Styled on the infamous Asellina restaurant on New York’s Park Avenue, Cucina Asellina at the ME London Hotel has the feel of a slick New York eatery and a cosy Italian trattoria. Glowing copper globes, a thronging cocktail bar and trattoria-style arches create a smart and slick interior, and just off Aldwych, we’re right in the hub of the West End’s Theatreland. Eat your heart out, Manhattan – London is the place to be. We were chomping at the bit to find out what made this hangout so popular, having heard about crowds flocking to fill up seats on the sell-out free-flowing pizzetta and prosecco deal. The Cucina London Restaurant Festival menu lets you pick 3 Sardinian-influenced dishes per person from the menu of small cichetti-style plates, plus a glass of prosecco. Tapas-style dishes rooted in regional influences veering from rustic to contemporary style allow you a little taste of everything.
First to catch our eye was the thin and crisp pizzetta with prosciutto di San Daniele, pimped up with fontina, truffle and rocket. I am an absolute truffle fiend and this satisfied all of my fiendish ways, a definite recommendation that stands out on the Cucina menu.
Conjuring up a sunny day by the seaside in Naples, this dish was like a luxurious version of the rustic frittura mista, with calamari, soft shell crab, prawns and whitebait. Some garlic aioli for dipping was a moreish addition alongside.
The intriguing coffee-flavoured fettuccine with duck ragu and parmesan drew us in instantly. Despite not detecting the coffee too strongly, the ragu itself was an interesting alternative to the traditional rabbit ragu that you might imagine Jamie Oliver would be proud of.
By far the standout dish for me was the squid ink taglioni, crab, artichoke and bottarga: they deserve a prized pasta award for this tantalising creation. Conjuring flavours of the sea, the beautiful ebony taglioni was an amazing combination with the delicate shredded crab, specked with some garlic, chilli and olive oil on the al dente pasta ribbons. Striking on the eye and even better to taste.
Rich with caramelised sauce, the slow-braised short ribs fell gorgeously off the bone with slow-cooked shreds of beef piling off with ease. Polenta concia, creamy with parmesan, was a decadent partner to the treacley ribs – a must-try dish at Cucina. A ruby salice salentino bolstered up the beefy dish further.
For dessert, tiramisu provided a little sweet pick-me-up in a cappuccino-style cup. The great thing about the menu is you can try lots of savoury dishes and just dip into the desserts lightly if you don’t have a big sweet tooth.
Cucina restaurant has grown to cult status with clued-up Londoners. It’s clearly the place to be, and full to the rafters when we arrived, showing up the surrounding restaurants along the Strand with their bang-on brand of New-York Italian brilliance. This is how Cucina delivers New York Italian style for London Restaurant Festival, at a fraction of the dollar to be spent in Manhattan.
London Restaurant Festival 2015: Book 3 courses & a glass of prosecco for £30
336-337 Strand, London, WC2R 1HA