T&C tests: Luca, Clerkenwell

Flavoursome Italian fare prepared using the finest seasonal British produce

As excitement mounts around Kingsland Road’s Two Lights, the latest opening from the restaurateurs behind the Michelin-starred Clove Club, T&C  visits their second venture, Luca, to see how it compares.

The elegant Clerkenwell venue – a surprisingly expansive space that is testament to how far Isaac McHale and his team have come since their early pop-up forays – promises “British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens”, a concept that might risk upsetting the purists were it not so skilfully executed. On the balmy September evening of our visit, we begin proceedings with a suite of refreshing Martini-based cocktails, on offer as part of a (sadly now concluded) month-long collaboration between the restaurant and the drinks brand. Mediterranean-style aperitivi such as the ever-popular Negroni – in this case a blend of Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino, Martini Riserva Speciale Bitter and Bombay Sapphire Gin – are paired with sophisticated snacks that unite Italian and British culinary influences, the ‘Scotch olive’ made with rabbit sausagemeat being a particularly delectable fusion.

Suitably merry after several such heady concoctions, we forgo the antipasti selection (making a mental note to return for the burrata with crushed courgettes) and go straight to the pasta course. My kale pesto, rich in vegetal aromas that complement the perfectly al dente orecchiette, is so good that I vow never again to buy the supermarket equivalent, while the rigatoni with pork sausage ragu is tender, wholesome and melt-in-the-mouth. Mains once again combine the best of British produce with Italian flair, my partner opting for the seasonal roasted partridge while I am presented with a colourful vegetarian medley that combines earthy root vegetables with lighter Mediterrean flavours.

The expert sommelier is on hand throughout the meal to share his recommendations, starting us off with a glass of Franciacorta Brut and then guiding us through an Italian wine list that encompasses a wide range of the country’s wine-making regions; we’re particularly taken by a golden-coloured Chardonnay from Piedmont that is intense and full-bodied to the palate.

Luca is a place for almost any occasion: you can go with a group of friends for a four-course extravaganza or simply pop in alone for a Campari and soda with a bowl of comforting pasta. The Clove Club team are very good at finding winning formulas – and no doubt there are plenty more to come…

Luca, 88 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1.

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