Brick Lane has oddly become quite the attraction in London in recent years. It’s become a hotspot for hipsters and curry-lovers, and with regards to the latter, I can’t imagine why. I myself am of Bangladeshi origin and I’ve not once come across a curry in Brick Lane that’s even moderately decent, and I don’t think any restaurant there reflects any of the great food that comes out of Bangladeshi cuisine. But what Brick Lane as a whole fails to deliver in it’s bizzarely popular curry-reputation, it more than makes up for with a number of neat little eateries from a variety of other cuisines, and Italian has just joined that club. La Cucina is an authentic Italian restaurant and pizzeria, situated in the centre of Brick Lane. Having opened just a few months ago, they’ve been gaining quite a lot of attention locally, and rightly so. The beef and the chicken here are halal, and halal dishes are marked with a “(H)” on the menu. I was also informed that the halal dishes are prepared and cooked separately to the non-halal dishes. Alcohol is served.
I’ve been here on three occasions and I plan to return on numerous more. There’s an incredible variety on the menu, and everything sounds incredibly appealing. Every Italian dish you could think of, from pastas to pizzas to risottos to carne/meat dishes. On my first visit, I went straight for the fundamental Italian-pathway to my heart – Spaghetti meatballs, and topped it off with some Panna Cotta for dessert. On my second visit, I ordered the Scaloppine Al Funghi (Panfried Veal with mushroom sauce), followed by Tiramisu, and on my third visit, I ordered the Gamberoni E Rucola (medium-sized prawns with rocket) for starters, and Italian meatballs with mash for mains (I really love meatballs).
There’s nothing I can say about the Spaghetti meatballs other than to utter the word “glorious”. The meatballs here are thick. Denser than the Earth’s core itself. I was incredibly tempted to lob one at someone’s head and eat their food whilst they lay passed out on the restaurant floor. They’re so dense in fact, that you could relieve an Army of their hand grenades and send them into battle with these meatballs instead – they’re likely to do more damage. What took me by complete surprise, was that despite the sheer density of meat, every meatball was seasoned and well-cooked throughout, neither over nor undercooked, and that deserves some credit. The spaghetti was also thick and well-cooked, and was complemented well by a lovely “clean-feel” coating of olive oil, and the strong flavours from the pomodoro sauce that covered the meatballs. All in all, a wonderfully constructed dish.
The Panna Cotta that followed suddenly stole the limelight from the Spaghetti meatballs. It came drizzled with chocolate, was served with raspberries, and had a flawless consistency throughout. It quickly won the affections of myself and my friends. Every bite was wonderfully smooth in texture and sweet in taste (and not sickeningly-so).
The panfried veal with mushroom sauce was served with a helping of roast potatoes and steamed vegetables. The veal was thin-cut, well-cooked and tender, whilst the mushroom sauce was beautifully thick and creamy, and delivered strong, aromatic flavours. The roast potatoes had a soft, smooth texture inside, with a firm, crispy outer skin – just the way they should be, and were complemented well by the creamy mushroom sauce.
Once again, dessert stole the show. Most tiramisus, made both at home and at restaurants, have an unbalanced, over or underpowered element. Either the espresso is too strong or too thin, or the chocolate is too weak, or the cream is overbearing, or something or the other goes a little wrong. This tiramisu, was flawless. The cream, the mascarpone, the chocolate, the espresso, the biscuit, all were present in perfect balance, perfect proportions and worked together in perfect harmony to deliver a perfectly creamy tiramisu that one could truly indulge in. Hopefully it wasn’t just a one-off lucky batch!
The Gamberoni E Rucola consisted of a large plate of medium-sized prawns, and rocket, drizzled in garlic and fresh chilli. The prawns arrived with their heads and antennae attached, which meant more work for me to eat them, but I took the task in my stride. I decapitated one after the other as my friends looked on with horror and concern. The prawns were well-cooked, and their mild flavours were contrasted well by the strong taste of the rocket, and the sharp zest of the dressing.
