It is the most dispiriting of sights upon entering a restaurant: a large party being entertained – in this case, at least thirty souls – and no other table covered; except, in this case, that booked by myself and The Sicilian. However proficient the chef, it takes considerable skill to cater for the party and still provide technically adept dishes for other diners. However, service was friendly and efficient, and, before long, we settled back to peruse our surroundings. The décor is taken from the ‘classy’ chapter on restaurant design: a colour palette of neutered browns and golds complimented by botanical illustrations of lemons, Louis XV style chairs and enough Murano glass chandeliers to, well, open a lighting shop. Perhaps it is a bit bright, but the ambience certainly provides a ‘sense of occasion’ to the dining experience.
We started with Macco di fave con calamaretti saltati (traditional Sicilian dried broad beans soup with spicy squid: £6.95) and Caponata Siciliana (stewed aubergine, capers, olives and tomatoes: £6.50). ‘Macco’ is a typical Sicilian soup with fresh or dried broad lima beans which are smashed while cooking and become a thick purèe. My soup looked attractive with the addition of the garnish of squid and was enjoyable, although I thought it could have done with a bit more seasoning. The Sicilian wasn’t completely enamored with his Caponata Siciliana either. It was rich and tomatoey, but lacked the necessary acidity of vinegar to cut through the sweetness. Still, it was a good start, helped along by a bottle of 2011 Nerello Mascalese (using grapes grown mainly on the northeastern side of Sicily: £21.50).
Both our main courses were winners. From the ‘Meat and Fish’ section, The Sicilian went for Coniglio arrosto ripieno con paté di funghi, puera di sedano rapa e fagiolini all’aglio (roasted rabbit legs stuffed with mushroom paté and wrapped in speck, with mashed celeriac and wilted french beans: £14.50). It was the type of dish that turns a dinner companion’s eyes green with gluttonous envy. Notoriously tricky to cook, the lean flesh of rabbit can result in dry, tough meat. Not here; it was moist and fresh-tasting, its flavors marrying beautifully with the nutty overtones of the celeriac. Fortunately for the writer, his own meal, Bucatini alle sarde con pomodori secchi, capperi, sultana e mollica tostata (Bucatini with sardines, sun dried tomato, capers, sultanas and toasted breadcrumbs: £10.50), was equally appealing. The thick spaghetti-like Bucatini was cooked perfectly al denti, and, in contrast to the Caponata starter, achieved the correct balance of flavours. Great satisfaction settled upon the table.
We finished the meal with a shared Pannacotta al cardamomo con lamponi freschi (cardamon pannacotta with fresh raspberries: £6.50) and a couple of espressos. By now, the large party had left, and, in their place, the restaurant had filled pleasantly with couples and foursomes. Upon entering the dining room at the end of service, owner and chef, Fabrizio Zafarana, greeted many personally. Slightly off the beaten track, it’s obviously a neighborhood restaurant appreciated by its regulars. I’d certainly return – and, next time, I’m taking 29 of my closest friends with me.
Luce e Limone, 91-93 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8TX 02072423382