Dunno about you but we’ve got one of those mates who is not comfortable with eating out. He loves his own home cooking and is consequently unfamiliar with the inside of a restaurant, some of the terminology on a menu and is also not keen on spending money on food he feels that he could easily create for himself.
In exceptional circumstances – a birthday meal, for example – he will come out to a pub and eat a safe and reliable dish. Fish and chips, or maybe pie and chips. There was that one time that we went to an Indian restaurant in Shanklin and he was overwhelmed by the choice until he found – right at the back of the padded menu – the English dishes and plumped for plain omelette and chips. Among our friends he has become a metaphor for unadventurousness, but we don’t love him any the less for it.
Last Sunday we met some mainland friends in Yarmouth; there was a bunch of us including three children, so we needed a family-friendly place with broad appeal and purse-friendly dishes. We climbed the stairs to La Cucina and settled at a big table by the window.
La Cucina is the latest venture in Yarmouth’s Forrester’s Hall; a grand airy space which has been home to various restaurants over the years. The current iteration “opens its doors to all aspects of Mediterranean cuisine” and promises “exciting tastes“. There was a seafood emphasis to the dishes; spaghetti fruiti de mare, calamari, scallops, moules as well as some traditional pastas and risotto. Yet, despite all of these tempting-sounding Italian-style plates, we unexpectedly both channelled our cautious friend and chose that acme of English dishes – the Sunday roast. Maybe it was the bitterly cold day outside and the company of Cat’s dearest and oldest friends, but we suddenly felt like a homely roast and nobody was going to stop us – especially at £9.95.
The team at La Cucina wasn’t going to let us get away with just choosing from the English page of the menu for long though, as a ginormous platter of Mediterranean-style complimentary starters arrived at our table. We all eagerly helped ourselves to spectacular loaded bruschetta and marinated olives; the crispy rounds topped with zingy tomato salsa, and mozzarella, sundried tomato with a dollop of homemade pesto.
Roast chicken £9.95
Roast pork £11.95
Spearing the olives, Cat and her school friend caught up with the news of their various family members. A story was told about a mainlander who had dug out a cellar in their house in London and been charged £35,000 for the street licence for the skip alone! This caused much agoggery around the table and the suggestion that this could be the end to the Isle of Wight Council’s financial woes. We laughingly imagined the uproar if that fee was imposed here!
The mains arrived and, like the starter, were an impressive selection. The fish stew was a rich stock, packed with shellfish and served with two chunks of seeded bread. As an extra touch the words “La Cucina” had been written around the rim of the bowl in balsamic drizzle.
Cat’s roast, a plumptious half-chicken, was almost hidden under a huge Yorkshire pud, itself embellished by twizzly parsnip crisps – a jaunty batter hat with vegetable adornment. The chicken’s nest was an arrangement of roast potatoes and honey-glazed parsnips. Cat scooped some of the accompanying broccoli and cauliflower cheese onto her plate and began eating. The bird was succulent; meaty and perfectly cooked. Even so, it couldn’t compete with the parsnips which Cat spontaneously declared to be the best parsnips she had ever eaten. Sweet and evenly textured, without that woody heart which can so often rapidly turn parsnip anticipation into ligneous disappointment.
The best parsnips she had ever eaten
The roast pork that was piled onto Matt’s plate was a similar triumph of the art. It might say Mediterranean on the door; but these chefs know how to do a good, solid roast and vegetables. Thick, tasty gravy lapped around those magnificent parsnips, and Matt was pleased with the substantial slices of meat. Even he couldn’t finish the vegetable side dish – and if he could have, he would have.
Cat didn’t even make an impression on her roasties, nor the Yorkshire, because the chicken and other vegetables were the business on their own. Nonetheless we obviously had to have pudding. After all, there were children at the table and who can deny them the opportunity to have semifreddo torroncino?
Matt’s cheesecake of the day was ginger and orange; a big, home-made construction which compared well with a recent highly-rated cheesecake at the Woodman’s Arms, Wootton. The flavour was subtle in the extreme, but the rest of it was more than satisfactory, and beautifully presented.
Cat, always on the hunt to find the Island’s best Italian trifle, took her chances with the tiramisu. Sometimes it can be quite dry and overwhelmed with cocoa dust which instigates a bout of coughing. Pleasingly La Cucina’s version was in the classical mode, a gentle creamy pudding with a hint of coffee. Cat prefers hers with more than a splash of liqueur but, as she’s hardly ever given a boozy version, her preference must be a rarely-served deviation from the traditional recipe. La Cucina’s tiramisu had a few bonus summer fruits to lend it a hint of Black Forest gateau where the raspberries bled into the sponge.
All in all it was a successful lunch. Particular thumbs up were given to the mixed roast enjoyed by one of the children, the bonus bruschetta and, of course, those magical parsnips.
We popped back within a week to try some of the other dishes, feeling that perhaps reviewing English food in a Mediterranean restaurant was somehow doing the place a disservice. We can report that during our second visit our dishes had been cooked by the same competent hand, but the roast definitely had the edge. The kitchen seems at home with big, meaty dishes, copious vegetables and rich sauces. Are these typically Mediterranean attributes, or interpretations created to the obvious strengths of the chefs?
La Cucina is a curious venue, poised above an art gallery in a building that feels decidedly odd in layout. The robust menu, however, transcends the location, and hints at the chance of more interesting cooking to come. The roasts were good value but the rest of the prices, like the restaurant, are higher than you might hope for: still, this is Yarmouth after all.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Great, hearty Sunday roast
- Magical parsnips
- Generous portions
- If you're not comfortable climbing stairs, this venue is not for you