The Intriguing New London Restaurant You Need To Try
All photographs courtesy of Luca, London
The team behind Shoreditch’s award-winning The Clove Club go Italian with their latest venture.
In the year of the portmanteau, it would not have been a surprise if the team behind Luca – a new British-Italian restaurant in Farringdon – had called it “Britaly”, as was whispered to me almost 18 months ago. As it is, Luca – named after the walled city in Tuscany (which is actually called Lucca, a name already trademarked) – opens today amid eager anticipation and with the intention of offering “British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens”.
Luca is the second venture for the team behind Shoreditch’s The Clove Club, which opened in 2013 and is currently at number 26 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – the second-highest ranking British restaurant to feature. While on the surface it may seem like a dramatic departure from the pristine modern European style of their first, it is thrilling to imagine Mr Isaac McHale, one of the most respected chefs in the country, making pasta – “one of my favourite things” – and lending a touch of refinement to winning, ordinarily rustic, Mediterranean flavour combinations.
But what does “Britalian” food at this level really look like? Ravioli, for example, will be filled with grouse and dressed with a sauce made from potato and whisky – a nod to Mr McHale’s Scottish roots. More importantly, how does it taste? At a preview lunch last week: amazing, ingenious. Elsewhere, there’s spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp and mace butter – a canny riff on potted shrimp – or Cornish monkfish, green olive tapenade and fregola (giant couscous). British beef is given the carpaccio treatment and a nice, hyper-local embellishment: “oyster Lyle’s” – an oyster emulsion credited to Mr James Lowe (one-time collaborator of Mr McHale) and his restaurant, located near to The Clove Club.
Westcombe ricotta ravioli with walnut and sage butter
The question many people will ask is: why Italy? “We love Italy – the food, the wine, the culture and a genuinely welcoming spirit, whether that’s in a Milanese trattoria or the home of a winemaker in Piedmont,” Mr Johnny Smith – who handles front of house – says. “But it’s also about a feeling, and inspiration from this space,” he says, referring to their new site, “which has an elegance and an innate warmth. It was just singing for [Italian].” The team has spent a lot of time in Italy over the last five years – either on holiday with family or friends, or for “work” visits to vineyards and suppliers. Mr McHale has also been making salumi at The Clove Club ever since he opened. Their (pleasingly) musty, meaty smell is the first thing you pick up when you walk through the door. But Luca has enabled chef owner Mr McHale to pursue a new craft: pasta. “It’s never felt right to serve a pasta at The Clove Club, so Luca is my chance to do that,” he says.
Gnocco fritto and house pancetta
Where Mr McHale is studied, serious and kitchen obsessive, Mr Smith is cheeky and dry. He likens their new venture to a process of reinvention that musicians and artists often go through: “It’s exciting, to take different concepts and change our style; to grow and to learn.” He then recalls the early days of The Clove Club: “When we opened, we had one wait station and I was manning the reception as well as running the floor. We have high[er] standards and the expectation comes from us now.”
Given their reputation, there is a lot of anticipation – in London, a city where Mr Smith feels he’s “privileged to add another restaurant”, but also from the outside. “We’re very aware that the world food scene is watching us,” he says. It comes with the territory of being celebrated on the international stage, but Mr Smith doesn’t feel he has anything to prove. “We’re primarily focused on what’s happening daily at the restaurant. Serving good food and drinks, that’s what I’m excited about.” It may seem trite, but he has a point. The business of restaurants is unrelenting and can be unforgiving. But it’s a “big challenge” he and the team are up for. “We’re relishing it – it’s life-affirming stuff.”