Call from H&N HQ “Deana, don’t suppose while you’re in London you’d have time to review Gino D’Acampo’s new restaurant on the Strand? Well, you can imagine my response “I’ll make time!” and I am so, so glad I did.
Situated on the ground floor of the ME London hotel by Meliá on the Strand, when we arrived at the entrance, I knew rearranging the diary was well worth it. The entrance is currently festooned with the most beautiful floral arch and I was ready to step onto the red carpet. Out with my husband on a pre theatre date night we were early birds and so we got the full attention of the staff from the moment we walked through the door. This was Gino D’Acampo at its best.
Our head waiter, Carmine and the various waiters who looked after us, all possessed that easy charm and gave us just the right level of service.
This is Gino’s latest venture and one close to his heart as he has named the restaurant after his eldest son “Luciano”. This is elegant, smart, Italian stylish dining that you would expect from a restaurant of this size (100 covers) and particularly in this location. Close to Covent Garden, The Strand, theatres, the sights and a busy business district, this spot caters to those wanting a little sophistication as you take a sip of a lovely glass of Lombardian Francacortia. Yes, we could have had prosecco or champagne, but we wanted to sample something new while we perused the menu. I do wonder if this latest offering from the Italian “fizz” market will see success to rival prosecco. The Ferghettina Rosé Brut was certainly smoother and set the tone for the rest of our meal as we perused the menu.
Seriously light, wafer-thin flatbreads with a yummy pesto dip arrived to keep any hunger pangs at bay.
Let’s take it from the top, shall we? Gino and his development chef Minini have compiled upmarket versions of some Italian classics here, starting with what Carmine described to us as “Italian small tasting plates” or “Cicchetti” to use the correct vernacular. Olives, four cheese flatbreads, Devonshire crab and tomato bruschetta are just some of the lovely tempting dishes to get you started.
I opted for “Truffle Arancine” which are rice balls, stuffed with truffle infused cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Oh my! Heavenly and for a “small plate” my serving was plentiful. Graham selected “Wild King Prawns, chilli and garlic butter” from the Antipasti offering. Both dishes got us off to a flying start. Food heaven!
We selected to go straight to mains from here which I will get to soon enough, however, there are some super tempting dishes on the Carpaccio & Tartare and Insalata sections of the menu. Salmon Tartare with chill, avocado and capers, Tuna Tartare with egg yolk dressing, Burrata, Panzanelle Insalta and Chicken Caesar is on there too!
Mains then; I love pasta! What can I say? Especially when it’s beautifully presented with deliciously fragrant herbs and quality ingredients. My absolute favourite is Seafood Linguine and so I was thrilled to see it on the menu. In fact, the Pasta, Risotto and Gnocchi section of the menu isn’t full of overly concocted offerings, it’s pretty much what you would expect from any Italian restaurant with a couple of nice surprises thrown in. I was tempted by the Spaghetti Lobster, but I always find lobster frustrating in that it is usually messy and there is never, ever enough! No worries, my linguine ticked all the boxes and I added a mixed leaf salad just to give me some crunch. Both were terrific.
Now hubby is a steak man but as Carmine advised that although the steaks are fabulous you can get a steak anywhere. Why not try the Veal Cutlet Milanese which is becoming a firm favourite amongst regular diners and Graham was chuffed to bits with his. This bad boy filled the plate and was lightly breaded with just the right balance of herbs and seasoning. He teamed it with Zucchini Fritti and enjoyed every mouthful.
We opted for wines by the glass as we were heading off to the Victoria Palace Theatre and so couldn’t linger over a bottle of something nice. Given that this latest venture of Gino’s smacks of high end eating and drinking, the prices were sensible starting at £10. In fact, the prices across the board are reasonable and fair. What’s more, you will be well fed in that wonderfully loving way that the Italians have. No boutique, haute nouvelle cuisine portions here. Gino gives it the way Mamma intended. Fulsome in quantity and flavour.
There’s a terrific selection of pizzas, contorni, cocktails, wines, beers and desserts. The full menu is available online, so I won’t bore you. However! Oh yes! We simply had to have a pud! Vanilla Panna Cotta with rhubarb and honeycomb for Grahamand Bomboloni for yours truly! WOW! Let’s talk Italian doughnuts shall we? Four of them stuffed with a white chocolate and raspberry sauce and a little Chantilly cream on the side. We loved both desserts but the Bomboloni! Oh my days – plan to have these by working your way backwards through the menu when choosing what to have to ensure you have sufficient room! We washed those down with an espresso just to make sure wouldn’t nod off through Hamilton.
The décor at LUCIANO by Gino D’Acampo also deserves a mention as so much thought and attention to detail has gone into creating such a stunning space. There’s an eclectic mix of styles with cosy tables for two or much larger tables for friends to spend time together. There are bold statements, pastel shades, brushed gold, a little bit of glitz and as I spied a set of DJ decks en route to the loo I wanted to punch the air. Imagine booking this place for a party of 100 of your nearest and dearest and eating, drinking, dancing, partying the night away. Oh, very yes.
Not wanting to end on a negative note I do have one regret that I need to share. We had to rush this experience which deserved more of our attention. I wanted to stay put and to linger a while longer over my linguine. Praise be to Carmine and the entourage of staff who did just the right amount of fluttering to ensure that we were not late for our date with Alexander Hamilton. Yes, this place deserves a full evening where you can relax, unwind, take time and truly enjoy being immersed in a little luxury dining without breaking the bank.
Oh and did I mention you just might see the man himself? He was on the next table entertaining guests! How reassuring to see the owner, who we all know is a busy and in demand celebrity chef, dining in his own restaurant! If ever you’re in London, make it a date!
Review by Deana and Graham Morgan