Britalian food is the order of the day at London's newest hotspot.
The hip young team behind East London's hottest ticket, The Clove Club, opens the doors of its much talked-about new restaurant this week.
Tucked away behind a green-tiled Victorian shopfront in bustling Clerkenwell, Luca offers "British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens" - Britalian for short - from 8am until midnight.
In the front bar, guests can drop by in the morning, there's breakfast, coffee, pastries and sandwiches in one of the four train carriage-like booths. Later in the day, the marble-topped bar dispenses cocktails, including Campari sodas by the bottle, homemade limoncello and a Dirty Martini made with brined green peaches, all masterminded by The Clove Club's barman, Rob Simpson. For eats, there are the likes of charcuterie, salted gooseberries, and olives stuffed with veal sausage.
Beyond the bar a double-height 60-seater dining room bordered by exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling glass serves an à la carte menu with particular emphasis on chef and co-owner Isaac McHale's great love: pasta.
"Pasta is an amazing food, a wonderful world of stories where history and location and climate and politics have changed the shapes and styles that exist across the country," says McHale, singling out the strozzapreti or "priest stranglers" of central Italy as a personal favourite.
Gluten-free ravioli in pheasant broth.
The menu lists spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp and mace, and cannelloni with goat ragù, as well as a gluten-free ravioli in a pheasant broth. Head chef Rob Chambers and his team work in a glass-fronted pasta room off the main dining room, which can also be hired for private dinners. Main courses - which include lamb chops and steamed trout with pickled carrots - are made with British produce in place of more familiar Italian ingredients wherever possible; air-dried ham from Wales, for example, taking the place of prosciutto.
A plate of Carmarthen ham.
The exciting mix of serious food and informal service that made The Clove Club such a pioneer in London's fine-dining scene when it launched nearly four years ago - and recently helped it to place it number 26 on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list - can be found again at Luca. "It's something I first remember experiencing when I was doing a stage at Noma about 10 years ago, just when it was starting to get attention," says 36-year-old McHale. "I remember the food was amazing, but the service was revolutionary - young, hip Scandis just doing their thing, and you happened to be in the same room as them."
Montgomery cheddar and truffle toast.
Luca's less-structured approach is also an acknowledgement of a growing trend among young Londoners to eat out more often, but spend less, rather than saving up for one expensive blow-out. "The big-ticket meal is less popular," says McHale.
And they're not done yet. McHale says he'd like to try his hand at creating a Chinese canteen, as well as a grill restaurant and a restaurant in Tokyo. For now, though, it's all eyes on St John Street and that cannelloni.
Luca, 88 St John St, London EC1M 4EH, +44 (0)20 3859 3000, luca.restaurant
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