Douglas Blyde visits Luca and discovers how the Clerkenwell restaurant fuses British ingredients with the traditions of Italian cuisine. He also meets Naples-born head sommelier Enzo Russomanno and discusses how the wine list “can really dig into lesser-known regions”. Taken from this year’s Wine List Confidential guide, available to buy now.
“Luca is billed as a ‘Britalian’ restaurant, and the kitchen makes its mark by fusing seasonal British ingredients with the vigorous traditions of Italian cuisine: ‘sublime’ handmade pasta is an unmissable highlight (perhaps bucatini with kale pesto, Calabrian chilli and Castelmagno cheese),” appraised Square Meal of Luca, Farringdon. “But we wouldn’t ignore bigger plates such as best end of Hebridean lamb with crisp sweetbreads and spiced carrots or Cornish monkfish with Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnuts and butter…”
The Naples-born Enzo Russomanno, whose motto is “in medio stat virtus” – “virtue stands in the middle”– seeks to showcase the glorious diversity of Italy through his established list, from Joaquin JQN 203 Piante a Lapio to Terlaner Rarity by Cantina Terlan. “We can really dig into lesser-known regions and producers and find real gems with an affordable price,” he says. “Over time, those winemakers become more well-known – even iconic – which allows us to serve sought-after wines we love at a price many others can’t.”
Russomanno takes pride in serving some of Italy’s greatest wines, such as Valentini and Soldera, “and we have a fantastic selection of different communes of Barolo, such as Serralunga d’Alba”. He also strives to collect multiple vintages from the same producer. “It really offers something special to our guests when they can return and try a new vintage from a winemaker like Giuseppe Mascarello or Giacomo Conterno.”
Inspired by La Trompette restaurateur Nigel Platts-Martin, “who buys wines on release, ageing them, then offering them at keen prices”, Russomanno secures the likes of Sassicaia 2016 en primeur, often in conjunction with sister restaurant Clove Club.
One of the most popular dishes in the slightly Japanese-of-feel dining room, realised by head chef Robert Chambers (formerly of Locanda Locatelli), is Orkney scallops with Jerusalem artichoke and nduja. “The spice from the nduja is tough to find a match with, but we have found it!” exclaims Russomanno. “Skin contact Catarratto, Aldo Viola, Krimiso, from Sicily’s northwest coast has tannins which work with the heat of the nduja, and its sweetness with the brown butter is a marriage of love.”
Russomanno originally wanted to be a chef. “Time in the kitchen gave me an insight and understanding of the love and care that goes into making beautiful food. I think it gives me a unique perspective when I’m selecting and pairing wines for guests.” And, like Chambers, he also worked at Locanda Locatelli, where he looked after “a super-mega-919” table (industry code for VIP) comprising Bono and the Edge, Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jay Z and Beyoncé. “Surprisingly, Bono didn’t know how to eat spaghetti (I thought he’d have that down). I was going to give him a few tips but didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends…”
When Russomanno is able to dine at Luca, he favours the corner banquette in the conservatory next to The Pasta Room. “It’s luxurious and comfortable and I can see nearly all the restaurant, onto the terrace and, importantly, both sommelier stations.” There he can dream about realising his superpower of being able to reverse taint corked wines…”
Score: 94.3 Value: 93.5 Size: 95 Range: 95 Originality: 93 Experience: 95
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