When you think of Italian food, you generally picture pizzas, pasta and maybe gelato, right?
Well at Cucina Asellina, it has been given a modern twist, with their tapas-style dishes showcasing the very best that Italy has to offer.
Situated on the Strand, Cucina Asellina is suitably glamorous, with plush leather chairs and moody lighting. The restaurant has a buzzy feel, with a DJ, effortlessly cool staff and a great cocktail menu- it has a clear New York-style influence.
Speaking of cocktails, we kicked off with a Cucina Asellina favourite, ‘L’Italiano’, which was an Aperol, rum and pineapple concoction, infused with a cardamom, raspberry and saffron syrup, and it was deeeelicious!
I could have knocked these back all night long, they were that good! We also ordered a ‘Rossini’ which was a strawberry bellini, which was nice but couldn’t hold a candle to ‘L’Italiano’. We also had a glass of wine with our meal, and I can’t recommend the cabernet sauvignon enough, which was smooth and full-bodied.
Now came the tricky part: choosing what to eat. Cucina’s menu is absolutely packed with amazing dishes, from black truffle risotto to charcuterie boards, so picking just three or four dishes per person is a challenge.
After endless oohing and ahhing, we went for (deep breath!) pumpkin & taleggio arancini, veal meatballs, lobster tortelloni, burrata with grilled vegetables, rack of lamb, Umbrian sausages and tuna & shellfish ragu. Everything. Was. Incredible. Picking a favourite is a bit of a Sophie’s Choice, but if I had to pick just one, it’d be the lobster tortelloni which was richly flavoured, generously filled and perfectly al dente.
The burrata was also the stuff of dreams- oozing cream, it came with sweet roasted peppers, aubergine and courgette, and a perky tapenade which cut nicely through the decadence.
Veal meatballs were another star dish, melt-in-your-mouth tender with an intense tomato sauce. I’d say they’re meatballs just like mama used to make, but I’d be lying- they’re better (sorry Mum!). Another favourite was the dish of Umbrian sausages on a pillow of buttery polenta, which put the everyday bangers and mash to shame.
My only teeny tiny gripe with the food was that the rack of lamb arrived over-done and chewy, not medium as requested. This was a real shame as we had been looking forward to the lamb the most and were disappointed to find it tough.
However, the accompanying rosemary-roasted potatoes were a delight, and got the much-coveted nod of approval from my Irish (and therefore potato connoisseur) mother. The arancini were another dish which didn’t quite live up to expectation as I didn’t detect much of the promised pumpkin, but who can really complain about crispy deep-fried balls of molten cheese and rice?
Most people would probably have been finished off by this vast selection of dishes, but not us! Oh no, we decided we had room left to share a chocolate ‘tortino’, because everyone knows that you have a separate stomach for dessert. The ‘tortino’ was a wonderfully light fondant with a molten chocolate centre, and a scoop of smooth vanilla gelato. Rich and not overly sweet, it was a lovely end to the meal.
Cucina Asellina is a real masterclass in fine Italian dining. It manages to offer amazing food in a fun atmosphere while still allowing diners to hold a quiet conversation. Their slogan is “happiness dwells here” and with food this good, they’re not wrong.
ME London Hotel
336-337 The Strand
London WC2R 1HA
Tel: (44) 207 395 3400