photo credit: Rob Greig
For every Friday night where you find twenty quid in the pocket of an old pair of jeans, there’s a Monday morning where you step in a lake disguised as a puddle. For every stranger that holds the door for you, there’s a loud nose breather eating a tuna sandwich next to you on the tube. There are highs. There are lows. And then there’s what you decide to focus on. Which brings us to Luca.
When this very-Italian, bit-British restaurant first opened in Farringdon at the beginning of 2017, it was a restaurant with more highs than the kitchen of your university hall’s most prolific stoner. It was 9.1 high. The glorious bar. The endless wine list. The kind of pasta that had you telling everyone you’ve ever known that they ‘seriously need to try the pork sausage ragu at Luca’.
A couple years down the line, and Luca is still full of highs. Their legendary snack, the parmesan fries, are basically crispy, fluffy churros for people who stan cheese. If we were less lazy we’d paddle-board up the Thames with a megaphone, directing anyone doubtful of the wonders of London towards them. They serve one of the best set lunch menus going. Plus, some of their secondi make you want to rewrite the lyrics to My Heart Will Go On to celebrate the marriage of roast venison and liquorice.
For every main that results in utter joy, however, there’s another that will have you contemplating just how many takeaway cheeseburgers you could have bought instead of 30-plus pounds worth of average Hereford beef. And though the handmade pasta is, for the most part, great, it’s also what we professionals refer to as ‘really fucking expensive’. There are a lot of other excellent handmade pasta spots popping up across London like relentless, tagliatelle wielding meerkats, and most of those places aren’t charging £24 for a full portion of cheddar cappelletti. Big prices mean big expectations, and Luca doesn’t always meet them.
photo credit: Rob Grieg
But then there’s the space. As soon as you walk into Luca, you’ll see the marble bar with a few tables to the side, colleagues and dressed-up couples sat back to back, train carriage style. And that’s before you even get to the beautiful, what-a-looker dining room, with its high wooden ceilings, and very expensive looking furniture. You’ll think: this is lovely. Or, if you’re anything like us: this would be a fantastic place to run into an ex. You’ll be perched on one of the high leather seats at the bar, a negroni in one hand, a perfectly balanced scallop and ’nduja loaded seashell in the other. You’ll look fantastic.
And that’s the thing with Luca. Sitting at the bar, making your way through the three course £26 express menu, with a glass of wine, is epic. You’re flying. You’re having one of the greatest lunches of your life. You’re already booking your next date night here. But, being simultaneously ignored by four servers in the dining room whilst avoiding the rest of your terrible rice pudding can feel like a tragedy. Focus on the lows and you’ll feel like you’re scraping the barrel. Focus on the highs - a portion of pasta, that shiny bar, those parmesan fries - and this place is even better than finding a twenty in the pocket of your old jeans.
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Whether you’re here for lunch, dinner, or simply walking past on your way to somewhere else, you need to order them. Arguably one of the best things you can spend £4.50 on.
Roast Orkney Scallops With Jerusalem Artichoke And ’Nduja
Luca have found that sweet spot where you can taste both the ’nduja and the scallops underneath. Get them.
Squid Ink Bucatini With Braised Octopus, Olives, And Preserved Lemon
Like your friend’s Whatsapp group when Beyonce drops a surprise album, there’s a lot going on here. It’s hard to taste the squid ink, but the octopus is a winner.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
Rigatoni With Pork Sausage Ragu, Tomato, Anchovy, And Mint
The kind of dish you want to high-five and pat on the back for doing a great job. The ragu is super rich, but the mint and rigatoni keep it tasting fresh. This is still one of our favourite things at Luca.
Risotto Of Seasonal Mushrooms With Glazed Veal Sweetbreads
The veal sweetbreads are excellent, but the risotto is just a touch too heavy on the cream. If you share the primi portion it still feels like a luxury rather than a milky endurance test.
Roast Venison With Smoked Beetroot, Pancetta, And Liquorice
This is unexpected, excellent, rich, and slightly smokey, all at the same time.
Whole Flame Grilled Cornish Mackerel With Broccoli, Capers, Lemon, And Chilli
We don’t hate it. We don’t love it. This dish falls into the category of inoffensive, but also, unmemorable.
Sicilian Lemon Tart With Fennel Ice Cream
A Luca signature. Might make you use the word ‘zingy’ out loud in public, but it’s worth it.
photo credit: Rog Greig
Warm Chocolate Mousse With Blood Orange Ice Cream
You could leave a dozen Terry’s chocolate oranges over an open flame and you still wouldn’t be able to achieve the peak glory of this dessert. It’s lick-the-bowl tasty. And somehow, no matter how full you are, the orange stops it from teetering into too heavy territory.