I’m quite a sucker for meatballs if you haven’t guessed already, and the Italian meatballs and mash reeled me in with its temptations on my third visit. The meatballs were again dangerously dense and well-cooked throughout, and came covered in a napoli sauce that was strong and vibrant in flavour. The “creamy mash” was aptly named, with a strong yet neutral buttery tast, and a smooth, soft and creamy consistency throughout – a texture that was contrasted by the crunchy, olive-oil covered green beans. A wonderfully rich and satisfying dish.
Note: Ignore the weird hue in the last two photographs. I had to commandeer my friend’s phone as mine had a disagreement with a dumbell and was being repaired at the time.
I visited La Cucina again today with Ant-Man, and decided to give their grilled sirloin steak a go. The steak, probably about a 10-oz, medium-cut slab of a fairly good quality, came served with steamed carrots and broccoli, and a collection of those glorious roast potatoes. The steak itself was sadly cooked to medium as opposed to the medium-rare I had ordered, but nonetheless, was well-seasoned, remained fairly tender, and oozed with juices. The juices from within the beef brought forth strong, clean, meaty flavours that complemented the roast potatoes, which were wonderfully thick, with a firm, crispy skin. The potatoes were also full of flavour, owing to a thin coating of butter and black pepper. After giving feedback, the waitress apologised and said she would have been more than happy to have sent it back for another, medium-rare steak, (had I informed her before I devoured it completely). However despite the overcooking, it was quite a pleasant and enjoyable steak anyway, so I reassured her that it wasn’t a big issue. Moreover, for £14.95, it was very easy-going on the wallet. Personally, I think the “more-Italian” Italian dishes at La Cucina are their forte, and I’d stick with ordering them. Don’t be an uncultured youth like Ant-Man and visit this place just to opt for a burger. I almost threw my fork at him in shame.
Value for Money: 4/5
Starters here range from around £5-£12, mains from around £9-£16, and desserts are around the £6 mark. Whilst it may look a little pricey upon first glance, you more than get your money’s worth. The quality of the food here is very high, and the portions are huge. Men who usually leave their wives, mothers and accountants weeping at the sheer volume of food they eat, weep themselves from trying to finish more than one course here. You’ll either be taking something home in a container, or you’ll finish all your food and spend the journey home living in a state of semi-consciousness. I was pretty certain one of my friends had died on the train home following a three-course meal here, but I was too full and immobile to check his pulse. Fortunately he started moving again when we arrived at his stop and rolled himself out of the train doors.
Service is phenomenal here. The staff are extremely friendly, welcoming, and interact with you throughout the night. On my first and second visit, they offered my friends and I a complementary round of coffees, which was a very generous gesture, given that they use premium illy grounds. On my third visit, they gave us a pizza, on the house, just so that those of my friends who hadn’t ordered starters wouldn’t be waiting around without anything to eat. (They were still waiting around without anything to eat because I got to the pizza before they did, but hey it’s the thought that counts.) They really do go the extra mile and beyond to win you over, and I’d give them a 6/5 if it was mathematically valid.
La Cucina is a medium-sized restaurant with a fairly-open layout, dark wooden floors and neat brick walls. The chairs are comfortable and the main dining area is accompanied by a nice set of skylights within the high ceilings above, and a large wood oven that sits nearby. It’s a very nice venue, and perfect for any occasion. It’s fairly easy to get to as well, and can be found right opposite Brick Lane Mosque – a quick ten-minute walk from Aldgate East station. Finding a parking spot on Brick Lane can be a little tricky, but it’s not impossible.
The ambience here is very pleasant. When it’s quiet, it’s peaceful and relaxed, and when it’s busy, the bustling surroundings really bring the place alive. You can be sure to have a peaceful, fun and enjoyable meal here regardless of whether it’s empty or crammed, or whether you’re there for lunch or dinner.
Push the hipster-scene and the curries to one side. La Cucina alone is reason enough to visit Brick Lane. In a short few months of opening, it’s won me over and become one of my favourite restaurants in East London, and that’s difficult to do with someone as pompous and as hard to please as I am. Fine Italian cuisine in an attractive restaurant with exceptional service, a wonderful ambience and a fair transaction of finances. Why are you still at home reading this?
Originally published: 04/01/15
96 Brick Lane
London E1 6RL
Telephone: 0207 247 7772