There are some items of clothing that scream “buy me” the minute you see them. You get them home, you wear them immediately and whenever you get the chance. They’re bang on trend, for a little while at least, but after the initial honeymoon period they get pushed further and further back in the cupboard. Then there are other items of clothing that are versatile, always standing the test of time. Those classic wardrobe staples may get worn occasionally, but never go out of fashion. La Cucina to me is like one of those wardrobe staples.
I’ve been numerous times over the years, for group lunches with colleagues, with mums and children, or for casual lunch dates. I’ve only ever once been disappointed, that’s a pretty good success rate.
What La Cucina does, it does well. It doesn’t shine like a gleaming culinary star, yet the food tastes delicious and fresh, and the service is bordering on impeccable. You won’t find them jumping on the latest hipster trend, I’m not sure they’ve even redecorated in the years I’ve been going there, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Simple but crisp wooden furniture spreads out across two dining areas, a small front restaurant with bar, and a larger rear dining space with views into the open kitchen. Bowl after bowl of fresh fruits and vegetables adorn the kitchen counter, while shelves packed full of wine, bread sticks, pastas and oil line the walls. Deep browns and reds bring warmth and homeliness to the restaurant, as do inoffensive furnishings and wall art.
A classic Italian menu ranges from grazing boards, soup and small dishes, to salads and antipasti, pasta and risotto, meat and fish, or pizza, with a selection of Italian desserts and aperitifs to follow. Prices are neither excessively cheap nor expensive, with pizzas ranging from £6.95 for a Margherita to £9.95 for a Calzon’pizza Vesuvio (“Part calzone, part pizza. Calzone: mozzarella, spicy sausage, bacon, chilli, tomato sauce on top. Pizza: tomato sauce, bufalo mozzarella”). I’m yet to feel brave, or rather hungry, enough to tackle that one.
The pizzas are good, thin crispy bases with enough topping to give flavour without inducing the dreaded soggy bottom. My favourite dishes however are the pastas, soups and salads. My boys go absolutely wild for their penne bolognese, of which they share an adult portion with no interruption. I’m a fan of the bolognese also, but often swing towards a rather excellent tuna salad, with crisp croutons, olives, cucumber, leaves, an ample dousing of balsamic dressing and a welcome heap of chopped anchovy on top. Or the succulent duck ragu pappardelle, flavoured with oodles of aromatic vegetables and fresh herbs, braised with tomato and red wine. The duck ragu tastes like it’s been made by angels. Homely angels though, not pretentious ‘we’ll serve you up tiny portions on rectangular plates’ angels.
That’s another one of the things I enjoy about La Cucina – the normality. It’s good food without pretence. Service is relaxed, comfortable, sincere and competent.
When opening the review I mentioned one time I’ve been disappointed at La Cucina. Whether they had a new chef, or a distraction in the kitchen, I don’t know. But on this singular occasion over a year ago, the usually tasty food was bland. Quite a remarkable feat of consistency given the number of times I’d visited; and if that’s the worst they can do, they’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about.