Read our interview with Luca's front-of-house manager, Johnny Smith
The welcome: Waiters champion 'adaptive' service, and explain impressively embellished dishes easily, with a journalistic sense of why they're unmissable. 48-month-old matured parmesan, made one wheel at a time? Sure.
The space: Go for Alexander Waterworth's spectacularly deceiving use of space, which burrows back way further than the restaurant's façade would let on.
The resultant chasms of space are so independent from one another, they could suitably have curtains dividing them. The evolution of the restaurant as you go through it is surprising and instantly impressive, but despite that there are better tables than others.
Book the dining room for the best theatrical experience, where a floor-to-ceiling glass wall exposes a lit redbrick building next door. White curtains play with the effect and reveal turrets of external brickwork in a stunning melange of old and new.
Food and drink: The dishes created by chef owner Isaac McHale are described as "Britalian", and take risks. So there's spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp and mace butter and grouse ravioli with potato sauce and whisky.
Luca encourages conviviality and all-day dining, but it's best suited to long meandering meals from the a La Carte in the splendid dining room.
The antipasti is the most experimental. A course of turnip tops, samphire, cod's roe and sweet butter is utterly sublime. Shaped like a salmon roulade, the cod roe is barely distinguishable beneath the flourishing green turnip, but then marvellously distinguishable with the fresh veg bite.
Luca's most innovative dishes are the pastas. Unavoidable was the sheer indulgence of the grouse ravioli, with whisky and potato sauce that was worth savouring like a whisky, but for something more substantial try the spaghettini with shrimp, a simple dish to return to, where the brittle spaghettini supported the soft, fresh flourishes of fish.
Luca's main courses are generously portioned so as to chase a teaser of pasta. The lion's share of dishes are more traditional and British, with Italian counterparts. The fleshy Cornish monkfish has a green olive sauce to lift, and the Rump of Hereford beef was a blistering returner of a dish, supported by pancetta and salsify. Trails of gravy and kale juice married the two worlds.
Desserts are playful - mint choc chip ice cream arrives concealed by an upside down chocolate cone, which broke the rules by plainly tasting like actual mint!
Our storyboard in cheese form, the '5 ages of parmesan', was a journey in itself. These five splinters of rare parmesan aged for up to 48 months were all we could talk about - and share - as we paired Champagne and, later, a plum infused nightcap, which we noticed arriving at other tables at the night's end. A careful touch.
Would we return? In a flash. We'd book a table in the impressively timeless dining room, hidden away like the restaurant's naughty secret.
Luca's splendidly chipper adaptations of Italian dishes are embedded within enough tradition to be comfortable and familiar, rather than just solely novel.
|What||Luca review, Clerkenwell|
|Where||Luca, 88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Farringdon (underground)|
28 Nov 16 – 28 Nov 20, Visit website for opening times and details
|Website||Visit Luca's website to book online|