Dinner @ Luce e Limoni, London

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Going for Italian food in London is most of the times quite an adventure…escaping chains, fake Italian ‘bistros’, pretentious posh places, or pizza maniacs who don’t have a clue about how pizza should taste, they all drastically reduce the chances of a good find. Luce e Limoni is one of these good, rare finds, at an affordable price. It offers refined Sicilian food.

The restaurant is at 91-93 Gray’s Inn Road, a short walk from either King’s Cross, Russel Square, or Chancery Lane tube stations. Luce e Limoni is open Mon-Fri 12-3 for lunch, Mon-Thu 6-10 and Fri-Sat 6-11 for dinner. The area is fairly busy with mainly offices people during the day and quiet in the evening. I went with a few friends for dinner. My favourite dishes were the fish starters, though the wild boar ham starter, fresh pasta ravioli, and meat mains were equally tasty and refined. The restaurant has a quality wine selection at average London restaurant prices.

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Taste-wise, I usually prefer traditional fish dishes, but I never dispise polished combinations when they make sense. This is the case of the fritto misto with bottarga mayonnaise. The dish included battered deep-fried king prawns, large sardines, and squid. The bottarga mayonnaise was smooth and incredibly delicate–although, I would have added some bottarga to it: I want to smell that fishiness and let it turn into that bitter, roasty flavour when I have bottarga. Still, it is definitely worth another go!

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Another great starter we tried was scallops with cauliflower and anchovies cream. This is quite a classic on the London scene nowadays and reflects a wintery use of the scallops. The presentation could have been a bit more elegant, perhaps spreading a little less cream (used as base) with a brush stroke, adding one more scallop to the dish. A more summery version we usually have in Italy is the scallops au gratin, with garlic and parsley, each mollusk still in their lower shell.

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One of the signature starters of the restaurant is the mackerel timbal with capers and ricotta, peppers coulis, and samphire. The dish looks very appealing and is a lovely, warming way to open your meal. The pepper coulis merries the samfire in a pleasant sweet saltiness which exalts the ricotta and fish timbal. The mackerel was very delicate, smoothed out by the ricotta which softened the taste edge of the fish. Thin potato slices embraced the timbal in a clean and crispy wrap.

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Among the mains, we tried fresh pasta ravioli with sausage, basil, and tomato, mixed fish casserole, and a beautiful veal chop, all cooked to perfection. I was hoping more from my main, which was supposed to be porchetta, but turned out to be a pork belly, served with lentils and Marsala reduction. The porchetta, ideally, is not just the pork belly, but rather the actualy full pork roast on a long turning skewer, stuffed with herbs, and then served in slices. The dish I had at Luce e Limoni was very good, nonetheless, with glazed skin instead of the crackling and a delicate Marsala reduction.

We concluded our meal with Sicilian cannoli and coffee.

The restaurant service is polite, attentive, and quick. It means that you are not assaulted as soon as you walk in, but you get taken care as you would do in a house, where someone greets you, takes your coats, and shows you to the living room while asking how’s everyone doing at home. The same thing, but with nice, large-planked wooden tables. The place has a soft, homely ambience, and you don’t really miss those Impero-wannabe chaiselongs you never see anyone sitting on when you go to those big villas in the south of Italy.

The restaurant’s main room is distinguished by its chandelier-shaped lamp shades and old botanic prints of Mediterranean citrus fruits. The decor is not a distraction, but rather a warm reminder of typical countryside homes in Italy, where we still have those kinds of prints, with birds, plants, friuts, and other encyclopedic illustrations. You never know whether someone got them many years before and just framed the nicer plates, or if time stopped for a while and no one now cares to change the walls decoration. It feels like your grandparents’ dinette or reception room. And you know your grandparents will have a treat for you. It’s guaranteed. That is why the experience at Luce e Limoni was very pleasing, comfortable, and made us happy. If you can, I think you should give it a go.

by Max

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