As it happy during the silly season – you get contacted about catching up with good friends and sometimes it’s a gamble and sometimes it’s not. I had heard the waves of approval during the recent accouncement that the team behind world-renowned The Clove Club was opening their second restaurant called Luca in Clerkenwell. It was to be an Italian restaurant serving Italian dishes made with British produce.
A few caveats before we begin. I have never visited The Clove Club. I haven’t ever really wanted to. The main reason for this is that if I was to be completely honest, my sweet spot for a great meal out = about £50 a head for a fantastic feed, a few choice drinks (beer for me) and great service and atmosphere. Places that fall into this bracket currently include Berber and Q, Blacklock, Chick ‘n Sours and Legs to name a few. These are places I would instantly recommend to both locals and visitors to London who get in touch needing a 100% excellent hitlist. To get into The Clove Club you need to book tickets online with a set menu that ranges from £75 on Thursday up to £110 on the weekend. Even if it’s a special occasion I’m not that keen to splash that kind of cash without being able to pick what I want to eat. But each to their own.
We had booked a booth in the front of the restaurant which was right in front of the bar. And what a bar it is. Somewhere you’ll be wanting to take a date if there was room when you arrived as on it’s first week of opening the bar was a popular haunt. The menu we had was broken down into Snacks, Hams, Plates, Salads, Sandwiches and Ice Cream Pots. All bodes well for those wanting a proper little feed while supping on the very well made negronis on offer.
Beer on offer was either a standard Menabrae or one of two Italian craft beer selections from Birra Del Morgo – both ‘ReAle’ + ‘Duchessa’ – both an eye-watering £7.50 but which I happily had to sit on during the meal.
Things started very well with the pheasant milanese and green peppercorn mayo (£13). I knew portion size was going to be a little on the small side and was very happy with this pheasant panic crumbed schnitzel (as you’d call it by any other name). Not too thin and still beautifully moist in the centre. The mayo was smooth and definitely a winner to put on the site rather than slather the dish in it.
Dish of the night has to go to the intriguing Potatoes ‘cacio e pepe’ (£6). In any other restaurant you’d send this back with the excuse that a chef had just served up shaved half cooked potatoes. Not the case at Luca. Based around a classic Roman pasta dish – the potatoes are certainly al dente – that is coated in plenty of grated pecorino, freshly ground black pepper and a splash of pasta water. This dish real did sing and is definitely worth ordering on any visit.
Inquiring into exactly what sea robin might be – we were given an explanation of what ceviche was and how it comes (which of course we knew (not so much a recent episode of Masterchef Professionals where in the opening round one of the chefs didn’t know what ceviche was…)). Upon further research I’ve found out that it comes from the Triglidae family commonly known as gurnard. The sea robin crude, clementine and Capezzana olive oil (£11) was a nice generous serve of fresh fish with peppery olive oil and a good squeeze of citrus. While it didn’t blow me away, the presentation impressed.
Keen to try the chickpea pancake, kale and chilli (£7) what ended up on the table certainly did taste of chickpea but if there was any chilli hiding amongst the kale then it certainly didn’t show itself. This was a dish I could happy take or leave.
A salad of romaine pancetta, croutons and pecorino dressing (£9) was certainly a little steep at that price. The dressing was subtle and the perfectly thin crisps of pancetta certainly did add a much needed perk to the dish – but for £9 I don’t think it was value for money. Which brings me onto the next dish that just didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Montgomery cheddar and Wiltshire truffle toast (£14). Was it Mighty White? It certainly could have been. Was it Montgomery cheddar? Possible. Was there truffle? Well we could see it – we just couldn’t taste it. And that price? You’re having a fucking laugh.
Having this cheese toastie in the wake of the week where The Cheese Truck has just announced that it will be going the way of bricks and mortar left a bad taste in the mouth (as there wasn’t much taste in the dish I was eating. For £5.50 at The Cheese Truck you can get one life changing toastie. Trust me – head down to Maltby Street Market this weekend and get schooled in what’s been missing in your life up until now. But this dish from Luca – didn’t push any of my buttons and urge you to steer clear of it to the be able to afford an extra cocktail with change to spare.
The other sandwich I slipped into the order in case the truffle toastie fell flat was the piadini stuffed with fresh ricotta, black olive and tema artichoke. Nice enough and yes you would classify it as a sandwich but again I wouldn’t bother ordering it.
For dessert we enquired into a cheese selection for dessert to see if if could save the day. We were given the option of either three different cheese from around Italy or a selection of 5 different aged pecorino (£21) 12, 16, 24, 36 and 46 years old. We went with the latter not knowing the final price (as I’m pretty sure this is rally only found on the official restaurant menu. The youngest cheeses won out as the 36 and 46 year old slices(?) were very dry and resembled the crust of a cheese – but hey what do I know. But AGAIN – does this look like a £20+ plate of food?
Taking our chances on the Panettone ice cream pot (£5) were were left in disappointment town. Instead of the flavours we were expecting it was more of a huge hit of sweet caramel with a lingering overture of raisins – but way too sweet to be enjoyable and enjoyed by just one person.
Our meal was one of more misses than hits – and that’s not what you expect from the team behind The Clove Club – no metre if you’re sitting in the bar or in the restaurant. I was expecting great things and instead I had an average experience (the wait staff are on point all night) and left hungry and sober for £50 a head. It’s also unfortunate that £15 of that was on the two 330ml beers consumed.
I can go to almost any restaurant I’ve visited only once this year and have an average experience and walk out more well fed and watered that here. It’s just a damn shame that I hope is just first week wobbles – but when you boil it all down it’s the value for money that I wasn’t getting at Luca. If you’ve had a different experience from us please leave a comment below.
Contact: Luca Restaurant – 188 St John Street, Clerkenwell. EC1M 4EH