comfort food – resolutely non-punchy by delicious nonetheless. First up, parmesan fries: gossamer-light and greaseless fingers of cheese, destined to become a Luca trademark. Starters proper were similarly delicate. Turnip tops, samphire, smoked cod’s roe and sweet butter was a verdant puck of a dish, all rockpools and sea air, the roe powdered and dusted across the plate. A devilled Cornish spider crab bruschetta was deconstructed, the critter baked with cream and breadcrumbs, perfect for splodging on toasted sourdough and trickling with green, grassy oil.
A bowl of light pheasant and mushroom agnolotti came served in broth, the tiny parcels of pasta containing a mildly gamey filling overshadowed by the lip-smacking, tea-like liquid – the kind of thing convalescing princes might have been fed in olden days.
Rump of Herefordshire beef stuffed with pancetta was a salty smack to the chops after all the dainty morsels, the meat slicing like butter, spotted with dribbles of kale juice and a slab of salsify gratin giving a bit of welcome crunch. Exemplary stuff, though not something I haven’t had a hundred times before (and inevitably will again). For dessert, a bowl of baked chocolate orange mousse was cripplingly rich but nicely offset with malt-heavy barley ice cream.
Luca isn’t a spot to come on a budget, but if you’re sans expense account the bar is set up for more casual sandwiches, salads and aperitivo (as well as a menu of small plates for dinner). Nonna might baulk, but for slick cooking in design-mag surroundings, Luca ticks all the boxes.