Cucina Asellina, 336 – 337 Strand, Aldwych, Covent Garden, London. WC2R 1HA
When it came to celebrating my little sister’s engagement recently, I knew Cucina Asellina at the ME London hotel would be right up her street. The latest in restaurant launches from the One Group, and rather aptly, the sister restaurant of Asselina in New York. After recently visiting the group’s other restaurants, Heliot at the Hippodrome and STK, also at ME, I knew we’d be onto a good thing, and more importantly, her kind of thing.
My sister, unlike me, is a Sex and the City kind of girl, a woman who would appreciate somewhere like this. Plus, there was the added bonus of a possible celebrity sighting*. Another box ticked. And another brownie point for me.
You can get to Cucina via an on-street entrance, but for some added drama for my sister’s benefit, we went through the Marconi lounge lobby of the hotel, sweeping past the guests at a London Fashion Week party, and showing off to her the stunning interior of the hotel. She immediately turned to me, and said ‘I must send my bosses here!’.
We encountered a cluster of smiley pretty front of house girls, all decked out in red, like something out of a Virgin Atlantic ad. We were given the choice of having a drink at the bar beforehand, but due to rumbling bellies after a pit-stop cocktail at Bob Bob Ricard, we went straight in. Once inside, the mellow amber lighting that I saw when Ade and I popped our heads round the door a couple of weeks ago seemed to be a bit brighter. The cosy feel I was expecting was replaced with more of a buzz, and music similar to that of STK. The decor calmer however, with brown leather seating, huge blooms of dark moody flowers and an impressive wine wall.
Toasting our celebration with a glass of fizzy stuff, £9 for a glass of Laurent – Perrier, we got stuck into cocktails, a Negroni £9 and a Rossini Strawberry Puree & Liqueur, Bisol Prosecco £10 for her. The width of our table was huge, my sister seemed too far away for decent gossip, it felt more like more of a job interview than a dinner date.
Scanning the menu by executive chef Marco Porceddu, I immediately spotted the intriguing sounding Prawns with wild blueberries, caramelised cipollini pizza £12.50, which I so desperately wanted sans-cheese. Unfortunately the base contains the dreaded stuff so bang went that choice. Instead I went for my namesake – Saffron Strozzapreti with prawns, spinach and butternut squash £14.
To start my sister went in heavy with the Veal meatballs with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil £7, a generous serving of five juicy balls in a rich sauce, smothered in melted cheese. While I opted for Calamari Fritti with tomato relish and fresh marjoram £8, golden curls with a hint of pepper, loved the tangy dip and how the portion was also on the big side, I guess this is an US-owned restaurant after all.
The hearty bowl of Spinach Pappardelle with braised wild boar, Cannonau wine and chocolate £13 sat opposite me looked so good, a sweet and intense ragu with delicate ribbons of fresh pasta, but too much for my sister to handle after she’d pigged out on the balls.
My pasta, not dissimilar to the appearance of earthworms, was lovely. A beautiful mellow dish packed full of the promised ingredients, that crucially didn’t leave me too full for dessert.
Now desserts (all £6) were a tough choice, but the waitress won me over when she said how good the Tiramisu is. She wasn’t wrong, soft and silky with a hefty dusting of chocolate. The only let down was the grainy dry textured Amaretto ice cream that sat alongside it. My sister’s lighter choice of Grappa Panna cotta with honey roast pears was simply declared ‘amazing’. We finished off with a glass of iced limoncello, which I clumsily proceeded to chuck all over the table, my sister kindly donated hers. Next time the evening will be topped off braving the elements with a cocktail at the fabulous rooftop Radio bar, I defy anyone not to love it up there. And good news for Londoners, Asellina is open until 12.30am! And even better news if you’re staying in the hotel…
*We saw no celebs, but over the following few days there were guests such as Victoria Beckham and even Justin Timberlake. Sorry sis…
336-337 The Strand, London WC2R 1HA
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7395 3445
Private Dining and Events: +44 (0)20 7395 3444
Group Reservations: +44 (0)20 7395 3444
Nearest tube: Temple, Covent Garden or Charing Cross