Restaurant Review – Lucca, Hull

Quite honestly, the last thing Princes Ave needs is another restaurant. Over the past decade virtually every building on Hull’s most bohemian street has been converted into either a bar or a restaurant or both. From having one pub, a couple of restaurants and a few takeaways at the turn of the millennium, ‘Prinny’ Ave now has enough eating options for a meal in a different place every night for a month.

The surprising thing is that although many have opened, very few have subsequently closed. There obviously must still be demand for new alternatives and to capitalise on this the former Italian restaurant Pier Luigi (which closed a couple of years ago) has now been refitted, renamed and reopened as Italian ‘Bar and Kitchen’ Lucca.

The owners at Lucca have obviously spent a pretty penny on their new operation. Interior walls have been knocked out, spiral staircases and glass walls full of posh wine bottles have been put in. There’s a champagne bar upstairs and private dining rooms with chandeliers and big print wallpaper. There’s even a section of the ceiling made up of hundreds of light bulbs. Only four appear to work, mind.

It’s all very nice and, in the 5 months Lucca has been open, it’s apparently been doing great trade. Certainly, I know plenty of people who have eaten there and I’ve not heard a bad word about the place. I’m afraid to say, though, that I’ve got a couple.

First, the good points. The refit has been well done; gone is Pier Luigi’s tired and out-dated décor to be replaced with a cleverly designed and relatively swanky interior. The staff are great; they are attentive and cheery and (the waitress who looked after us, particularly) very keen to answer queries and make suggestions. And the food is…..well, it’s good for the most part.

Actually, it’s the food with which I have the most issues. To start with the menu on the website reads much better than the one you are presented with on being seated. Many people now go online to check out a restaurant’s menu before going there to dine. I know I do, and the two most tempting starters listed online (Gnudi and Salsicca Al Italiana) are nowhere in sight. We felt conned. The starters we did order were Gamberroni Piccante – deep fried king prawns in spicy crumbs served with a salsa – and Piccione – pan fried wood pigeon breast with mushrooms, poached pear, herbs and a vinaigrette – were both OK but suffered from herbage problems.

The salsa under the prawns contained way too much coriander. It overpowered everything else on the plate. The wood pigeon arrived with a huge clump of mixed herbs on top, presumably intended as some sort of garnish. It had to be removed before you could even see any breast. Perhaps this was to hide the lack of meat on the plate. And pear.

Mains brought a new gripe or two. We eschewed pasta, pizza or risotto in favour of two meat dishes. The pizzas we saw leaving the kitchen looked nicely thin and wood-fired and I’ve since tried a venison tortellini dish they do which was very tasty indeed, so maybe we should have gone more ‘standard Italian’ as the food that did come was slightly annoying.

My Anatra – pan roast duck breast with parsnip puree shallots, spinach and apple and raisin chutney – was cooked with care and was juicily satisfying, despite having more pungent coriander in the garnish. The Costelli Di Agnello – herb crusted rack of lamb with new pots, shallots, carrots, red onion and red currant jelly sauce – was equally well prepared but there could have been more lamb for the money (three chops for £17.95 is very stingy).

Luckily we ordered sides of beans and red onion and rosemary potatoes or the plates would have been extremely bare. My duck needed both side dishes to bulk it out to anything like a satisfactory portion, raising the price from £16.45 to well over £20. Bit cheeky really.

My main issue with the mains is that the only thing that seems to be Italian about them is their names. These aren’t dishes that I’ve ever eaten in Italy, or that have ingredients associated with Italy or that bare any real association with Italy. Simply calling them ‘Something Di Something Else’ or ‘Whatever Al Wotsit’ does not a proper Italian dish make. These are generic English/ European dishes made to sound a bit more exotic. Take Maiale Di Arrosta, for instance; it’s slow braised belly pork with BBQ spare ribs, red cabbage and a cider gravy sauce. Nothing Italian there at all. Serve that to the average resident of Palermo and call it an Italian dish and they’ll accuse you of being pazzo.

I can’t easily discuss Lucca’s desserts as they don’t really have any. What they have is a few cheesecakes and a chocolate tart thing, all of which appear bought-in and are served with either squirty cream or some (actually quite nice) ice cream. This is a huge blind spot. Any decent Italian will offer wonderful puds – zabaglione, panna cotta, tiramisu, affogato; where were they? Unaccountably absent, that’s where. We felt cheated and only a delicious homemade limoncillo could rescue the latter part of the evening.

According to all sources, Lucca is doing very well, with plenty of covers every night and a healthy trade in the bar. My main worry for them is that they will have to work harder on their menu to convince serious foodies to make a return journey. You have to pass a lot of very good, cheaper eateries on Princes Ave to get to Lucca and I, for one, would like to see some significant work on the food or it doesn’t stand a chance of making the walk worth it.

Dave Lee

 

Opening times: 11AM – 4PM & 5PM – Midnight, every day.

Lucca Bar and Kitchen,
84 Princes Avenue,
Hull,
HU5 3QJ

01482 470088

www.luccahull.co.uk

Pictures are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60126894@N07/sets/72157631744391789/

Please credit Dave Lee

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