Cucina Asellina in Aldwych
The trendy Melia hotel on the Strand is home to Cucina Asellina, an Italian restaurant that promises to deliver artisanal cuisine with a hint of New York flair. Upon being seated in the venue’s contemporary, marble-floored room, we were greeted in Italian by our waitress, whose joviality and charm certainly added to the authenticity of the place. As the restaurant’s DJ played the likes of Al Green and jazzy classic remixes, the convivial atmosphere, enhanced by dim and cosy lighting, invited us to relax as we perused the menu.
We began our tasting journey with two cocktails: a Bellini and a Rossini – respectively made with peach and strawberry puree – which were equally nice, yet somewhat lacking in the fruity factor.
While we sipped on our cocktails, we were invited to try a Cucina Asellina signature dish, one that’s been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening in 2013. The Stuffed Oerignola Olives with roasted veal, parmesan and semolina crust failed to titillate our taste buds. The semolina crust was well cooked and the olives were soft and bursting with flavour, but the combination was an odd one and, unfortunately, the taste of roasted veal was lost due to the overpowering olive.
As we finished off the amuse-bouche, our mains arrived. First up was the Frittura Mista with calamari, white bait, soft shell crab and prawns. Here, the batter was light and crispy and perfectly coated to complement the bold taste of the fish. Far from being elastic, as is often the case, the calamari was tender and soft. The only downside to this dish was the accompanying mayonnaise, which was evidently not homemade; a garlic or even chilli mayo would have complemented the frittura sumptuously.
Next up was the Pumpkin and Taleggio Arancini, which was quite simply triumphant. The crispy rice balls were perfectly cooked, with a gooey middle enrobed in sticky risotto rice. The flavours were abundant and despite the Taleggio’s strong aroma, the taste of the pumpkin still prevailed. We only wished we had had more!
In keeping with the risotto theme, we tried the Black Truffle Risotto, which came with white rather than black truffles. The rice was superbly cooked and topped with finely cut white truffle slices. The overall consistency of the risotto was exactly as one would desire yet, despite the truffle, the flavours were somewhat bland and lacked a certain kick.
Ordering from the Pizzette dishes, we opted for the Saltimbocca: a roast ham, mozzarella, and wild mushroom closed ciabatta bread. Unfortunately, this was quite simply a very nice sandwich and something you’d envisage eating while on-the-go. The flavour of the mushrooms, thinly sliced, were lost in this bready and heavy concoction.
The penultimate main dish of the evening was the Lobster Tortelloni accompanied by cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and Martini Bianco. Despite the tortelloni being a tad too al dente – though that’s how the Italians like it – the lobster was incredible. So strong was the flavour that gave that iconic taste to the accompanying sauce, making it all the more delicious. The sauce was light and the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes complemented the lobster exquisitely.
We finished off our main course with a Honey Glazed Lamb Rack with rosemary potatoes. The potatoes were impeccably cooked with a strong nutty flavour complemented by the rosemary and sea salt. The flavour of the lamb, coated in breadcrumbs, somewhat misleading from its menu name, was so overpowering it almost tasted like mutton. As a result, the other potential flavours of the dish were completely undermined by the meat’s overwhelming aroma and taste. Nevertheless, the lamb was extremely tender and cooked to perfection.
To round off, we opted for the Tiramisu and the Affogato al Caffé. The tiramisu’s lightness and fluffy texture, balancing coffee and chocolate flavours seamlessly, made for a wonderful dessert. The affogato – a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered with a shot of espresso – was simple but well executed, primarily down to their use of Lavazza coffee.
Cucina Asellina promises to deliver artisanal Italian food and it mostly does, though the New York flair is not evident. Their ingredients, for the most part, are fresh, flavoursome and chosen with care to please the palette. The tapas menu allows you to try many different dishes and their reasonable portions leave you feeling fulfilled, but not overwhelmingly so. The knowledgeable and friendly staff make for a pleasant experience and one thing is for sure, the arancini is definitely worth the visit.
Photos: Anaïs Merlin
For further information about Cucina Asellina, ME London Hotel 336-337 The Strand London WC2R 1HA, call 020 7395 3445 or enquire here.