30th Mar

Thirty-something years ago, on a beautifully sunny day at what was then Pier Luigi, a small, shy girl with long pigtails was on her best behaviour during a big family gathering under the popular Italian restaurant’s red umbrellas. That is, until the plastic chair she was sitting demurely on suddenly snapped in two, tipping her unceremoniously on to the floor.
That girl was, of course, me. I have revisited the scene numerous times since then, and never not been reminded of the incident. It’s the little things that stay with you forever, isn’t it? The adults present back then would have just had a bit of a laugh and forgotten it moments later. To me, it was just mortifying.
You’d be hard-pushed to see a cheapo white plastic chair there today, though. The interior of what has become Lucca is all chic dark wood, rustic brick, sparkling glass walls and a rather groovy ceiling full of the sort of energy-inefficient incandescent lightbulbs that those pesky Eurocrats banned some time ago. Which is why they don’t actually work, otherwise Lucca could cross Greta Thunberg off its guest list and its electricity bill would be on the high side.
A revamp of the premises was long overdue when it finally happened about eight years ago. As I recall (I lived off Princes Avenue for 15 years), Pier Luigi slowly declined until it finally closed and lay empty for a couple of years. During one meal with friends shortly before its demise, I remember the same CD of bland pop music going around about three times – redolent of the sort of tired establishment that, as a last resort, calls in Gordon Ramsay to eff and blind at the management.
Lucca’s location, at the outer edge of the Princes Avenue “strip”, would suggest that it has to try that bit harder to entice walk-ups who might inevitably be tempted by something nearer to all the bars. But for me, it’s well worth the extra walk, and, anyway, we’re hardly talking a great distance. It can’t be more than two minutes more down the road from the area’s main hub, whose food offering is almost constantly fluctuating. I don’t live nearby any more, but I spotted at least two newish restaurants that weren’t there the last time I was down there. There are myriad reasons for this churn, not least the fact that there’s probably too much choice – I’m not sure the area, or even Hull as a whole, can support so many restaurants.
However, the legendary Ray’s Place notwithstanding (and even that shut down at one point), Lucca is among the more long-standing restaurants in Princes Ave, no mean feat given its size. And just over a year ago, it too closed and reopened under new management. On the face of it, it’s an Italian restaurant – but neither its website nor menu explicitly declares such. Many of the dishes riff on Italian classics, with “filleto”, “pollo” and “pesce” peppering the menu, but others are more loose interpretations, and could quite as easily fit into a rustic English theme, such as wild boar sausages on a bed of creamy mash, with red onion and thyme jus; or venison burger with home-made chunky chips.
Both of these, on reflection, sound pretty amazing, but the lure of the steak proved too strong, yet again, so it was the Filleto Rossini, served on a toasted crostini with pate, spinach and wild mushroom and madeira jus, that sang to me (sorry). And it really did hit all the high notes (sorry… not sorry). Served practically still alive, just how I like it, it was a generous slab of gorgeously tender, tasty fillet. Pricey at £28.95, but then fillet steak always is.
Look at me, waxing all nostalgic about the steak, and I’ve forgotten to mention the starter. Or the wine. Great steak tends to do that to me. But the Fritto Misto (£7.95) – lightly battered calamari, baby squid and king prawns, with a superb aioli – deserves to be remembered, too. If it was up to me I’d have aioli with everything (I’m a garlic fiend, the sort of cook who puts four cloves in when it says two), and Lucca’s was up there with the best.
BW’s MD Helen enjoyed the Pollo Suprema (pan-roasted chicken supreme with potato puree, grilled asparagus, toasted pine nuts and chardonnay tarragon jus – £14.95), while photographer Leo polished off the Branzino (seabass fillets with crispy parmesan potatoes, tomato confit and pea and basil puree – £17.95). The attentive waiter also brought out a chicken and parmesan pizza to demonstrate that Lucca can also do the more standard stuff very well indeed. By this point, we were far, far too full to give much of this house room at the time – but I cannily managed to bag the leftovers and it made a delicious lunch the following day. The pizzas and pastas are in the more affordable £8.95-£13.95 range.
The wine list, with bottles from £15.50, isn’t exclusively Italian, either; there’s a good selection of French and New World wines, though Helen and I enjoyed a glass each of very nice Sicilian white and Venetian rosé pinot grigios.
There wasn’t a great deal of choice on the sweets board; personally, this doesn’t bother me much as I’m a savoury kinda gal, but it would have been nice to see a tiramisu on there, and, sadly, they’d run out of cheesecake, which is my go-to dessert if I do have room for one. I plumped for the lemon posset instead, which was beautifully velvety and came with two crumbly shortbread biscuits. I could only manage one, but didn’t want to waste the other, so I wrapped it in a napkin and put it in my handbag. I only discovered it about two weeks later, when one of my cats went sniffing in the pockets. I’m not sure I’ll ever learn – I’m always finding random, somewhat flattened, after-dinner chocolates and mints in bags and coat pockets.
Did I still eat the rest of the biscuit? Of course I did!

BusinessWorks Hull and East Yorkshire spring 2021

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